My family is planning a big reunion at Lake Tahoe for the holidays and I would love to bring Augustus, our English Labrador puppy, with us to the beach. I was wondering if you had any advice in preparing for the experience, gear to bring or tips on how to make the day a painless one. We have 16 first cousins alone and there will be a bunch of young children and older folks, so I’m worried he will be crazy!
Thank you for your time!
-Dog Beach Momma
Dear Dog Beach Momma,
Summer is a wonderful time of year to explore the outdoors and reconnect with our loved ones. To help prepare Augustus for this and all other such adventures to come, I have a few suggestions.
Safety is always a priority of mine, so I would keep an eye on the weather. Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas are infamous for reaching sweltering heat in the day and plunging into freezing temperatures when the sun goes down. Additionally, dehydration, sun exposure and wind chill can play an important role in how well your dog can handle the weather. Keep an eye out for any signs of discomfort, such as shivering, lethargy, rapid panting, sweating paw pads or excessive thirst.
To help Augustus combat the range in temperatures, I recommend packing a “dog bag.” In mine, I include two beach towels in case my dogs get wet and the wind kicks up, a couple large bottles of clean water, a collapsible dog bowl and a dog bed that easily packs down. You can also include a long-lasting chew to help reinforce calm behavior when it’s time for the family activities to take on a more sedate vibe, such as a frozen Kong, an antler or a bully stick.
Floating dock-diving bumper toys are a favorite of my Labrador, while my German short-hair prefers to chase a bouncy ball in the surf. Additional gear I include is a 20-foot lead to secure my dogs to a tree, bench or picnic table or to encourage a further range of exploration on leash.
Lastly, I make sure my dog’s collars are securely fastened, they have all of their necessary vaccinations and their microchip information is updated and accurate. Beaches can be crowded and chaotic, especially around the holiday season, and dogs can become frightened and bolt.
As you are going to be attending a large gathering, it is also a good idea to let your family know you will be bringing Augustus and set everyone up to succeed. Inform them of any rules for Augustus, such as no jumping, feeding him table scraps or letting him nibble hands. You can even hand out treats so that people can reward Augustus for sitting to be petted or other gentle, appropriate behaviors.
When we attend big parties, my husband and I usually keep our dogs on leash until the excitement of greeting has subsided and drinks are in hand. Then we remind our friends and family what skills we are currently working on, hand out treats and take our dogs off leash.
If possible, it is always a good idea to take Augustus to the beach before your family reunion so that he can experience the new environment without the added stressors of a ton of people. Check your local beach regulations to see which ones are dog-friendly, and then go for a short outing. For our beach visits, I try to ascertain the social culture of the area. Some beaches encourage off leash behaviors, others require your dog to be secured. Some provide bags for cleanup, ample trash cans, an abundance of clean water and pet-friendly access. Others are less accommodating and you may need to add items to your packing list depending on your experience.
If you anticipate other dogs being present at your family reunion or on the beach, then it’s a good idea to practice Augustus’ recall from high distractions. If your family is arriving in town earlier that day, then suggest a dog meet-and-greet so the pups are all familiar with one another and you can observe their play. Take note of older dogs who may not appreciate an overly-enthusiastic pup pouncing on their arthritic joints. Every dog has their own preferred play style and it’s important to be aware of clashing personalities. A group walk on leash starting several yards apart and gradually decreasing your distance until everyone is walking shoulder-to-shoulder is a great team-bonding exercise that I employ quite often.
My last piece of advice is to have fun and enjoy your beach vacation. The first trip will always leave room for improvement. You may find that a cooling vest is a worthwhile investment, or that Augustus gets chilled and need to pack an extra warm coat. Just take notes and enjoy your beach adventure!
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to customk9servicedogs.com or email email@example.com.