RV Travel with Giant Breed Dogs Like Mastiffs and Great Danes


Before we left for our big trip, I googled for information on RV traveling with Really Huge dogs, and didn’t find anything. I’m much wiser now, and I thought I would write something up to share with others who are thinking of doing this. Excuse me a minute while I deal with the messy SEO business. So we’re talking about huge breeds like English mastiff, St. Bernard, Newfoundland, Great Dane, Bernese Mountain Dog, Dogue Des Bordeaux, and other Molosser breeds. You can take these dogs camping in a travel trailer like an Airstream or a motor home almost as easily as a smaller dog, but there are a few extra considerations.

The first thing to remember is that traveling is stressful to dogs, especially extended travel. I think the ideal traveling dog would be a big, dopey, happy-go-lucky Labrador. There’s a reason Labs are such a popular breed of dog. They are extremely adaptable and most are mellow. Giant breed dogs, on the other hand, do have a tendency to shyness and sensitivity. Even Chewie, who is an exceptionally outgoing, well-adjusted, stable mastiff showed signs of significant stress while we traveled. I felt guilty, but rationalized that they would be even more stressed by an extended stay in a kennel where they won’t know if we’re ever coming back.

Because travel is stressful, it will tend to exacerbate any behavior problems or issues your dog may have. It’s important to make allowances for that in your dog’s care and routine while you’re on the road. As well, if your dog has severe behavior problems, or is very fearful, RV travel simply may not be a good idea. Below are some tips for helping your family and your humongous dog survive a big RV trip.

Vet Check–Before we left, I took the dogs in for a bordatella vaccine, because we thought we might use a boarding kennel or dog day care on the road, and many of them require bordatella. (Bordatella is otherwise a silly and useless vaccine, being as how the vaccine is not very effective, and the disease pretty similar to a mild cold in humans.) I actually wish I had spent the extra $37 each for an exam for each dogs. While we were getting the vaccine, the tech reminded us they were overdue for a fecal exam. I took the dogs outside and luckily obtained the necessary material. I thought it was great they’d thought of this so I could produce proof that the dogs had clean fecal exams. I never expected that one of them would have worms. In fact, Chewie came up positive for hook worms AND round worms! So we had to administer worm medicine (for both dogs) once a week while we were on the road. If I had spent the extra money on an exam, I could have also had Chewie’s toenail looked at. He tore it right before we left, and it turned out to be a bad one that oozed and pained him the whole time we traveled. Bottom line, if you’re going on a long trip, it’s not a bad idea to get your dog looked at by a vet. You don’t want to have something come up on the road, and your dog just might be full of worms! (Egad.) You should also ask the vet to prescribe some sedatives, in case your dog gets agitated while you need to be driving. I considered them for Courage. I never thought the dog that would cause problems in the car would be Chewie. (More on that below.)

Tasty Food–Both dogs ate poorly at times on the road, especially at high altitudes. Next time we go, I will stock up on extra-palatable food to make sure they keep eating. At one point, I stopped at a gas station and bought a pack of hot dogs. I fed five of them to Chewie and three to Courage. I felt bad giving them salt- and nitrate-laden crap, but neither dog had eaten a bite in more than thirty-six hours.

Altitude–As I mentioned, our mastiffs seemed to suffer from altitude sickness. The care and treatment is pretty similar to that of humans. They should rest and stay hydrated. If your dog doesn’t seem to be getting enough fluids, or is really unusually punky, get him off that mountain! I don’t know if it’s genetic, but I think it’s very suggestive that both of my unrelated mastiffs had altitude sickness, and I think it may be more common among the giant breeds (except for the mountain breeds, I’m sure). They really perked up when we got them back to sea level.

Dog Barriers–We used a tension-mounted dog barrier to keep the dogs in the cargo area of our Chevy Suburban. Chewie is an excessively loyal dog, and he viewed the barrier as an unacceptable separation from his humans. Remember how I said that travel stress exacerbates behavior problems? Well, Chewie is a near-perfectly behaved dog, but he is extremely loyal and very intelligent. The barrier turned out to be Chewie’s Waterloo–and ours. He systematically destroyed it. Here is where you separate the Corgis from the Corsos. If you have a dog that is 150 lbs, 200 lbs, or more, you need to invest in a very solid containment system. Chewie’s attacks on the barrier created an unsafe situation, and we had to pull off the road many times to re-secure him, sometimes even on the side of the highway with high speed traffic zooming by. I recommend the Acme Velociraptor Special, available through any major chain pet store. The solution we ended up cobbling together was to rig up the X-pen with bungees, attach Chewie’s collar to the vehicle with a rope to keep him away from it, and then drug Chewie with benedryl to make him sleep.

