We took the dogs to the 6-Mile Creek Whitewater Bluegrass Festival in Alaska this weekend. It was great! I was very happy with how Bean and Peanut did and how the dogs felt about the experience.
It was a bit like a dog park with music, but it worked out well, since the dogs all started to know each other. The surface (river rocks) also discouraged a lot of running and playing, so it was easier for the dogs to stay calm. There was a lot of space and the dogs were off leash, so they were able to diffuse tension more naturally.
I have a few tips for those of you who are thinking of taking your dog or puppy to a music festival, dog park, party, wedding, or other big event.
- Your dog's wellbeing is the priority. We were ready to leave immediately or change something if the dogs were no longer having fun. Fortunately, we were able to stay for a few hours before our dogs said "that's enough." That's a big deal for these dogs, and I was thrilled. Think long and hard before bringing your dog in the first place.
- Bring treats but try not to let the other dogs know you have them.
- If you have a blanket and such or stay in one place for a long time, keep in mind that your dog may start to guard your area, so move around if you're seeing that your dog is tense about dogs or people approaching his space.
- Choose a spot that has a comfortable place for your dog to lie down. Bringing a bed isn't necessarily the right choice, since other dogs may mark it or your dog may guard it.
- Bring a way to break up a fight, like water, Silly String, or Spray Shield. Don't bring your dog if you think it's likely he will get into a fight or if he's terrified of other dogs or people.
- Keep an eye on your dog at all times so that you can scoop the poop and make sure that all interactions are friendly. Avoid dogs that may cause trouble or get help from their caretakers to keep them away from your dog.
- Plan your sitting area(s) to be in a low-stress location. Lower traffic with an escape route is better. Dogs have sensitive ears, so choose a quieter spot, not close to the speakers.
- Even dogs who are great with other dogs and people will need to take a break. Walk your dog away from the area from time to time.
- Keep your dog cool and hydrated. That means feeling the ground to make sure it's not too hot.
And 10 bonus tips:
- Friendly dog? If your dog is really over-the-top friendly, call your dog away after a short greeting to see how things are going, especially with dogs who seem shy. Watch for signs that the other dog is unhappy, like moving away from your dog, turning away, jumping up to other people, growling, etc. A 'friendly' dog that won't leave you alone is like that wasted guy that hangs all over you and can't take a hint.
- Stay relatively sober so that you can make good choices on your dog's behalf.
- If other dogs are off-leash, your dog probably should be off-leash too, unless you have a long leash and are able to totally keep the leash loose during all greetings. If you are worried that your dog may get in a fight, or won't come when called, he shouldn't be there. Here are some tips on coming when called and there is more training in my book, the Ahimsa Dog Training manual.
- If your dog may have trouble coping, walk into the festival grounds without your dog first to see what the situation looks like.
- Teach your dog to be comfortable with amplified music and applause, yelling, whistles. Feed some treats or massage your dog after all applause begins.
- Be ready to treat or distract your dog if he sees something unusual, but let him check it out and move on if he can do it. It's not everyday you see a man wearing giant horns or women upside down 15 feet in the air. Definitely treat for any microphone feedback squeals or anytime another dog barks ("Bark Bonus").
- Watch for changes in the situation, like the one in the last clip, where everyone started packing together to watch the Viking burial barge and some of the dogs started barking at the GoPro drone. Or if people start to talk about setting off fireworks, you may need to leave. Fortunately, there were none at this festival.
- Pick your camping spot for your dog's comfort level. You may even need to stay completely off site. That's what we decided to do, to help the dogs chill.
- Keep your dog out of people's food. I saw several dogs get smacked by strangers when a dog approached their food. That's not good for your dog's socialization, nor is it good for people's willingness to let dogs participate. I have to admit, I was guilty of this on one occasion (letting Bean get too close). I was livid that someone smacked him, but it was my own fault for not calling him away sooner.
- Make sure dogs are welcome! Not all festivals allow dogs.
Other tips? Please share below. Here are some short clips from the weekend (if you like the clips, please subscribe to my YouTube channel).