Being a Nomad on the Road with a Dog

If you follow me on any of the social medias, you will already know that I am a self-proclaimed co-dependent human with my dog, Simone. I have no shame, especially since I know she is just as co-dependent with me as I am with her. We go through withdrawal from each other and I would not have it any other way. We just recently celebrated our seven year anniversary in honor of the fateful Saturday where I woke up and decided I wanted a dog. I spent a short time on Pet Finder and I immediately fell in love with her. After driving to the Bloomington, Indiana Animal Shelter to pick her up, I put her in the car and she immediately peed all over the back seat. But I didn’t care. She was perfect in every way.

Until she chewed up my couch, running shoes, leather belt, slippers, clothes, bedspread…

I am often asked what it is like to have a dog with me on the road and my immediate response is it is freaking awesome. I love having a hiking buddy who never complains and can keep up with any activity. She loves all the same things I do — hiking, snow, physical challenges, water, being free, breakfast sausage…  you know, the staples in life. I call her my little mountain goat, because she is more agile and nimble on rocks than I am. And there little in life that is more rewarding that seeing the bliss on her face when she is prancing through the woods.

With that said, she did not come to me that way. The first six months of having Simone was an absolute nightmare. I spent a ton of time training her (i.e. training myself) and there were even points where I thought I was going to have to bring her back to the Humane Society because I could not handle it. I cried every day for those six months. I hated her. I thought I was going to get evicted because she would whine, cry and howl every time I left the house and I was sure all of my neighbors were complaining to the landlord. I vividly remember after a month of having Simone I was lying on my bed (crying) thinking, “If she doesn’t get noticeably better in two weeks, I’m out. I’m bringing her back.”

It was then that I decided to bring Simone to dog training. She was about six or seven months old. Keep in mind that she was my first dog, so I recognized that I needed as much training as she did and we needed a third party to keep us from killing each other. So I took her to a training class where I dropped her off in the morning and picked her up after work. They spent those hours working with her to teach her basic commands. Then, when I came to pick her up, they would tell me what she learned and how to reinforce it at home.

This was a literal life saver.

All I needed was to be told what to do and how dogs think and we were golden. I had spent too much time on too many blogs and read about too many different ways of training a dog that I was overwhelmed and confused. But once we had one trainer telling us one way to do things, it all worked. The key was consistency. If I let her slip just once, we set ourselves back by a month. So I buckled down and stuck with it for six long difficult months.

And ta-da! I got a perfect dog out of it.

I know that not every dog is the same and for some it may take longer than six months to reinforce the good behavior you want. The morale of the story is that you get out of your dog the amount of work that you put into them. They need stimulation. They need a job. They want to do the right thing, but they need to be trained on what the right thing is and rewarded when they do it. And hugs and kisses are not enough of a reward, folks. If you want your dog to do what you tell them to do, bring out the big guns. For example, Simone wasn’t crazy about the hard baked treats, but anything soft and gooey or better yet, a piece of real meat, would incentivize her to do anything. If you want a good dog, praise is not enough of a reward for good behavior.

One of the other big lessons I learned with Simone early on was that unless I wore her out every day, she wouldn’t listen to anything I said. So it was fetch twice a day plus walks once or twice a day as well. That’s a small price to pay for an obedient dog.

Now that I’ve rambled for far too long, I want to highlight a few things about having a dog on the road and what you should expect if you are choosing the nomad life with your pooch.

1) Invest into training.

I bring Simone everywhere with me. She stays at campgrounds, she sleeps in the van, she stays at my brother’s house when I’m in Minnesota and at Air BnBs when it’s cold. So it was imperative that I could trust her to be well-behaved in just about every scenario. Admittedly, she has slipped up a few times… the most recent was when she got upset and destroyed several paintings that were on a counter at a friend’s house who is an artist. Of course I was appalled and embarrassed. But to her credit, it was because I was lazy and did not play with her that day.

For the most part, she is a good dog. As long as I put in my time to play with her and stimulate her brain, she is good to me. I can trust her to get along with most other dogs, back down when I tell her to be nice, rest calmly at a home if needed, and not get into other people’s stuff. She doesn’t take food from counters, make a lot of noise, and she is sweet when she meets new people. All of that came with an investment into training and it was one of the best investments I have ever made.

2) National Parks do not allow dogs on trails.

This was something that I did not realize until my sister warned me when we were planning out my route out west last summer. National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails, mostly because of the wildlife in the parks that they are trying to protect. Dogs attract that wildlife more than humans, so it is an increased risk to have them on the trails. I have mixed feelings about this policy, but it is what it is. If you are planning a backpacking trip or even a long day hike, you will need to board your dog or leave her with a friend. Most of the time I am able to board Simone at a place nearby the park. I haven’t had an issue finding a place when I need one. However, I will warn you that many dog boarding places are not open on Sunday, so if you are planning a weekend of hiking, you may need to wait until Monday to pick up your pup.

3) Always have your vaccination records on hand.

Since I board Simone so often, I keep her vaccination records available with me at all times. I have both a hard copy and a PDF on my computer. At first, I would call my vet and ask them to fax her vaccination records to the boarding place, but it just became such a hassle to call them every time, especially since I was at a new national park every couple of weeks. I had to be sure to call them within the hours they were open and get the fax number from the boarding place and then follow up and make sure they got them. It was a pain, to say the least. Now that I have copies myself, I can easily send them to the boarding place when I make Simone’s reservation, which makes my life much easier.

4) Let your dog off leash at your own risk.

I know a lot of people who break the rules and let their dog off leash when they are hiking. Admittedly, I am one of them. However, I will say it again that you need to be able to fully trust your dog in order to do this. The only way it works for us is because whenever we see someone else on the trail, I’ll call Simone and put her back on her leash and keep her there until we pass the other hikers. I can trust her to comply with this plan.

Without coming to me when she is called and stopping when I tell her to stop, she could easily get in a fight with another dog or scare someone on the trail. I view being off leash as a privilege and if she ever starts to get out of line or stops listening to me (which she does at times) then it’s back on the leash. You should be so sure about your dog’s obedience that you know they’ll listen to you and come, even when they are tempted to go into a dangerous situation instead, such as interact with a larger animal.

I do not recommend to hike with your dog off leash until she gets to a point where you have full confidence in her obedience. It’s only a privilege that the best of dogs get to enjoy.

5) Sometimes you’ll need to sacrifice plans for your dog.

The one downside of traveling with your dog is that it does change your plans at times. When we were in Colorado this summer, we had planned a full day hike up to a glacier lake and drove quite a ways to get there. When I got Simone out of the van, I immediately noticed that one of her nail nerves was completely exposed on her paw. It looked terribly painful. She actually did not make a fuss about it, but I knew it would just get worse if we went through with the hike. So I was able to clean and wrap the wound and we chose to instead spent the day laying by the lake.
Not being able to go to National Parks every weekend and having to change my plans at times is a small price to pay for the numerous benefits of having a dog with me when I travel. She is such a great companion and I would not have it any other way.

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