X-pen–One of the best pieces of equipment we had for the dogs was an exercise pen. In fact, we actually had two of them that we connected together. It’s sort of a portable “dog corral,” and it’s really a lifesaver. We put them in there for feedings and any time we needed to get them out from underfoot in the trailer. They also enjoyed the sights and sounds of the outdoors. I picked this idea up from a Newfoundland dog show. There were many RVs parked around the grounds, each with its own round exercise pen filled with huge dogs.

Crate–Neither our home nor our vehicle will accommodate crates for our big guys, but if you can fit them in, do consider using it. Because we spent so many hours driving, Courage identified strongly with the Suburban as his den, which was cute and useful at times. Unfortunately, we couldn’t always accommodate his desire to hang out in there, because the inside of a car can heat up dangerously in the sun. If we had a crate, we could have moved it to a shady spot.

In and Out–On long trips, your dog will have to get in and out of the vehicle. If he has trouble, you may need to invest in a ramp or a set of portable stairs. We were lucky in that one of our dogs is a good jumper and has no problem leaping up into the back of the Suburban. The other dog can climb in if we help him. We think of it as power lifting.

Records–Make sure to get all of your dog’s vaccination records from your veterinarian. In the unlikely event that he bites someone, you will need proof of rabies vaccination for legal reasons. Those records will also be handy if you need to use a boarding kennel. Even if you haven’t planned to do so, some emergency may arise which will force you to board your dog while you deal with it.

Supervision–When you are traveling and exhausted, it can be easy to let your attention lapse and lose track of your dog. This happened to us once, when both dogs got away from us while we were setting up camp and got involved in a minor, bloodless fight with another dog at a campground. The whole incident was massively embarrassing, but it was an important lesson learned. Even if your dogs are behaving well and would never normally fight, they are under stress and in an unfamiliar situation, and their reactions may be unpredictable. Later, at that same campground, we saw the same thing happen at another campsite, where an poorly-supervised dog slipped away from his owner during camp set up and came charging at our leashed dogs. Even if you are really, super tired, take time to make sure your dogs are secure while you are setting up and packing up.

Dog Friendly Campgrounds–We mostly had no problems finding campgrounds that welcomed our dogs. However, some only allow small dogs, and some forbid “aggressive breeds.” At one campground, we were asked if our dogs were an “aggressive breed.” I was baffled because I had no idea what breeds they considered aggressive. At that campground, we established that mastiffs were fine, but they were expressly forbidden at a Provo, Utah-area KOA that we checked out. You unfortunately always have to check the camp rules when you’re traveling with the big guys.

National Parks and other attractions–Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails at most National Parks. There are exceptions, but it’s determined on a park-by-park basis. Serious hiking was not on our agenda, so that worked out well for us, but it’s something to check before you commit to a trip. Some attractions also offer dog kennels. There are kennels at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (we visited the North Rim). Sea World San Diego also has inexpensive kennels that visitors can use.

Leaving your dog alone–You should never leave a dog alone in a hot car. We figured since we had air conditioning in our trailer, that wouldn’t be a problem. However, traveling through areas where the temperature was well over 100, we didn’t have any safe place to leave the dogs if we wanted to eat a restaurant or something, and even if we had a power hookup on the road, it would take hours to cool the trailer in those conditions, if we could do it at all. The only option was to keep everyone in the car with the air conditioning, and keep the car on the road (so that the engine wouldn’t overheat). That’s not a very comfortable situation and I don’t recommend it. My advice would be to minimize your travel in and through dangerously hot conditions if you are traveling with any pet. We did find that in moderately warm temperatures, up to say 90 degrees, that it was fine to put our dogs inside the Airstream trailer. I don’t know about other models of trailer, but the Airstream is insulated and does not heat up excessively in the sun. It basically doesn’t get any worse than the outdoor temperature, so if the temperature outdoors was reasonable, we felt safe sticking the dogs in the trailer while we went inside stores and restaurants. The Airstream, basically, was like a giant rolling dog kennel. I am wary, however, of leaving dogs in air conditioned trailers for extended periods–like all day, because the unit may malfunction or the power may go out. I would only do this if I felt the outdoor temperature was safe. Most campgrounds do not want you to leave your dog alone outside for any length of time, and I don’t blame them. Anything could happen.

Admirers–This is usually the fun part of traveling with giant breed dogs. Because they are eye catching and unusual, many people will approach and want to meet them. That’s usually ok, but if your dog is having a bad day, you may have to assert yourself and insist that strangers give your dog some space. It’s great that so many people love huge dogs and believe them to be perfect angels, but they are dogs and dogs under stress can bite. If you have any reason to believe that your dog may be feeling threatened by strange people or dogs, it’s your job to control the situation. Fortunately, our dogs very much enjoyed the adulation of their many fans.

