Over the past ten years, we've undertaken many trips with our caravan and Rambo, our well behaved Miniature Doberman, constantly accompanied us. He was dubbed “Rambo” by our caravan club; his ‘baptized name’ is Bambi. Rambo, or Bambi if you wish, did his first full tour of caravan parks as early as 2001 at twelve weeks of age! We've been to coastal resorts, riverside and mountain resorts, big cities, and small towns. Rambo has seen every lighthouse along the way (not that he cares) and done quite a bit of bird watching: Yes, he primarily had to watch out for eagles. Still has to! He's marked his way up one side of the coast and down the other. Along the way, we've all learned a thing or two to be able to share with you.
Know your dog. If your dog is hyperactive in the car, plan on some sort of restraint. We keep Rambo’s body harness on at all times. It makes it easier to grab him quickly if necessary, and also it is quick and easy to clip his leash on when ready to get out of the car.
A portable dog kennel or some sort of gate or barrier between the front and rear seats will keep the dog safe and prevent him from getting behind the steering wheel and driving. Dogs love to drive, but they're lousy at it, and they are also very good at distracting you when you are driving, so prepare accordingly. A little training also goes a long way. Whatever you do, don't travel with a dog that hates the car. You'll end up hating the dog, yourself, the car, travel, and the world in general.
Here is some good advice: Start small. You might not be as lucky as we've been. Try an overnight trip or weekend getaway, close to home for a start. Don't take your dog along if it’ll just be cooped up in the caravan the whole time. If they can't have some involvement at the camp site, they'd probably be happier at home. You'd be surprised at the number of resorts where well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome. Remember to clean up after them. ‘Poop-scoops’ are available from every reputable pet shop.
A little research beforehand can prevent disappointment, and ensure a good time - for everyone. Plan ahead, especially in peak season. Many resorts will take pets only in off-peak times. Some only allow small dogs. Some allow only one dog per site, although it is often possible to negotiate. Tell the proprietor what you will do to make sure that the dog will cause no trouble or damage - then be true to your word. Most resorts do not allow dogs in their hire accommodation at all whether out of season or not.
Think safety. Keep your dog on a leash at all times! Even in the Resort. We have made a special tent peg to loop the leash end over so as to prevent ‘Rambo’ our Miniature Doberman, from wandering off. Strange surroundings can override basic training in a dog. Why risk having your pet lost, hurt or killed while on holiday. Also remember, not everyone likes dogs (hard to imagine, I know). A lot of people are even terrified of small dogs, especially children. A strange dog, running loose, can cause outright panic in some children and, strange enough, even with adults. I love dogs, but even I don't like to see one off its lead and headed toward my small dog and me. Please respect the rights of others so that everyone can have a good time.
Think twice before you leave a dog alone in a car and NEVER leave a dog in a car in hot weather, even with the windows open. Dogs can, and do, die quickly in hot cars. Dogs (especially those with short muzzles) are much less efficient at cooling than humans. What is just partially uncomfortable for you can and will be very dangerous for your pet! For example, direct sunlight, in a closed standard size saloon car, with the outside temperature at 28 degrees Centigrade, the temperature inside the vehicle will raise to as much as 45 degrees Centigrade! In a car with all the windows open and in direct sunlight, 28 degrees outside will raise to over 38 degrees Centigrade in the car! Staggering!
Watch out for children! Dogs are "kid-magnets". At festivals, flea markets, caravan parks, and rest stops they swoop down and wrap their arms around or try to pet or pick up your unsuspecting dog. Your dog may take offense or panic with disastrous results. Keep an eye out to avoid potential mishaps. This is also a valuable opportunity to educate children (and their parents) on how to approach and “play with” a strange dog.
Invest in a collapsible/fabric dog kennel. Train your dogs to accept being in the kennel whilst in the car. We have the round ‘doughnut type’ with low walls. Rambo knows that when we put his, we call it “Box”, into the car, then its tata time! It’s easier to say, “In your box” than to call it his kennel, bed or whatever. Take it with you. If you need to leave the dog alone in the caravan while you eat-out or attend dog-free functions, they will be and feel much safer and the management of the resort will be much happier.
Always leave the caravan windows and pop-up roof vent flaps open, and food and water when you leave him in the caravan. You can also set up in the shade while you picnic, braai or play games. We are prepared to camp on bare ground so as to ensure total shade for Rambo’s benefit.
Pack water from home and bring your dog's regular food to avoid stomach upsets. Resist the urge to treat your dog with human food. Carry the dog food and water in the car so you can feed him at his regular time even if you want to stay out or travel late. And remember, everybody loves dog biscuits (for different reasons, of course). Keep some handy and the dog will be less likely to eat your maps.
Bring his/her toys. Just like kids, dogs get bored in the car. Chew toys from home provide activity and comfort. Always make sure that you pack his/her favorite “Teddy” or toy bone in so that the dog does not feel left out.
Be considerate! Pack cleanup supplies. Unless your dog leaves a deposit in an area where no human will ever walk - clean it up. Even dog lovers hate poop on their shoes. We also pack carpet cleaner and a rag, in case of accidents of the tummy, bladder or bowel. A few old towels thrown in the car can be used to wipe sand or mud off their feet or dry waterlogged doggies before they enter your car or caravan.
Prepare a small first aid kit to carry in the car. Tweezers (for ticks, thorns and pine needles), gauze (for cuts or a makeshift muzzle in case disaster strikes), and antiseptic are a good start. If you have a dog with health problems, consider a little research about vets in the area you'll be visiting - just in case. Don't forget to bring any prescriptions along with you! Doggie medications aren't always easy to get on short notice. Pack those pills!
ENJOY YOURSELVES. If this all sounds like more trouble than its worth, then it probably is. Book your dog into a boarding kennel, and go alone. Shame on you! If you are by now mentally figuring out where the kennel will fit in your car, then you're ready to go camping with your dog right now. There are many joys and happy moments to be found in camping with your dog.
Helpful advice: On www.CaravanParks.com Resorts section, pet friendly resorts have this icon as a guide on their resort listing. Remember; please always first confirm if pets are allowed when you do your booking so as to avoid disappointment or embarrassment when you arrive at the resort.
Have a wonderful and doggie fun camping trip!