Do You, and Your Pets, Observe Good Camping Etiquette?
Before the global pandemic sent us all into hibernation, I was writing a series of posts about RV camping etiquette for the RV LIFE community. I’ve covered a wide array of topics but have carefully skirted the topic of pet etiquette because it’s such a volatile subject. I’m going to dig into this concern which seems to be one of the more controversial issues for park owners, RVers with pets, and those RVers without them.
I’m certain this subject will bring out an emotional response from RVers and if you want to weigh in on this topic, please leave your comments below. This is an article that I hope will result in a polite exchange of ideas and experiences. Let’s look at RV etiquette as it relates to our pets in general, though much of the focus will be on dogs.
Camping Etiquette Advice from RVers with Dogs
Few RVers complain about their neighbor’s cat or parrot or tortoise. Yes, we were in a state park in Oregon when we actually saw another camper walking her black lab and her 50-year-old tortoise. But I digress. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to acknowledge that we are full-time RVers and we travel with 4 Australian Shepherds.
Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Yikes, that’s a lot of dog for an RV, and remind me never go to a potluck where you provide the salad, because hair is probably a condiment in your motorhome.”
No worries, we never participate in potlucks for this very reason. And yes, that is a lot of dog for a motorhome, but they were part of our family before we decided to go full-time and we had no choice but to bring them along. Whether you are an RVer with traveling pets or a no-pet camper, you probably have strong opinions about RV pets. There are three areas of concern that are generally the most controversial. Those concerns are noise, clean-up, and safety.
Noise at the Campground
Whether we’re camping in a state park, a private campground, or boon-docking we don’t want to listen to anyone else’s noise. That includes the neighbor’s radio, or screaming kids, or a barking or whining dog. There’s probably no irritant in a campground as volatile as a dog that just won’t shut up. Even those of us who are pet owners, are annoyed by other people’s barking dogs.
If fact, it’s ironic, that while I’m trying to concentrate on writing this post I’m forced to listen to the two German Shepherds staked outside of the RV next to us. Their instinct is to be guard dogs, so they readily bark at every dog or person moving within the park. I have to say that since they arrived a couple of days ago, with 6 children and 2 dogs it has become much noisier. The whole family seems wonderful, and I thinking it’s great when children get a chance to go camping, but the kids and the dogs have added a lot more noise to everyone else’s camping experience. To some extent in an RV park or boon-docking campsite, we all need to have a live and let live attitude, but we also need to remember that everyone has their own degrees of tolerance, and the courteous thing for all of us, is to make camping etiquette a top priority.
Cleaning Up After Your Pet
This is another major concern about pets and may be even more irritating then the noise problem, because it’s more prevalent. Every park, without exception, has a clean-up after your pet policy, and yet I can’t think of one park I’ve been in, ever, in the past 23 years of camping, that didn’t have piles of pet waste that someone failed to clean-up. This is clearly one of my biggest irritants. After all, how hard is it? If we own a pet, we know they are going to need to relieve themselves, probably at least twice a day. Even if we tie our pet up outside and leave it, we still need to locate and clean up our pet’s waste. Just because we don’t see it relieve itself doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for the clean-up. And while we’re on this subject… we shouldn’t assume that the edges of the park, or the dog run, or the paths leading to the beach, or ANYWHERE, is a no clean-up area.
When our dogs relieve themselves, the waste must be picked up and disposed of in a dumpster. I believe this is as true for boon-dockers, as people staying in designated campgrounds. The only exception might be in the boon-docker setting, if for some reason we simply can’t pack out the poo, then at least we should be responsible enough to bury it. One final point about pet clean-up. We need to make it a habit to clean up immediately! Pet waste attracts flies and many people enjoy cooking and eating outdoors when camping. Keeping our pet waste cleaned up makes the whole environment safer and more sanitary. As far as other (non-dog) pet waste is concerned, the same principles apply. If you have cats and a cat box or birds in a cage, or a tortoise. The pet waste must be cleaned up, contained in suitable packaging, and put in a dumpster or waste receptacle.
One final reminder for every camper who drags a dogs on a leash behind them while distractedly talking on a phone, that distraction does not relieve them of the responsibility of watching their pet and for cleaning up after them. The out-of-site out-of-mind mantra NEVER applies to our pet’s waste. If we think we are responsible enough to own a pet, we need to be responsible enough to clean up after them always, every day, every time they relieve themselves, no exceptions.
Safety – For Pets and Other RVers
The final area of concern about our pets is keeping others safe from our pets and keeping our pets safe from others. The only way to do that is to keep them under control, on a leash, in our rigs, or in an X-pen, AND under our supervision. The problem with pets is you really don’t know how they will react to other pets or people.