Colorado and Mole


We made it to Colorado in time to spend an evening with my sister and her new dog and meet her new boyfriend. They had been dating long enough that it was about the right time to do family introductions, and that all went quite well.

Meeting the new dog didn’t go as well. Chewie made friends immediately, but Courage showed every sign of wanting to eat the dog–a cute, fluffy, American Eskimo. The problem was that the new dog is a shy, fearful dog, much like Courage himself. He normally does ok with strange dogs, but having the little white fluffy dog show fear of him brought out the worst in Courage. I’m not sure what his intentions were, but we had to restrain him numerous times from chasing her. Ugh.

We camped in the boyfriend’s driveway, which was a nice change from campgrounds all the time. Unfortunately, we were in a heavy cattle ranching area of the state, and the occasional clouds of eye-watering manure odor that wafted through were overwhelming to me. When I was awakened in the morning by one such cloud, I knew we had to go. Maggie was heading back to her home to prepare for work, anyway. So we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.

We finally had a good day of driving. Usually some crisis or recurring problem prevents us from covering a decent amount of miles. But with mechanical problems resolved, humans settling into an efficient routine, and troublesome canines drugged out the wazoo, we covered more than 500 miles and camped near Des Moines.

Sadly, we missed out on eating at a restaurant in Omaha that my dad recommended. It’s called Anthony’s steakhouse, and he said he had the best steak of his life, there. However, when we arrived, the restaurant was closed, apparently because it was Sunday. Because why would you want to make thousands of dollars from people eating out after church when you could be at home watering the lawn or something, eh?

The next day, Monday, was more driving driving driving. That was a work day for me, once again. I sorted of dreaded doing the mobile office thing once more, after a solid week of vacation, but once I got started it was quite pleasant. I keep forgetting–I have a great job that I love! And fortunately, I have not been troubled by motion sickness as I feared.

We listened to an audiobook–Watership Down–and the miles passed quickly. WD is such a beautifully written book that we all quickly became engrossed in the fluffy adventures of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and the other tough bunnies of the Down.

We made good progress, but there was one hiccup in our day. We stopped at a rest station in Illinois. While Brent was walking the dogs, he suddenly called out to me. I ran over, anticipating some kind of injury. Instead, the problem was the Courage had caught a mole and wouldn’t give it up. He has a habit of digging at holes he finds in the ground, and this time he was rewarded with a really huge, fat mole.

The effect was made more horrifying by the cute mole paws hanging out of his mouth. The big paddly feet were the size of a silver dollar with long claws. The whole animal was the size of a soft ball. And Courage was not going to let us have it. We tried offering him tasty tidbits in exchange, but it didn’t work.

See, getting a dog to “give” or “drop” something is mostly a matter of convincing them they’ll get something better in exchange. But there’s nothing better in the whole world than a dead mole. We failed at prying his mouth open. Mastiff jaw pressure is over 500 psi, so if they don’t want to open it, they really don’t have to. We finally gave up and threw him in the back of the Suburban, with his mole.

We hadn’t had lunch, but we were all feeling kind of sick at this point. Courage was happily sucking on his mole as we drove to a gas station. I bought a stick of beef jerky, which Courage loves. But when I offered it to him in exchange for the mole, he started growling at me. Not his cute, playful growl, but a real, serious coyote-crazy growl. Chewie was right next to him, and when he heard this, he went, “Oh hell, no! You don’t growl at humans!” and attacked Courage. A dog fight ensued. In the back of my Suburban as we were parked at the gas pump.

My first priority was to get Glen out of the way. Glen was trying to break things up, and I wanted him safe. Brent, however, had the presence of mind to GRAB THE MOLE and get rid of it while the dogs were fighting.

Fortunately, our dogs don’t bite to draw blood, so no dog as injured. When it was over, Courage looked around desperately for his mole. I really felt sorry for him. He would not accept any jerky, either. The rest of the day, there were many mole jokes. Glen, particularly, got a lot of mileage out of it. We soon found we were hungry after all. We threw the dogs in the trailer and had a leisurely dinner at Red Lobster before hitting the road again.

By 10 PM, we reached Brent’s mother’s house in Battle Creek. When we took the dogs out of the car, they were overjoyed to be back in home territory. They frolicked around the yard and property, returning to us frequently in tail-waggy happiness, as if to say, “Hey, did you know we’re at Gramma’s house?” By then, Courage had forgotten and forgiven the whole mole thing. Thank goodness for short memories.

