These days many families like the idea of taking their dogs on holidays and the trend has become really popular over the last few years. Many people feel that their pets are as much a part of the family as their children and really want them to have a holiday too. Some dogs are too old to be left at home, or too young, and some families struggle to find someone reliable to pet sit while they’re away. With some dogs, especially those that suffer badly with separation anxiety, they simply can’t be left at a kennel while the family goes away.
However, nothing can be more polarising than the topic of dogs on holidays: just look at some of the comments on camping Facebook pages about dogs in camping areas or caravan parks and you will see what I mean. Many people do take their dogs along and have no issues but equally as many people have problems with other people’s dogs while holidaying; even to the point of being harassed by aggressive dogs or putting up with constant barking.
So I have put together some general guidelines based on the three most common issues around dogs on holidays for those travelling with dogs. I think I’m more qualified than most to make comments on this topic. We have two large dogs, a Retriever and a Labrador, which we travel with regularly, caravaning, free camping, farm stays, chalet properties and in AirBnB accommodation, and we own a dog friendly farm stay ourselves. Whatever type of venue you prefer these guidelines will be relevant.
Our property, Diamond Forest Farm Stay, has been dog friendly (I should say pet friendly as we have had other animals stay: cats, horses, birds and even a lizard) for eleven years and our experience has predominantly been positive. Over all of those years we have had to have maybe a handful of friendly chats with dog owners and only ever needed to ask one person to leave. Most dog owners love the opportunity to bring their dogs on holidays and make every effort to ensure they follow the rules and are very considerate of other guests. On the odd occasion when we have had issues the owners were often completely unaware that their dog’s behaviour was causing a problem and when asked to, promptly dealt with the issue.
Before you start thinking ‘Oh no, here comes the fun police again,’ bear in mind that while you may love having your dogs with you, many others in the same caravan park/camping area/farm stay/neighbourhood won’t have dogs, may dislike dogs or may be even frightened of dogs. So for a stress free holiday with your beloved pooches keep these guidelines in mind. Your fellow travellers will appreciate it.
Picking Up Your Dog’s Poop
This is a really simple thing but you have no idea how many people don’t pick up their doggy doo doo. There is absolutely no excuse for not picking it up and if you travel with dogs you should always have a roll of doggy poo bags in your pocket/handbag/car or, like I do, all three. If you are supervising your dogs at all time, as you should be, it’s not possible for you not to notice that they’ve done a poo. Even as a dog owner there is nothing worse than stepping in someone else’s dog’s poop. No, burying it in the sand while you’re on the beach is not really okay unless you plan to bury it a foot or more deep. People walk on the beach barefoot. That’s what you do when you’re at the beach and a hastily covered poo with a flick of sand will squelch through your toes just as easily as if you’d left it on the surface. Yuck- on all levels.
This also applies to farm stays or large properties that are dog friendly. Yes, there are farm animals on the property that poop in the paddock but most of these types of properties have areas for farm animals and areas for people. Guests, including other dog owners, generally like to walk around and see the animals and enjoy the farm without the risk of stepping in something gross.
If you’re holidaying in a stand-alone house with a backyard for your pooch ensure you clean up your dog’s poop as best you can before you leave. The cleaner is not going to be too keen on cleaning up someone else’s dog’s droppings and you may find that there will be an extra charge on your credit card for cleaning if it has to be done after you leave.
Many properties will provide you with a poop-a-scooper and some parks and beaches have bags available but the best thing is to always have some on hand. It is probably the biggest bug bear of non-dog owners and is more often than not included in caravan park’s dog rules and waivers. While it probably won’t get you kicked out of a camping area or off a property you may end up with a warning, or next time you try to book you might find that they are inexplicably booked out- especially if you and your dog are repeat offenders.
On Lead/Off Lead
While you may like the idea of having your dog off lead while you’re on holiday, many places won’t allow it and not everybody else will be as keen as you about having a free range dog running around no matter what size or breed they are. I know, for us on our property, it is a question that often comes up and some people have chosen not to book with us because we won’t automatically say ‘yes, you can have your dog off lead whenever you want.’ On our farm we have many animals which often include lambs, calves and Alpaca crias that wouldn’t fair too well should a dog take a liking to chasing them around. We also have free range ducks and peacocks, not to mention other guests including young children. We have a duty of care to them, as well as to other dog owners and their dogs, to ensure their safety so we can’t guarantee that you will be allowed to have your dog off lead. Many times that an on lead policy is enforced has very little to do with you or your dog personally and everything to do with the safety of other guests, insurance policies and public liability.
That said, we have allowed many dogs just that privilege (and many other places do too) as, once they have arrived and we have had a chance to assess both the
dog and their owner (yes, an owner’s attitude plays a big part in our decision) and we are confident that the dog will cause no harm, we will allow their dog off lead. Over the years, having hosted thousands of dogs, we have become very good at making these judgements and we don’t often get it wrong. From little dogs to big dogs (our largest was a Welsh Mastiff that weighed in at 86kgs) we have allowed many dogs to go off lead including the above mentioned Welsh Mastiff who was such a gentle soul. Others we have allowed off lead in certain areas and others still with poor recall or a penchant for chasing ducks, we have allocated them a large paddock so they can go off lead for a good run but are securely fenced in all the same.
All of these dogs have been well socialised with responsible owners who are very aware of their dog’s good and bad habits. While many places won’t allow this at all, having your dog off lead at the places that do is a privilege and properties aren’t being unreasonable in requesting that they assess your dog personally once you have arrived. The safety of their other guests is their responsibility and most hosts won’t risk that on a dog they don’t know regardless of size. That’s right, we like to assess small dogs too. Many dogs have been bred for hunting and retrieving- the Beagle for example and, while some Beagle owners are unaware of this, they do like to chase ducks and some small dog breeds have a reputation for being snappy. Being aware of your dog’s good and bad traits and being honest about them is the first step to having your dog allowed this privilege.