As an example; on three different occasions, we heard the owner of an approaching off-leash Golden Retriever say. “Don’t worry, there’s no problem, she/he loves everyone.” That was right before each of these three otherwise passive Golden Retrievers attacked our oldest Aussie. Three times, three different Goldens, three completely shocked pet owners. Clearly, our Aussie projected something to these other dogs that stimulated the attacks. Peyton was a champion agility dog and through her life she was exposed to thousands of other dogs without a single issue. But out on a trail, with an approaching off-leash Golden, she must have projects fear or timidity or something else, because in each of these incidents the owners of the Goldens were as shocked as we were.
On another occasion, in a campground on the Oregon Coast, a group of older people were walking with their dog on a leash. When they walked past another small dog that was staked out on a leash outside of a fifth wheel, that dog lunged so hard at the passing Shiatsu that it pulled the stake out of the ground and it charged right up to the Shiatsu and attacked it. In this case, after the people were able to separate the dogs, there were going to be vet bills, and possible lawsuits. The owner of the dog that was staked out, (that attacked the Shiatsu) was as shocked as everyone else. He certainly didn’t expect that behavior from his pet, but there was some chemistry between the two combatants that, as humans, we don’t understand. Here’s the problem. When we think our pet “would never do that” then we tend to be cavalier about keeping them under control and in our carelessness, our dog might run up to greet another dog but there’s some unseen chemistry between them and suddenly the fur is flying.
Proper camping etiquette, and pet etiquette in particular, is never assuming that a pet won’t be aggressive.
Is Your Pet Really Harmless?
I also want to point out, when a pet owner assumes their pet is harmless, they become careless about keeping it on a leash and under control, and that may be a dangerous mindset. It’s true, someone’s pet might be completely harmless but if it’s not on a leash and under control, it could approach another pet (that is on a leash) and the leashed pet could still start the fight. Assuming your pet, or any other, is the worst kind of camping etiquette, as it pertains to pets.
We have seen this happen repeatedly. The pet on leash might have leash aggression, be afraid of other dogs, or the approaching pet might be perceived as a threat by the dog to the pet’s owner, or there is just some bad chemistry. Whatever invisible interaction is going on between the two pets could result in a dog fight and possible injury to the pet or people. This is completely avoidable. This cavalier attitude that my pet is friendly, so I don’t need to control it, is why many RVers and campers don’t feel safe taking their dogs for a walk, even on a leash. It is a selfish behavior to leave your pet unleashed and uncontrolled.
Why do some people insist on leaving their dogs outside of their RV but not on a leash or in an Xpen or some other kind of dog fence? EVERY park has pet rules that specify pets must be confined and under supervision at all times. Why is that such a hard rule to follow? That is not a rhetorical question. If you have an answer, please post it in the comments below. We are personally frustrated by this because we’d like to take our dogs for a walk but we’re not 100% sure all of our dogs will get along with every other dog that might approach them. After seeing three different Golden Retrievers attack our quiet passive Aussie (that wouldn’t hurt anyone) we’re just not sure.
Safety & Camping Etiquette for Boon-Dockers
Safety concerns are even more applicable to boon dockers. We may be tempted to think one of the benefits of boon-docking is the opportunity to let our dogs run free and just be dogs. To let them explore, sniff, eat, dig, chase, roll, swim, or do whatever dogs like to do. But the probability is that we’re not really all that far from the next boon-docker and even if we are in a very remote location with no one else around, we will eventually leave our campsite and when we do, someone else will probably occupy that space. They won’t want to walk in or have their dogs and kids playing in the dog poo we didn’t think needed to be clean-up just because we’re boon-docking.
But cleaning up after our pets while boon docking is only one concern. There are some unique hazards to our pets when we’re boon-docking. Since trapping is still legal in most states, (it probably shouldn’t be, but that’s a discussion for another time) the scent of the bait, meant to draw in the desired animal will also be an attractant to our pets. The trap doesn’t care if it’s your dog’s leg or the leg of a fox. When the bait is disturbed the trigger is tripped and the trap will ensnare whatever animal disturbed the bait.
Another hazard for boon-docking dogs, that we may not have considered is that our dog’s inquisitive nature may inadvertently cause them to disrupt a hornet or yellow jacket’s nest, or locate a porcupine, or skunk, and before they even know they’re in trouble they’re under attack by a swarm of bees, or running from a shower of barbed quills, or an aerosol attack from a skunk. Most dog will run as far and as fast as necessary to escape an attack. If you love your pets, like we do, the thought of them running deeper into the woods and getting lost, while avoiding an attack is undoubtedly a terrifying thought.
In conclusion, pets in the RVing community are ubiquitous, but they are also one of the most contentious elements in the RVing adventure and one of the biggest threats to the peace and harmony in our RV communities. It’s our responsibility, as pet owners, to keep them quiet, confined and under supervision, and to clean-up after them EVERY TIME. Proper camping etiquette with pets is our responsibility. If this is too much hassle or responsibility, then maybe we should consider not traveling with pets.
Your thoughts and comments are welcome. Please let me know what you think about RV pets in the comment section below.