Returning from Vacation
October O’Hara, Contributing Writer for www.lifewithyourdog.com
Rita Hawthorne, makeup artist, frequent traveler, and owner of 2 Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
October O’Hara: So you just returned from vacation? Where did you go?
Rita Hawthorne: I was in Europe – Paris and other areas of France.
O.O.: What are the challenges you face when you return from vacation, and how do you adjust to getting back into the routine of normal life, specifically concerning your dogs?
R.H.: Jet lag is the first challenge I face when I return to New York. My dogs did not accompany me so their internal clocks have not been altered. When they come home they are ready to play while I can hardly keep my eyes open.
O.O.: What suggestions do you have to deal with jet lag and your dogs?
R.H.: After much experimentation, I have learned to carefully plan my trip so that I arrive at home the day before my dogs come home. If I return to New York, for example, on a Thursday, I schedule my dogs to come home on Friday in the late afternoon. This gives me time to unpack, unwind, sleep and adjust.
O.O.: What other challenges do you encounter when they come home?
R.H.: Typically I am gone for 2 ½ weeks, so with this length of time they have adapted to the doggy day care schedule. When they come home, they have to re-adapt to their old schedule, which is now new to them. This is not so bad, but coupled with the fact that they are so excited to be back with their mommy, in their own home, in their own neighborhood, they tend to be very rambunctious.
O.O.: How do you handle the energy?
R.H.: That is complicated as I tend to be a high strung person. A few years ago a friend advised me to always schedule a 2 week vacation because it takes about 4-5 days to decompress from our crazy lives. During the rest of the vacation the focus should be on relaxation, rejuvenation, and fun. I experimented with this philosophy and found that she was right. If I take a 2 week vacation, I am able to come back to my life quite refreshed. I have taken less time off when I visit my family, which is not really a vacation. Why I share this with you is that I have determined that it takes equally as long to readjust when you return from your vacation regardless of how many days you stay away. It takes 4-5 days to get back into your schedule, especially if you are jet lagged. This is true whether you work a full time job, free lance or work at home. While I am so happy to see my dogs, they absolutely drive me crazy during the first week that I am at home. On vacation I do not have any doggy responsibilities – no feeding, walking, cleaning up, grooming, etc. – and all of a sudden I am thrust back into taking care of 2 dogs, as well as work, household tasks, and social obligations. I get irritable and cranky. When I begin to feel edgy and cross, I step back, take a breath and remember that soon our lives will get back on schedule. I remind myself every day that it takes time to readjust, and everything will fall into place.
O.O.: What other adjustments have you experienced when you come home?
R.H.: Sometimes the dogs have upset stomachs. While I always send them to the doggy day care with their regular food, sometimes they run out, and while the staff usually is able to get their brand of food, on occasion they have to eat a different brand. If that is the case, I ask the doggy day care to send a 5 day supply home with the dogs. The first day at home I feed them the food that they ate at doggy day care. On the second day, and for the next 5 days, I mix their normal food with the food they ate at doggy day care, thus gently easing them off of the doggy day care food. Sometimes, they have a little diarrhea, but it is not serious. I have found an easy way to calm their stomachs. I buy turkey flavored Gerber’s Baby food in the jar at the supermarket. I coat their food dish on the bottom and sides with the creamy baby food. Then I add a small spoonful of unflavored rice and their dog food. The rice sticks to the baby food and the bowl. This preparation encourages them to eat more slowly, as well as, lick the bowl clean. Rice and baby food is great for a dog’s upset tummy.
O.O.: That is a great tip. What are the advantages of going on vacation without your pets?
R.H.: The main focus of my vacation is rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. This would not be possible if I was bound to a doggy schedule. My mother, who has 5 children, always said, “Family vacations are for the kids, not for the parents. I still have all of the responsibilities of being a mother, but just in a different location.” When I am on vacation my responsibility is to ensure that I get rest. I do miss them and worry about them when I am away, but I have done my due diligence and know that they are safe and having a good time.
O.O.: Any other advantages?
R.H.: Boarding my pets for 2 ½ weeks offers them the opportunity to play with other dogs, and have a different daily experience. After they arrive at home and the initial excitement fades they crash. They are so used to playing all day long, running around, and going on numerous walks, that after 2 ½ weeks they are exhausted. At home they sleep through most of the day and night. This lasts for about 3-4 days. It is so adorable to watch these little beings curled up asleep on the bed or sofa . . . and nothing wakes them.
