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Have Dogs, Will Travel: Vacation Rental Edition

Vacations are the best thing ever. Back in the day Mr. Dog Walker and I used to travel a lot and took some pretty sweet vacations. Lately we’ve been sticking closer to home due to some budget constraints brought on by a mix-up with The Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. They keep bringing that giant check to places that aren’t my house.

Anyway, that means that for the past few years we’ve skipped the plane rides and rented a cabin here in Maine. That’s turned out to be pretty awesome, because we get to take the dogs with us on our summer vacations and explore our new-ish home state together.

Renting a house is a really great idea if you want to vacation with dogs in general. If you have a reactive dog or a dog that doesn’t like being left at home for any reason, it’s the business.

We’ve rented three different houses with Boogie and Birdie, so I thought I’d share some things that have helped us enjoy our rentals. It’s not a complete list of everything you need to know. It’s just the weird stuff that helps us get our particular vacation groove on:

1. The Secret Password is Secluded: I use VRBO to search for rentals. When I find some that I like, I scour the descriptions and reviews from past renters for certain words: “secluded”, “private”, “in the middle of nowhere”,  or my personal favorite: “I didn’t have to close the blinds or curtains because there was no one around to see me getting undressed.” I immediately throw out any rental with reviews that say stuff like: “super friendly neighbors that drop by”, “the owners are right next door”, or “very dog friendly – everyone nearby had a dog.”

whoa sign

This is the kind of thing I like to see when I rent a place.

2. Lurk it Out: Then I look at the photos listed very closely. Most of the photos of the outside of the house will be strategically staged, so even the most packed-in cabins seem like they’re spaced far away from one another. But in the interior photos of the house, I can sometimes glean a little more info by looking at any windows pictured. Sometimes I spot the neighbors pressing their faces into the kitchen window. Or, more likely, I might spot a building right outside the bathroom window. Maybe it’s just a shed, but maybe it’s the house next door. If I’m still not sure how private the property is, I just ask the owners how close the nearest house is and tell them we’re looking for privacy because we’re hermits with a life threatening allergy to polite chit chat.

(Note: In the comment section a reader reminded me of another way to lurk: satellite maps! Those have been helpful for me in the past too, so check those out. Thanks Sara!)

3. Timing Is Everything: We always book our week at the very end of August/beginning of September. We do this to avoid the crowds, families with kids (they’re back in school by then), and other renters. Some of the places we’ve rented that have been very private were that way because the house next door was unoccupied/closed down for the summer. We’ve also found that by that time of the year (in Maine at least), many houses are empty Monday-Thursday, with just weekend visitors. So even if you have neighbors, it’s just for a couple of days. If you can be flexible about the times you travel, try aiming for shoulder season rentals.

4. Cover Up: After we arrive, we want to make sure we get our security deposit back. So we always pack 4-6 blankets/sheets to drape over all the couches and chairs in the house. Most rentals do not allow dogs on the furniture. I don’t know about you guys, but my dogs live on the furniture at home and it would confuse the pants off of them if they weren’t allowed to get on the furniture while on vacation. So instead of trying to explain it to the dogs or the owners, I just cover everything in sheets and let them sit where they want. At the end of the week, I take off the blankets and viola! No fur.

Also: I remove decorative pillows and throws from couches, etc. and put them in a closet. I take them back out when we go. A sticky roller never hurt either. I roll the place on the way out.

birdie rocks 3

Birdie rocks hard on vacation

5. Home Alone, In Stages: Leaving the dogs in the new house alone for the first time always makes me nervous, so on the first day we don’t really go anywhere. By day two or three, I usually have a pretty good sense of who might stop by (usually the owner or caretaker stops by the first day or so to say hello) and the dogs are settling into a routine. When we leave them alone in the house for the first time, we just do a short trip – like out to lunch – and come back to find out if they’ve had any trouble. By mid-week, we’re leaving them alone in the house all day while we do some major exploring.

Our dogs are comfortable being home alone normally, so this isn’t much of a stretch for them. I’m just making sure the new place doesn’t have any quirks,like ghosts of former vacationers, that might freak them out. But if your dog has accidents or is destructive in your own home, bring a crate.

6. Emergency Strange Dog Plan: Even the most secluded places will usually have a local dog or two that like to stop by to say “hi” to the new renters. This is a problem for us.

Here’s what we do if we spot a loose dog near our rental house: Mr. Dog Walker picks Boogie up and carries him into the house. I walk towards the unfamiliar dog to try to intercept them. Birdie plays mid-fielder. That sounds obvious right?

Here’s the rule that makes this handy: No Discussion. We don’t debate it. We see the dog, Boogie gets picked up and brought in the house. No discussion between us and no discussion with Boogie. Having this quick, no questions asked plan gives us peace of mind. Most of the time the plan is activated for nothing, but a few times it’s saved us from some really sticky situations.

When we’re far from the house, it’s a similar plan. One of us removes Boogie, while the other stays behind with Birdie to deal with the loose dog. This is also helpful in all kinds of random travel moments, like bathroom breaks in unfamiliar areas or even getting on and off a ferry. One person picks up and goes (or just walks the dog away), while the other stays put and handles the other dog. If you’re alone, here are some tips for dealing with loose dogs.

