This past weekend the boys and I went down to Williamsburg, VA for a day at Busch Gardens with my family who was traveling down from New Jersey. Williamsburg is about 3 hours from our house without traffic. I would like to state for the record that “without traffic” simply does not happen for I-95 in Virginia, so it was a bit much to handle for a day trip. Nick and I ultimately decided to make a weekend of things for sanity’s sake.
Traveling has admittedly become harder for us since adopting Balton. Because Ollie is small and travels well, we have historically taken him with us most places we can drive to (and even once on an airplane to Ohio), but it’s also always been easy to find a friend to watch him for the weekend if needed, so we’ve never had to seek out pet friendly accommodations unless we wanted him to join us.
Because Balton is, erm, special in terms of his overall sociability and can’t stay with just anyone, we find ourselves reserving doggy caregivers for those occasions when it’s simply not feasible to take the dogs with us. So far, those occasions have occurred when we are getting on airplanes, but we did plan to board Balton when we were headed out of town to visit family for a week since it would likely have been too stressful for him, and sadly, my family. A dream of mine would be to get place in his training where we CAN take him along, but he’s quite simply not ready at this point for extended family functions.
Hotels that allow dogs are certainly helpful, but even these are tough to manage. When we went to a friend’s wedding 6 weeks ago, Balton had a tough time handling the large amounts of foot traffic and close encounters with other people and dogs when we had to do potty breaks. And though we stayed in an end room that was miraculously larger than what we needed, I held my breath every time we took the stairs down to the side of the building, hoping not to see any strangers. B managed okay, and we brought plenty of toys, made him work for meals, and had his crate safely behind closed doors as a precaution to any cleaning staff who did not heed our “do not disturb” message on the outside door. But he was definitely ready to roll after two nights and had a few emotional outbursts at passersby.
This weekend, we stayed at a campground cabin since the price was low, the cabin had air conditioning, and there was no extra fee for pets. I did worry that if Balton had an outburst we might get the boot from the family friendly grounds though. So, I went into the weekend not fully sure how this would plan out, and perhaps panicking ever so slightly.
When we arrived on Friday night, there was a large family taking up two cabins – one right next to us and one across the way. Suffice it to say I did not feel we were off to a good start, but hurried Balton and Ollie into the cabin and tethered them to bed posts while we unpacked. We also laid out their mats and fed the boys a slow dinner through their Kongs straight away.
Once the (human) bed was made, Balton was quick to settle into our weekend accommodations.
Ollie was perhaps less impressed with the accommodations, but presumably got over it and also settled in the bed with his favorite snuggle buddy.
Next morning we brought them down to the “Kamp K9” off leash area. It was a very small space contained by a picket fence no more than 5 feet. Thankfully neither dog is a fence jumper. Balton was a bit suspicious and nervous of the new space at first…
…but later let loose and romped around.
We watched campers and camp staff walk by and got to practice some counterconditioning/desensitization as he safely observed through the fence, they paid him no mind, and he got snacks.
Ollie also decided Kamp K9 was pretty fun…
…though was decidedly less enthusiastic the next day, as it had rained and gotten the ground all muddy.
By the way, for a dog who opts to roll around in dry dirt at the dog park after getting wet, Ollie sure can be persnickety about what physical components make wet dirt fun.
Balton was made to feel comfortable during our weekend trip with his Linus Blanket equivalent, his soccer ball.
And his crate, which further reinforced the importance of crate training – not just for house training but for trips in unfamiliar surroundings.
I don’t know if it was the air, the cabin, the training we’ve done, or the sparsely populated area, but Balton handled this trip far better than I could have ever expected. He was able to hang out outside and observe our neighbors for lengths of time longer than I would have ever thought he could, and the low stress activity surrounding us provided great training opportunity.
Balton also walked on loose leash consistently, and wasn’t having a panic attack with every walk we took.
It was really delightful to see Balton so relaxed and happy over the course of the weekend, and managing his stress so well. It made me wish for a different kind of life – one where we could live in the middle of nowhere with a big fenced in yard – things we can’t provide in a townhouse in the DC area. Even though we live far out from the city, it’s not a slow enough pace. And sadly, when we came back home, the walks once again became stressful and the loose leash behavior once again became frenetic and erratic. The good news is kids go back to school soon and so at least mid-day walks will be better, but it’s hard to see the shift back to reality when I got a glimpse into what could be. On the other hand, it is encouraging to get a glimpse of what could be.
So, back to making life easy as we can in the life we’ve got here – this Sunday we are going in for our first TTouch consult, which was recommended as a complementary tool to our training efforts by our trainers and also recommended in Nicole Wilde’s book “Help For Your Fearful Dog”. More on how that goes in our ongoing series about our Reactivity Activities.
Happy weekend, everyone!