O.O.: Do you have any advice to pet owners about boarding vs. a dog sitter vs. even taking them with you during your holiday.
R.H.: Great question and one that I have researched. One veterinarian said, “This is what I would do in order of safety – 1. Hire a dog sitter. 2. Board at your own risk. 3. Never fly with your pet.” Each person and situation is different. For me hiring a dog sitter is not an option. I prefer not to have other people in my home. I have both boarded my dogs, and have taken them with me on the airplane. In the case of a vacation, if I am gone for less than 1 month, I decided that it was too stressful for my dogs to travel overseas with me, so I boarded them in doggy day care. As for choosing a doggy day care, I suggest that you speak to other people who board their dogs, as well as check out a few facilities in your area. I board my dogs at Pup Culture in New York City. My dogs have stayed there since they were puppies. Not only are my dogs familiar with the facility, the staff remembers their names, and are so excited to have them stay. Wherever I am, I always call the facility every 2 – 3 days to make sure that all is well. Some places even have a puppy webcam where you can log in and see your dog. The most important element is that you research the facility. It also may be helpful to have your dog stay there for 1-2 days a few weeks before your vacation so that they are familiar with the space, the people and the schedule.
O.O.: What about flying with your pet?
R.H.: I have flown with my dogs on several occasions. When Bella was a puppy, she was small enough to fit into a carrier and stowed under the seat. I paid the extra fee and brought her with me in the cabin. A few years ago I had to leave the country for 2 months, so I decided to take the dogs with me. As I had 2 dogs, they had to fly in cargo. I did a lot of research to determine if I felt comfortable with the decision to have them fly in cargo, and decided that it was worth it. There is an article, Traveling with Your Dog, on your web site that covers the steps of flying with your pet. I found it very helpful. Of course, I would have preferred to have my dogs in the cabin with me, but many airlines have rules on the number of pets per section – example: 1 pet in first class, 1 pet in business class, 2 pets in economy class. Also they have a rule permitting only one pet per person. As I was flying alone I did not have a choice.
O.O.: Thank you. This is great information. Do you have any other thoughts or recommendations about readjusting to life after vacation?
R.H.: Returning from vacation is stressful, but I have discovered that it is the perfect opportunity to initiate new routines. Last year I visited my parents in the mid-west over the holidays. I boarded my dogs at Pup Culture. When I returned to New York I decided that I was going to make a change in my dogs’ routine. When they were puppies, I let them sleep with me.
O.O.: Every sleep specialist says that this to be a big ‘no, no’ if you want to get a good night’s sleep.
R.H.: And I absolutely agree! But when Bella was a puppy I was working many hours in a high-pressure corporate job, and I felt so guilty about not being with her during the day, and sometimes night if I had a business diner, that I let her sleep with me. The same was true with my other dog, Risky. I think it is hardwired into the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to love lounging and sleeping on the bed or sofa. They are such creatures of comfort. Bella took over my pillows, snuggles up against me, and snores all night long. Risky moves around. He starts sleeping up by my head, and throughout the night he moves to different areas of the bed, as well as jumps on and off. Needless to say, I rarely got a restful night’s sleep. For years this was our routine, but finally I decided that I must to take control, set boundaries, and hopefully get a good night sleep. When I returned from vacation I recognized an opportunity to change the behavior. I set up a crate and pen in the living room, plugged in a baby monitor, and finally, after many years, shut the bedroom door and slept in my own bed without my dogs. I think that this was more an adjustment for me than for them. They were so exhausted from a week at doggy day care that they fell immediately asleep. I, on the other hand, listened to the baby monitor for any disturbance – a yelp, a cry, a squabble. After about 3 weeks, I unplugged the baby monitor, but still had them sleep in their crate and playpen in the living room. The baby monitor kept me awake as well. I heard my pups moving around, and snoring, so I decided to unplug the device. It has been over a year since I implemented “Project Sleep”, and we all are resting better. I feel rested, and my Cavaliers are so excited to see me in the morning their enthusiasm is contagious. We all begin our day with a smile. So after a vacation without your pet, take the time to initiate new routines, and with discipline and dedication you can correct almost any behavior.
O.O.: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Where is your next trip?
R.H.: I have not decided, but I know it will be relaxing and my dogs will have a great time at doggy day care.