If you can’t have your dog off lead and would like to, as in a caravan park for example, most towns do have off lead areas like beaches or parks and the managers should be able to indicate where they are. It’s important to note that even in the off lead areas your dog needs to be well socialised and have good recall. If you’re not sure how they will behave try using these areas when you can have them all to yourself.
I have yet to stay in a caravan park where a dog is allowed off lead. Flouting this rule, whether your dog is well-behaved or not, will more than likely lead to complaints and you may be asked to leave at the very least, especially if you have signed their dog policy upon check in. Not everyone will think your dog is as friendly as you do and being bailed up by a stranger’s dog off lead and unsupervised can be a very frightening experience; even if you know your dog wouldn’t hurt anyone.
We all know the parents that think their child is an angel but as soon as the parent’s back is turned that child becomes the spawn of hell. Well, dogs can be the same. In fact there is a whole series in the UK devoted just to this: The Secret Life of Dogs. Many owners truly are unaware how much their dogs bark when they are not around. If I had a dollar for every time a dog owner said to me ‘He’s never really been a barky dog before’ I would be a rich woman. My first thought always is ‘How would you know if he’s a barky dog if you’re not there?’ So the first thing to do, before you take your dog on his/her first holiday is to talk to your neighbours. Maybe your dog barks all day and drives your neighbours bonkers but they have been too polite to say. If this is the case then you will have to make sure that someone is with your dog at all times. In fact, caravan parks often insist on this due to previous complaints about barking dogs destroying the peace and quiet.
Perhaps your dog doesn’t normally bark but they may still bark if they are left alone in a strange place. Perhaps they are stressed at being left alone in an unfamiliar environment or they feel it is their duty to guard your belongings until you return. If you are allowed to leave your dogs while you go out, as you can do on our property, it’s best to inform your hosts that you are leaving them, tell them where you plan to go, leave them your phone number and encourage them to call you if there is a problem. Your hosts will certainly appreciate it and so will fellow guests.
But how much barking is too much? I have had several conversations with guests about the extent of their dog’s barking only to have them look really surprised. Their dog may have been barking non – stop for nearly an hour while the owners were inside their cottage and they didn’t even notice. Clearly this type of dog is a barker and the owner is so used to hearing it that they no longer notice anymore. If your dog is barking for more than twenty minutes continuously I can guarantee you will be annoying fellow campers or guests, including other dog owners. In fact, especially other dog owners. One incessantly barking dog can set all the dogs off. In a caravan park with multiple dogs that can be really unpleasant.
If your dog is barking for a few minutes every ten minutes or so and does so an hour or more they are barking too much. This may seem harsh; however bear in mind that most places that are dog friendly operate at the tolerance of neighbours and other guests. One too many complaints from guests to management, or from neighbours to council, can very quickly end a property’s pet friendly status. So while you may think your dog’s bark is nothing your neighbouring campers may not. This applies to farm stays too. Sound carries on a farm, bounces off valleys and hills and can be heard a lot further away than you think, especially at night. All dog breeds, big or little, can be the cause of a noise complaint.
Dogs do bark. They bark for a reason and there are many ways to train a dog to minimise barking. A barking collar is one and behavioural training is another. I prefer the latter because it takes into consideration why the dog is barking in the first place but it does require diligence on an owner’s behalf. There are many dog training groups but you can learn a lot from articles on Google and YouTube videos. The main thing is to be there and attend to your dog’s barking immediately, not after it has been barking for ten minutes straight. The fact that you are aware that your dog is barking and you are taking action, calling the dog to you, distracting or soothing the dog, will go a long way in the minds of other travellers. They can see that you are making an effort and can feel confident that should your dog start barking you will immediately attend to it. Your dog will also be reassured. His/her barking is to alert you to something. They will possibly keep barking until you pay attention.
When staying in a caravan park, if your dog tries to bark at everyone passing, encourage people to come and meet and pat your dog (only if the dog is people friendly obviously). This will help your neighbouring campers feel comfortable with your dog. This is especially true if you have a larger breed of dog as many people are frightened of big dogs, not having had positive experiences with them previously. If your fellow campers can see that your dog is friendly and you are always there they will be less inclined to be concerned about the dog or make a complaint. Your dog will also be more comfortable with people going past as they will see them as a good thing rather than a potential threat. That is the reason they are probably barking in the first place- to warn you that someone is there.
If the camp ground is busy don’t be afraid to ask for a spot that is away from busy areas like amenities and playgrounds. You may have to walk a little further to get to them but your dog will have fewer people constantly passing your site and will have less of a reason to bark.
It may be timely now to mention that the one time we had to ask a guest to leave was over excessive barking. Two dogs barking constantly at 3am didn’t go down well with our other guests, our neighbours or us. These guests got a rude awakening from us when we went down at 3am and asked them to keep their dogs quiet. They were lucky. We were polite about it. Many guests wouldn’t necessarily come to us to sort out the problem, preferring to deal with the situation themselves and that can get ugly. This is particularly true of free camping where there is no management or authority to deal with such issues. Barking dogs, especially at night, are like a noisy generator in a camp ground. It really winds people up and when lack of sleep is involved, tempers can flare up.
Overall, holidaying with dogs can be a really rewarding experience. You can holiday without worrying about your dog at home or in a kennel and it can be a lot of fun. Every holiday we have been on with our dogs has been a positive experience; for us, our dogs and our fellow campers. Many people travel with their dogs and say they are glad they did. If you follow the simple guidelines above you will find that the three common issues people have in regards to dogs on holidays will be a non-issue for you and you will have no problems finding accommodation or places to camp that will happily have you return year after year.