Also, it’s worth noting that a muzzle is a pretty awesome tool to use whenever you’re traveling and can’t be sure of what scenarios your dog might encounter. Ain’t no shame in the muzzle game. Be proud of being proactively safe.

boogie on the rocks

Boogie just wants to hike. He doesn’t want to say “hi” to your dog. It’s his vacation. He can do what he wants.

7. Pack Like a Scout: Finally, every vacation of ours has been made a little easier by packing a lot of extra toys, calming treats, their beds from home, two long tie-outs to use in the yard (there’s never a fence), and a bottle of Hibiclens to clean the inevitable scrapes and bumps that come with hanging out in the Maine woods. Also, booze for me.

Man, now I just want to go on vacation again. Why can’t we work one week a year and go on vacation the other 51? That seems like a way better deal.

How about you? What are some ways you’ve made vacation with your dogs, especially DINOS, a little easier? Share in the comments!

Oh, and here’s a couple more resources that might help you plan a fun dog-friendly trip: Go Pet Friendly! And a great blog with tips on vacationing with a reactive dog.

  1. Marjie Douty #

    Yep, sticky rollers are the bomb. I use them on the way out of my Dad’s beach house. Like the Marines…no hairs left behind!

    September 3, 2013
  2. I do the same thing on VRBO! Sometimes, if they give enough info, I can google map the house and look at it from satellite photos. That is a HUGE help, because I can tell how far away neighbors will be, and if there are shrubs/trees that block views of other neighbors.

    It’s so nice to hear I’m not the only one who goes to such lengths to find rental properties.

    September 4, 2013
    • That’s a great tip Sara – thank you for reminding me about satellite maps! I use those too and have found them to be very helpful.

      It may seem like overkill to others, but I only get one week off a year with my husband and dogs, so I really want to make sure we’ve picked the right place for our wacky family to be comfortable. So far, the sleuthing has really paid off for us – I hope it has for you as well!

      September 4, 2013
  3. My husband & I have not gone on vacation together since we adopted our reactive dog (March 2010). We were just discussing plans for next year & possibly looking to rent a dog friendly place in Maine. If you have the time, can you email me privately the places you’ve stayed when you were in Maine? Thank you!!!

    September 4, 2013
  4. This is such a great post, thank you!

    I have never vacationed in Maine (we usually go to Nantucket — great hiking, very dog-friendly, but probably a little crowded dog-wise for a reactive pup during the high season). Maybe we’ll have to branch out. 🙂

    September 4, 2013
  5. What do you mean by tie outs? Finding a place with a fence is really a challenge!

    September 4, 2013
  6. LauraL #

    Lots of good tips here. We take our shy dog with us to Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks in September, which is a quiet time on a less populated beach so he gets to enjoy the ocean, too. We have a tradition of packing our dinner and breakfast so the dogs are not left alone until they have spent a night at the cottage. They also get new bones and happily settle in on the deck or screened porch. By the next morning, they are “home” after breakfast.

    September 4, 2013
  7. I have the deepest desire to vacation with the dogs, and I plan and plan and then the thought of leaving them in said vacation spot (for even a quick lunch) squashes my hopes and dreams. Melvin can be left at our current home, no prob. Anywhere else, his anxiety sets up shop in his soul and he freaks out the whole time that humans are gone. I’d spend the whole vacation desensitizing him to the vacation spot just in time to return home. So unless the vacation is a dogs-with-you-24/7, it prob won’t happen!

    September 4, 2013
    • Maybe a long weekend away with the boys would be a fun compromise? You could bring groceries with you and eat at home, then spend the rest of the day/night with them so Melvin doesn’t get possessed? If you rent a place that’s near friends or family, you can invite them over to your house to hang out! To be honest, this past vacation we were on such a tight budget, we hardly went out at all. There were whole days in a row where we stayed at home, ate all of our meals at the house, and spent all of our time with the dogs (walking, exploring, or hanging out on the porch). It was still a lot of fun. Definitely a challenge if you can’t leave Melly Mel at home alone, but it still might be fun if it’s set up right!

      September 4, 2013
    • BlackLabX #

      Hi OhMelvin. Can Melvin stay in your car without anxiety? I can’t leave my dog in a new place either, but he does quite well in the car. Of course we make sure that we only leave him for a short time, park in the shade, ensure good air flow, and NEVER leave him in the car in hot weather. It works well, though, at night after the sun goes down, and also in the colder months.

      Anyway, it’s just a thought, and may, or may not work for you. Best of luck to you and Melvin.

      September 4, 2013
      • That is a really good idea! He loves the car! Thank you so much for this!!

        September 5, 2013
  8. Jeanette #

    I really appreciated this post. My husband and I have four Great Danes and have not been on vacation in about 5 or 6 years and I DESPARATELY need one. My husband will no longer allow us to board due to an emergency pre-bloat situation with a previous Dane we had not to mention that two of our dogs are special needs with one being deaf and the other blind (she is also prone to bloat). Your post makes me feel it is definitely a possibility to find a place that will let us come and bring our dogs although I would be very nervous about leaving them in the rental by themselves. But I could work around it – would rather have them destroy something in the van vs. someone’s property.

    September 4, 2013
    • Another option might be to rent an RV/camper so that you can have them with you pretty much all the time!

      September 4, 2013
      • Jeanette #

        We had looked into that option, but that is even more expensive than renting a house – and I opt for renting a house. 🙂 That’s why I was glad to see your post and it made me feel even more comfortable about doing that.

        September 5, 2013

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