Although I do believe the trailer and the trip was a success, it was a great relief to sleep in a real bed and have some semblance of privacy for the first time in 3.5 weeks. Phew!

The Requisite Repair Stop

(The temperature as we were driving through the Mojave desert, Baker, Calif.)

We had big plans on Friday for making good time so we could get to Colorado and see my sister Saturday. She had to work Sunday, so Saturday would be our only chance. However, fate had other plans for us. At our first gas stop in Beaver, Utah, a mechanic approached my husband and told him that one of our trailer wheels was “doing the Charleston.” He offered to help us put on our spare at no charge.

Upon closer examination, both tires on the “road side” of the trailer had started to rot. These were the tires on the sunny side of the trailer where it was stored by its previous owner. Before we quite knew what was happening, we agreed to buy four new tires.

However, once the tires were off, it was clear why they’d been “doing the charleston.” The shocks had blown. Probably in the 116 degree desert. These were the original 1973 shocks that came with the trailer! We agreed, again, to four new shocks. Everyone was so nice and so professional that we agreed if we were being hustled, it was extremely smooth.

There was an excellent Mexican restaurant nearby, so we got take out and hung around while the shop did our repairs. Fortunately, the weather was pleasant, and we made friends with the gas station dog–a sort of Catahoula kind of dog that we learned was one of a pack of 12 that one of the mechanics used for mountain lion hunting. She was such a lovely, well-behaved dog she put my beasts to shame.

I had become very tired of traveling with my dogs. Chewie had to be monitored constantly or he would bust through the dog barrier in the car. In fact, he completely ruined our existing dog barrier by bending the metal bars (seriously!) and ripping them off the frame. We had to rig up a new barrier out of the X-pen and bungie cords, and then use a rope to secure Chewie to the back of the car. Later in the trip, I also added benedryl to his daily routine, to make him sleep. Courage loves riding in the car, but has a tendency to lunge at other dogs that only got worse in the course of our trip. When the mechanic joked about trading us tires for dogs, I was almost tempted to take him up on it.

It was 4 PM by the time we set out again. We only made it as far as Grand Junction, Colorado before we had to camp again. We could theoretically have driven into the night, but we were tired, and we didn’t think that was the best stunt to try when the next four hours’ travel would take us over 10,000 foot mountain passes.

Airstream Go Big or Go Home Edition


The next day’s driving brought us to Lemoncove, California, where we camped in order to see Sequoia National Forest. We set up in a hot, dusty campground about 40 miles from the park entrance. This would be our last sightseeing stop before heading back to Michigan.

We took the dogs with us, because they seem to enjoy the scenery, and although we have air conditioning in the trailer, I don’t trust it not to go off and cook the dogs. The temperature there was 100 degrees every day.

We got to see the giant sequoias, which are not to be confused with coastal redwoods. We saw the world’s largest tree–truly an impressive piece of foliage, and checked out their museum. We were up in the mountains again, and it was wonderfully cool. However, we were at 7000 or 8000 feet. Much as I enjoyed it, others in our group don’t do well at high altitudes, including the dogs, so we didn’t linger overly long.

We attempted to get a “giant dog pees on giant tree” type photo, but our dogs apparently had more respect for the trees than we ourselves did, and would not take a tinkle for a photo opp.

We headed back down into the heat. Much of the trip seemed to involve this sort of Catch-22, where you can have a comfortable temperature, or a comfortable altitude, but not both. Fortunately, we did have A/C, so we spent a lot of time inside the trailer.

Lemoncove gave us the opportunity to get some laundry done and even relax a little. I enjoyed the pool, even if I had no swim suit. (Mine mysteriously disappeared the day before we left.) (I swam in some yoga clothes.)

With Sequoia checked off the list, it was time to start heading back East. We drove into the desert.

I think we all pretty much hate the desert. I don’t understand why anyone lives there. By the time we got to Baker, California, the thermometer was reading 116 degrees. I always wondered what that might feel like. Honestly, I think you simply redline your “how hot is it” meter, and the difference becomes not how hot you feel, but how rapidly the environment sucks moisture from your body.

Traveling through territory like that with dogs is difficult. We can’t leave the dogs in the unairconditioned car for even a nanosecond. Usually, we can leave them in the trailer, which is insulated and does not heat up dangerously like a car. But when the outside temperature is 116, the uninsulated trailer is not safe for them, either. Sometimes we leave the car running with A/C on while we go inside restaurants, etc., but a car idling with A/C on will start to overheat. The hotter it is, the faster that happens.

