A Dog-Friendly Vacation
Travel goes to the dogs
Thirty million Americans traveled with their pets in the past three years--and 78 percent of the time that meant taking your dog along for the ride, according to the U.S. Travel Association. In the Midwest and elsewhere around the country, dog owners are finding hotels and attractions eager to cater to this growing canine culture.
"You used to have hotels that it was just, yeah, they'll accept the dog," says Len Kain, co-founder of Dogfriendly.com, a website that lists pet-friendly spots nationwide. "But now they have packages for the dogs, even massages for dogs and room service menus for dogs."
Midwest Living® Executive Editor Trevor Meers took his black Lab, Moose, and his family on a trek to the Chicago area to check out the area's doggy destinations. Read about their finds on the next slides, as well as tips for traveling with your dog.
Special treats for your pooch
If you've been leaving your dog in a kennel, you might be surprised at just how pet-friendly travel can be. Some Midwest examples:
-- The room service team at Chicago's James Hotel fetches doggie entrees including a filet mignon and cow hooves, each in the $10 range.
-- Dogs whose tastes run more to hot dogs can attend certain games of the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers (plus many minor league games).
Dog-friendly Chicago hotels
Will urban types be scandalized by an 80-pound dog--clearly not one of those tiny canines tucked like Versace clutches under movie stars' arms?
Not at the famously pet-friendly Hotel Monaco, where staff members greet dogs by name, politely hand over a damage waiver addressed to the dog, then provide a map to a grassy oasis five minutes away along the Chicago River.
Another upscale downtown lodging that's dog-friendly is James Chicago Hotel, a stylish hotel near Michigan Avenue's shopping district.
Chicago and its suburbs offer many other dog-friendly hotels; check the city's Canine Clubhouse link below or Dogfriendly.com for more ideas.
Cruising with your pet
If the boat isn't full, dogs are welcome at no charge on Seadog Cruises that depart from Chicago's Navy Pier and cruise up the river and along the lakeshore. Be ready to get wet when the speedboat hits the lake!
Before or after your cruise, enjoy walking around Navy Pier--leashed dogs are allowed throughout the outdoor areas of this entertainment complex that extends into Lake Michigan, just east of the Loop.
Dine with your dog
More dog destinations in Chicago
Barker and Meowsky This leading pet boutique in Lincoln Park offers treats, leashes, beds and more without the precious attitude that accompanies many such stores. Say hi to Labs Gus and Casey.
Soggy Paws If your dog is dirty from vacation, stop at one of this dog wash's four locations (self-service available at 3 p.m.). A wash includes a choice of more than a dozen types of shampoo and a hair dryer--all for around 20 bucks.
Dog parks Chicago has several recommended off-leash dog parks, including Grant Park's relatively new Bark Park and the Montrose Dog Beach. All require a Dog-Friendly Area tag, available through a visit to a Chicago-area vet. Note: Dogs are not allowed in Millennium Park. For looser regulations and more territory, try the 44-acre dog exercise area in Prairie Wolf Forest Preserve in the northern suburb of Lake Forest.
The ultimate vacation for dog owners and their pets may be dog camps, where animals and owners escape for long weekends of behavior training, goofy contests and relaxing with folks who don't notice the dog hair on your clothes.
"In the daily world, people's tolerance for hearing about your dog is pretty low," says Alysa Slay, a Chicago child psychologist who runs a camp on the side. "At camp, you can go on and on about your dog and what they eat, what they do, and people are interested."
'Planet's best dog camp'
Alysa Slay and business partner Dave Eisendrath host Camp Dogwood three times a year at 102-year-old Camp Henry Horner in Ingleside, Illinois (50 miles north of Chicago).
Most sessions sell out, with about 120 campers and dogs shuttling among classes, competitions and swims in the lake. It adds up to the "planet's best dog camp," according to the Animal Planet TV network.
Fun and games
At Camp Dogwood, one class focuses on teaching loose dogs to return to their owners. Trainer Dennis Damon suggests making it a game by letting dogs hunt for treats hidden in pockets. Other activities include agility courses and freestyle dance classes.
"Remember," Dennis says," if the neighbors aren't talking about you, you're not having enough fun with your dog."
Canines on stage
Another highlight of Camp Dogwood: the Canine Actors' Studio, where dogs practice for a performance of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Bone.
A towering Great Dane mix circles the room with a felt tarantula on his head. The dog's full name is Dunkin Donuts Da Dog, says his owner, a Southside Chicago cop forever relishing the name's cleverness. "We love camp," says Dogwood veteran Terry Maderak, whose patrols have included the infamous Cabrini Green. "It's our escape from reality."
Tips for traveling with dogs
Dogfriendly.com's Len Kain offers the following advice for anyone taking a pooch on the road:
RSVP for Rover Finding hotels in advance lets you get amenities you want and skip hotels with pet charges.
Pack for the pooch Bring your dog's regular food to head off an upset stomach, and carry a small dish to make watering easy. Be a considerate dog owner: Buy a box of plastic cleanup bags.
Take driving breaks Dogs need a walk every 2-4 hours.
See the next slide for more ideas on dog-friendly travel.
More tips for traveling with dogs
Know your dog If your pet can't handle attention, avoid crowded areas. And chronic barkers won't make friends at hotels.
Don't rub noses in it Avoid hanging out in hotel lobbies except at dog-friendly locations. "Respect the fact that not everyone wants your dog where they are," Len says.
Get beach-savvy Beaches remain restrictive places for dogs. Check policies in advance.
Leave the leash on Dogs on strange turf are more likely to run off and struggle to find their way back. "You're not on your home terrain, and your dog doesn't have the same knowledge of its surroundings," Len says.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2009.)