Our Search for a Labrador Friendly Camping Trailer
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
My husband and I have been searching for a camper all spring and summer. We have looked at everything from a luxury fifth wheel (too heavy and too expensive for now) to a teeny tiny 8 foot pop-up camper and everything in between. Well, everything under 4,200 pounds, at least. Throughout our search one thing has remained constant: there must be room for the dogs, a way to kennel them should we need to, and air conditioning to keep them cool.
Camping is a fairly new thing for me. In the past I have gone on a handful of weekend camping trips back in my twenties and thirties with groups of friends, a cheap tent, some hot dogs and chips, and more of the cooler space dedicated to beer than to food. I have never done family style camping or taken any of my dogs except for one night when Babe and I stayed in a tent at a festival style party in a friend’s yard. Even in my younger days I always had the policy of no drinking allowed when responsible for dogs, period.
Growing up in rural New Jersey my family was extremely outdoorsy. We lived lakefront and had a canoe and rowboat at our disposal, went on tons of hikes, went downhill skiing all winter. We fished, rode horses, went ice skating, ice fishing, river rafting down the Delaware, took bicycle trips. My brothers and I played in the stream and the lake and the woods every waking moment that we were not at school until our parents made us come inside around 9 pm each night. But we never once went camping because all of those activities were either right in our yard or just a day trip away, or we went to our beloved Ridin Hy Ranch in upstate New York and stayed in cabins. Of course our black Labrador Retriever Snoop accompanied us on as many of these adventures as she could.
Fast forward to adulthood and although I still love the outdoors and would like to resume most of these things that I did as a kid with my own family, with Jackson and Tinkerbell by our side, I won’t pretend that my idea of camping is more glamping. I love to be outdoors by day and in a nice clean modern room to shower and sleep. If that room happened to have four or five stars, even better! Enter the need for a camper or RV!
With each version that we have viewed we have had the same criteria: room for us and at least two of the three teens, and sufficient room for two seventy pound Labradors. Floor plans with long, narrow areas are out because there is nowhere for a dog bed and for them to snuggle up comfortably. Slide outs to expand the living area or hybrid travel trailers in which the beds are located in tent like areas that extend past the camper walls give more floor space. Even square pop-up units seem to give more floor space for the dogs than a long, narrow travel trailer without slide outs.
I feel like we are on the HGTV show Tiny House Hunters as we contemplate each option and how it fits our life and family. “We can fold the dinette table down to a platform and toss dog beds up there at night, I bet Tinkerbell would sleep up there and Jax will probably prefer a bed on the floor” are among the things that we say. Or, “We could keep their travel crates in the back of the pickup when they aren’t in them and put them on top of the folded down dinette if we want to go somewhere that they are not allowed, like to the pool or a restaurant, as long as the air conditioning is functional and we have some way to monitor the temperature!”
I have learned that 57% of RV owners bring their pets along with them on camping trips, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. In fact we were recently shopping for campers at a Camping World location and I was happy to see that their selection of food and treats for dogs consisted of healthier, organic and grain free options and brands instead of the mainstream lower quality items that many stores that do not specialize in pets sell.
In fact their dog aisles were stocked nicely with plenty of options for dog beds, bowls, steps and ramps, toys, tie outs*, moveable fences, and a huge selection of Dog is Good clothing and housewares. In fact once we start to camp I will definitely be purchasing the cute hoodie sweatshirt with a black Labrador holding a hot dog roasting stick in her mouth! Since these stores are located near popular camping areas around the country, their selection of products gave me the idea that they are a go-to resource for pet owners who live a RV lifestyle. It was nice to know that as a customer we could look for one of their stores if we needed anything for our own dogs.
Although we began the summer about to purchase a brand new travel trailer with a toilet, a shower and a sofa, a veritable home on wheels, we decided to start small and inexpensively to make sure that we are indeed a family who even likes to camp. With this in mind, we have finally decided on the right option for us and are purchasing a vintage 1965 pop-up camper that we will gut and rehab from top to bottom. It may not have the amenities that I want, and right now it smells the way I imagine 1965 smelled, but we will make it so that it is cute and clean and dog friendly and has a place to go to the bathroom at 3 in the morning if needed.
Of course it had to meet the criteria of having a nice space for Jackson and Tinkerbell to comfortably sleep at night as well as in the event of inclement weather if we are all stuck inside. My husband is designing a table that can act as a platform for them with dog beds that will match the rest of the decor, although I have an idea that the same sleeping arrangement will happen as does at home with Tinkerbell on the bed and Jackson on the floor next to me. Regardless of where they choose to sleep in the camper, they will be right there with us on adventures, which is exactly where a dog should be.
*It is important to note that while I am not in favor of tie outs for dogs at home, I understand their purpose at a campsite to give the dog a bit more freedom as long as the owner is right there with the dog at all times.