We also couldn’t set up camp in that kind of heat. The A/C unit struggles to cool the trailer when it’s 100 degrees and dark. But 110 or 116 in the full sun would not work.

So the whole day was pretty much driving like hell and making very quick stops for fast food. We camped in St. George, Utah, where the temperature was a fairly civilized 99. There, we saw an Airstream motor home we’d seen before, in Malibu. Such things seem to happen on the road quite frequently.

Those Angels

(Our trailer parked near another one in Malibu–the Velamints Road Show trailer. In case you’re wondering what the Velamints road show is, it seems to consist of several young European guys who sleep late and then scream at a soccer game loudly while eating breakfast.)

The day after Sea World, we packed up and left for Los Angeles. The plan was to visit Hollywood and the La Brea tar pits for novel research purposes. I normally try to write made up locations or locations I’m familiar with to avoid just this sort of inconvenience, but for the current work in progress, I had no choice but to set part of it in LA.

The drive from Ramona to LA was only 2.5 hours, but it took us all. frigging. day. to get there. The traffic was obscene. I had identified a campground in Malibu with vacancies, so we made our way through LA to Malibu, and went to the location provided by the GPS. It wasn’t there. We found a park, but no campground, nearby.

Perplexed, we turned to our Rand McNally atlas. How could we lose a whole state campground. I observed on the map that the little campground symbol was near another road, called Coral Canyon Road. Could that be where the park entrance was located? It was already about 6 PM, and we were tired and wanting to set up camp. We headed for Coral Canyon Road and started up it.

And I mean up. It quickly became apparent that this was a really steep climb straight up into the mountains. And there was no place to turn around! We white-knuckled it up this curvy, twisty, scary road, looking for a place to escape, and finding nothing. We passed some houses perched on the mountain–no doubt unspeakably expensive–but did not want to use people’s driveways, and even if we did, it would involve three-point turns, and we really try to avoid backing up the trailer. (It can go horribly wrong, and when you have no room for error, that’s a very bad thing.)

We resigned ourselves to following the road to its end. The view was breathtaking, but we were all too nervous to enjoy it. We got to the end of the road, and at first it looked like a simple dirt track with no place to turn around. We were finished! We would have to abandon our trailer there on top of the mountain. Woe!

Fortunately, a little reconnaissance revealed that there was a parking lot. The area was a popular scenic view point and trail head. We chatted a bit with the people there, and then we turned around and headed down the mountain.

Here were were not out of trouble yet. In worse, in fact. Even making liberal use of the trailer brakes and lower gears, we heated up the car brakes quite a lot. The brakes became “squishy” and the smell of burning brakes filled the car. We got to the bottom and went to a roadside RV park that we’d identified and got a spot there.

Again, getting into the spot called for skilled trailer backing. Brent, who had just driven up Coral Canyon Road, was having a terrible time. Our neighbors in the next spot over cheerfully offered to help. They were German, and were touring the coast in a rented motor home. The man hopped into our Suburban and backed the trailer into the narrow spot in one try. It was very impressive!

The next day, we had a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed a commanding view of the ocean from our parking spot. When everyone was ready, we headed out for the tar pits. Because the temperature was a civilized 70 degrees, we had no worries of leaving the dogs locked in the trailer.

The tar pits were fantastic. It smelled like hot asphalt and there was tar bubbling and oozing everwhere. The park had tried to fence off the active pits, but it was clear they were playing a game of whack-a-mole with the tar, which had new pits forming in many open areas. We toured the excavations. Some key scenes from my book happen here, and I was happy to be able to see the layout of the place.

It was also amazing to see in person the world’s richest source of pleistocene fossils. Almost everything we know about the living world from 40,000 years or so ago comes from those tar pits. The museum was impressive, as well, and mercifully small. They have enough fossils to fill a hundred museums of the same size, but I appreciated that they kept it simple. (That was probably through budget limitations more than anything.)

After the tar pits, we ate at a burger place called The Counter. It was amusing that the waitress, who looked like she’d never eaten a hamburger in her life, had only the vaguest idea that the tar pits were there. “I think I can see them from here,” she said. In fact, they were directly across the street. She sees them every day she comes to work.

After the tar pits, we took a driving tour of Hollywood and the area around it. We hit all of the high points, literally, and again I got valuable on-the-ground data for my book. Then we went back to camp for the night.

The evenings activity was more hanging out with friends, taking us an oddly midwestern bar in Burbank, and then an oddly cinematic bar in North Hollywood. And by cinematic, I don’t mean it was full of movie memorabilia, but it seemed like a set from a movie–realer than real–and was populated by larger-than-life characters. More than that, I cannot say, because I promised the evening would not be “on Facebook.”

When we got back to camp, we were relieved that there had been no strange occurrences and no repeat of the “Woobly woobly” incident.


(La Brea Tar Pits. These tarped cubes are chunks of stuff pulled out of a parking lot excavation. They are waiting for scientists to have some time to take them apart.)

Vacation, Interrupted

That whole blogging thing sort of fell apart after Sea World, didn’t it? Well, let’s just pick up the thread and move on.

One thing I neglected in my previous posts was a tale of strange occurrences at the campground in Ramona. While Brent and I were at the brewpub in Escondido visiting with friends, Glen and Gramma and the dogs were back at camp. The narrative is a bit jumbled, but near as I can tell, here’s what happened.

The lady in the tent next to ours had a visitor, and the two of them were hanging out, toasting marshmallows or something. Police cars screeched into the campground, stopped at her site, and explained to her that there was a “chase” going on that they wanted her to know about. Helicopters swooped in and were searching the campground for someone.

Suddenly, a shrouded figure ran through the campground, and through the neighboring site. Glen and Gramma retreated inside the trailer. Soon after, they heard a strange voice making noises described as “Woobly woobly woobly.” At some point, the police left.

The next day, I tried to find a news item explaining what had been going on, but found nothing. We recalled that earlier that day, after we had returned from our day of visiting with relatives, we had arrived in camp to the sound of someone persistently screaming in the hills above camp. At the same time, two children in separate parts of the campground were also screaming and crying, the way children do. So the effect was totally weird and disconcerting.

The adult screaming voice was coming from either the part of the campground uphill from us, or from the hills and park beyond. It did not sound like a person in pain or distress. It sounded like a person screaming for the heck of it. “California!” I snorted. “Hmph.” And thought nothing of it. Was this screaming related to the later police chase and the mysterious “Woobly woobly?” We’ll never know. It kind of bugs me.

Sea World Day


On Saturday, we went to Sea World with the cousin and the mini-cousin. Glen has had a long-standing grudge against Sea World, specifically the Journey to Atlantis ride, since he was turned away at that ride at Sea World Orlando in 2003 for being too short (at age 4).

We went on JtA first thing. Twice. Brent is very vulnerable to vertigo, so I am, by default, the roller coaster riding parent. In a different marriage configuration, I would probably be the non-roller-coaster-riding-camera-holding parent. But in this life, I am the danger buddy. It gives me a chance to master my fear and whatever.

JtA was cheesy but fun. It implores you to “save Atlantis” by “opening your mind and truly communicating with the dolphins.” Each of three total times we “saved Atlantis” we high-fived each other. Tough work, but someone’s got to do it!

After Atlantis, we hit the penguins, mini-cousin’s favorite exhibit, and then the Shamu show. I was somewhat disappointed with Shamu because the whole show was whale tricks choreographed to music with zero commentary. They didn’t even tell us each whale’s name.

Traditionally, one of the most enjoyable parts of the show is learning about killer whales in general and about the different whale’s personalities and idiosyncracies. That was entirely absent. Instead we got mind-numbingly bad music with a “one world one ocean” them and lots of splashing. It looked like they had five whales altogether, but had no idea which was Shamu (the big one, I guess). It was entertaining, but I miss the old Shamu show. We speculated that Busch’s acquisition of the parks may have cheapened the Sea World experience.

We also saw the Clyde and Seymore show, which was better, but still not as good as I recall from Orlando in 2003, or from my childhood visiting the old Ohio Sea World. Also, the walrus was notably missing. I guess he was downsized. Clyde and Seamore always had a walrus before. Still, really cute, funny animals doing cute, funny stuff.

For Sea World, we were able to use the on-site kennels for the dogs, which was nicely convenient. The dogs were very happy to see us when we picked them up.

For the evening, we had to stop by Home Depot for some parts to fix more stuff that was broken (at some point I’ll have to run down the list), and then we ordered pizza and Brent and I stole away to nearby Escondido to meet friends for drinks. It was nice to step out of “family vacation” mode and do some adult socializing.

Sunday we packed up and headed for LA. LA is only a couple hours from San Diego, but it took us all day to get there and get camped. We were obstructed by traffic (OMG) and getting lost trying to find the state park campground I had identified. In looking for the park, we ended up on the scariest road we’ve ever been on with the trailer. It goes straight up into the mountains at 1800 feet elevation and winds along the spine of a ridge until you get to a parking lot where you can get a great view. Obviously, that was the wrong way. It was a big challenge to turn the rig around and get back down the hill safely. When we got to the bottom, the vehicle was filled with the smell of hot brakes. Eeek!

We gave up the search for the state park and camped at a private campground on the beach. The camp hostess checked us in, and for some reason we must have looked poor to her. At first she gave us a tent spot, and once we found the error and corrected it, she offered us an “Ocean view” spot for $80. Then, for no reason I could understand, she changed her mind and put us in a non-ocean view spot for $69. I could have paid the $80. Honest!

Whatever. The spot was tricky to back into. After watching a couple of false starts, a German man parked nearby offered to back it in. He hopped into our Suburban and put it right in with one try! We were so impressed. We both really need to practice our backing skills.

In talking to the Germans later, it turned out the one time they’d been to America before, they had visited Galesburg, Michigan, right near where the whole Shaffer family lives. In fact, Brent’s brother lives right there. Small world.

Today we will try to see the La Brea Tar Pits and maybe do a bit of a driving tour of Hollywood and surrounding areas. We don’t have time to really dive deep into LA, but it’s nice to be here.

Courage Meets the Ocean and Does Not Approve


Friday was the beginning of official vacation for me. We decided to take the dogs to a dog beach. There are many in San Diego, but we settled on Coronado, which seemed to have the features we were looking for. (Dogs off leash, safe for human swimming.)

The beach was lovely, and as soon as we got to the official dog area, Brent let Chewie off the leash to do his thing. He began working the crowd, introducing himself to dogs and people and playing in the surf. He loved it!

Courage can be reactive on-leash, so I wanted to make sure he was in off-leash mode before I unhooked him. Several dogs ran up and butts were sniffed, so I took him off the leash and invited him to play. He began moving up the beach with a worried look on his face, but I didn’t figure out right away what was going on. I followed behind him as he moved farther away from the water. He began to trot.

I called him, and he cast a glance over his shoulder at me and speeded up. I realized he was running for the car. He did not like the beach and wanted to get to his safe spot! To get there, he’d go down a gauntlet of leashed dogs, and with horror I imagined him venting his anxiety on some small, helpless silky chihuahua or something. I put on a burst of speed and closed the gap.

In my mind, it was an epic run. I was like FloJo sprinting down the beach after my fleet-footed hound. In reality, this is a mastiff I was chasing. I don’t think he even broke into a gallop, so it was maybe not as epic a run as it felt. Nonetheless, I sprinted! I caught up with him, lunged desperately for the collar, missed, fell, tumbled into the sand, and somehow caught the collar on a second grab. Success! My mouth, hair and clothes were full of sand, but I had averted disaster.

Breathing hard, I walked Courage back to where the rest of the family was. He stayed on leash for the duration. I tried showing him that the scary ocean was made of water, and he met many friendly dogs, but he became increasingly anxious and grouchy, until he began snapping at dogs that wanted to meet him. At that point, he was taken back to the beach blanket and kept there by one of us until it was time to go.

Lesson learned: Courage does not like beaches, especially dog beaches.

Now Chewie, on the other hand, was in his glory. He had the most fun of his life. He took it upon himself to greet every single dog and human. He also met several of his favorite kind of dog—the small white fluffy kind. It was cute to see him excitedly smelling and following the little white fluffy ones, some of whom were mildly alarmed by the attention. He also got to see a small white fluffy dog wearing a shirt. Dogs wearing clothes is his other big fascination. It’s like a friend, INSIDE of a stuffed animal toy.

I walked him off-leash all the way down to the end, near the naval station, and he stayed with me obediently the whole way. Chewie is a wonderful dog to take to the beach. We did find the limits of his loyalty, however. I got him out into the surf about to where it started to lift him up, and he called it quits, with a distinct look of regret, like, “Sorry, Mom, I love you,
but this I ridiculous.”

Chewie reclaimed the good dog crown from Courage that day.

So Glen and I did some body surfing sans dog. A couple of retrievers were out there having a ball. It was funny to see them leaping into the waves as they broke.

All around, it was fun to be at the beach with dogs and dog lovers. Next time will leave Courage at home.

On the way out of the beach, down the dog gauntlet, I had trouble restraining Courage. He was absolutely OVER the whole beach thing and in a rotten mood. While waiting for the hose to rinse ourselves and the dogs off, he went after a Bernese Mountain Dog. I had a firm hand on his collar and pulled back. Heedless, he went for it anyway, dragging me across the ground. I
stopped him, but ended up with a road rash on one leg. Sheesh.

Here’s a bonus picture of Glen in the zoo with both dogs.

The zoo

Repair Day

Courage the travelin dog

Courage was being really cute laying with his head in Brent’s lap, so I snapped a pic on my camera phone and got this, where he is looking more crazy than cute. This is why I don’t have a career in photography.

Brent spent the next day, Wednesday, Aug. 17, getting the water system working and trying to fix the door handle. We couldn’t find a replacement part for the door handle, and it would need spot-welding to fix the original, so it could not be completely repaired. But it is partly functional, now. The water system needed a connector which we got at a local hardware store.

We did finally have running water and a functioning bathroom in the trailer, which is really nice. The water pump still doesn’t work, so we only have these amenities when we have water hookup.

I worked from the trailer and afterward relaxed with a book and helped Brent as best I could.

Thursday after work we got together with Brent’s cousin and her family, including adorable mini-cousin Will. We went over to her house which turned out to be quite convenient to the campground we ended up at. Because it was 97 degrees in Ramona that day, we couldn’t leave the dogs in the trailer. (I don’t trust the A/C to keep running, and if it quit, the dogs could die in that kind of heat.)

Fortunately, the cousin had a lovely little California back yard where we could leave the dogs while we visited. Unfortunately, they are dogs. First, Courage despoiled the brand new, perfect sod. Twice. He’d been constipated for days and apparently the nice grass helped get the works moving again. Brent and I got busy with plastic bags and hoses to clean up.

Then Chewie’s loyalty problem became active again. He was pawing at the sliding glass patio door and barking and crying to be let in. I secured his leash to their heavy patio table to keep him from damaging the screen door. The table is one of those large, wrought iron sets with a glass top. I felt that would keep him away from the door.

Courage was definitely looking like the Good Dog by now, redeeming himself from that unfortunate scuffle at the campground.

However, while Will was putting on a puppet show that included his rendition of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” there was a clunk at the back door. I went to investigate (missing the best part of the show!), and Chewie had dragged the whole patio set over to within reach of the door and had somehow popped the screen door off its tracks. Argh! We fixed everything up and tied him to a sturdy immovable post, instead. As soon as it got cool enough, we took them back to camp and locked them in the trailer. After that, we had a nice, dog-free dinner at a hamburger place in Poway, and then we all went back to camp to toast marshmallows, which the little guy particularly enjoyed.

San Diego, Aug. 16, Pretty Quiet


On Tuesday we drove through Las Vegas and into California. After sacrificing some corn and cherries at the produce inspection station, we headed down toward San Diego. That was a work day for me, so I worked while Brent drove. After I was done, I had to find a place for us to camp. This is becoming an increasing source of stress. It is actually pretty hard to find camping spots. Many of the good campgrounds are full, especially in the San Diego area. I finally found a campground near Ramona, California that had a camp site open through the weekend, so we headed that direction.

Ramona has nice resonance for me. Although it is a very tiny town, I know of it because my good childhood friend Juli spent summers there with her Dad in high school. I posted so many letters to Ramona! (Letters are like email that we used to make by scratching on paper.)

We got to the campground to check in, though, and the ranger said it was full through the weekend. I asked why, then, the registration system was showing open camp sites. He got into the computer and noted with surprise that there were many sites open. He told us we were lucky and assigned us a site where we stayed for five nights.

By then we were all tired from traveling every day for nine days and badly in need of staying in one place for a while.

Sadly, just about the first thing that happened was that Courage got loose and got in a fight with a dog. Chewie also got loose and ran over to help. (He’s trying to stop Courage, but you can’t tell unless you look closely.) It was a perfect storm of inattention, as the people responsible for each dog lapsed at exactly the moment a rather cranky dog was being walked close to our camp site.

It was our fault, but I must say that the owner’s reaction was downright mean considering we grabbed the dogs and broke it up right away, and that there was no actual harm to any dog. He and his wife let loose a string of profanities and when they were done yelling, they immediately went and yelled at the ranger, who then came and told us to make sure our dogs were leashed at all times. We promised we would and apologized.

I have had my dog attacked by other dogs, drawing blood in multiple places, and never unloaded on a stranger that way.

Anyway, we were happy to finally be camped for more than one quick night, and the rest of the evening went smoothly. It was great to finally set up the awning and screen room that go with the trailer. We put the X-pen in it and called it the zoo. We each enjoyed relaxing with the dogs in the “zoo” at various times.

The next day, a pair of schnauzers moved in directly next door to us, so, ironically, our quiet and peaceful days were punctuated by the vicious snarls of these two tiny dogs. The owners (who were very nice) were refreshingly honest. “They don’t like dogs and they don’t like people,” they explained. All righty, then! The schnauzers would snarl and growl even when no one was there, just in case. I named them The Perfectly Horrible Schnauzers, and I secretly snapped a pic. Here they are. Fear them! (Yes, they are kind of cute. Don’t be fooled!)

Perfectly Horrible Schnauzers