Every year, at smaller burn events in the Central Texas area, where dogs are permitted to attend, there is a discussion (often heated) about whether dogs should be allowed given the risks and liabilities associated with their participation. Every year I argue that our four footed friends should be allowed and that their guardians need to be held accountable for their pet’s involvement. From the big burn in Nevada, to regionals, there is a Survival Guide, a how to for attending events, for humans. The Survival Guides help educate the participants, they create a common ground so that everyone can have a safe and fun experience at a burn. My experience with my dog, who has now attended 8 smaller burn events, is that the same holds true for pets. The guardian needs to be radically self-reliant for both themself and their dog and prepare for their care. The most important bit of experience I can convey is prepare by Knowing Your Dog and know and follow event guidelines (not just for yourself but also your dog).
Chewie, a.k.a. Safety Third: A happy burner dog at Decomp 2007
There’s an old saw about having a dog is not unlike having a perputual toddler. The comparison is especially apt with a dog at a burn event. When I bring Chewie to an event, his well-being is my primary concern. I am responsible for not only my good time, but his and everyone he interacts with, as well. I take the position of “if I wouldn’t allow a toddler to do something, I’m not going to create a situation where my dog can do that.” This includes keeping Chewie supervised, not forgetting to feed/water/meet basic needs, not being so intoxicated that I cannot care for my pet, and MOOPing his bodliy wastes.
One aspect of camping with Chewie is that dogs (and many humans) do best when the scenery changes but the basic routine stays the same. I follow the same out at an event as we have at home. He gets fed at the same time, with the same food and water (and medication), same bowls, and is required to sit before the bowl touches the ground (our policy at home). We wake up and we take walks around the event at the same time as we would back home. This does mean having to be less carefree than I would be without him; however, he is much more relaxed and comfortable knowing that his life basics have not changed.
One of the most basic issues that comes up for humans (and also for dogs) is becoming overheated and dehydrated. This is a topic that has been covered in every Survival Guide I have read and this guide is no exception: a pet can get overheated and dehydrated and behave erratically and out of character because of that. Become familiar with the signs of dog dehydration and how to combat it before it occurs. Ensure that there is plenty of fresh water (brought from the source they get at home:”funny”, new tasting water may be rejected by some finicky dogs) available at all times. If I suspect that Chewie is being lax about drinking water, I’ll make some Dog Gatorade. This is half a teaspoon of powered beef bouillon mixed with a quart of water. Then I put out fresh water, which after the saltiness of the bouillon, he is more than happy to drink. Some folks will use Pedialyte to help restore the electrolyte balance. Remember that these are preventative measures – a dehydrated dog needs to be seen by a vet.
Even with keeping the day to day routine the same and keeping the dog hydrated, events can be overstimulating for both humans and pets alike. It is not uncommon for either species to freak out when they are overstimulated. The difference is that a dog cannot tell you that they are upset and overwhelmed. Know your dog. Know the signs, indivdual for each animals, that he or she is stressed out, scared, upset or overwhelmed. When Chewie begins to exhibit signs of distress, he goes back to Chewie Camp and hangs out in his pen.
Chewie Camp 1.0. It's gotten more involved over the years.
The photo to the left shows a very basic incarnation of Chewie Camp, his own theme camp. It now has a small pup tent (pun intended), a ten-panel plastic pen with lights, shade provided through tarps, and pillows. Your dog’s oasis need not be quite as complicated but it is imperative to have a space that smells familiar and comfortable (the dog bed and pillows are the ones he uses at home) that the dog can retreat to, when the blinkie lights and people are too much. Get creative with your dog’s camp – a big dog will have different needs and challenges than a smaller dog. I do recommend a familiar dog bed, a way to be contained (either through a leash, pen, or kennel), a big container of water, and some shade but let your imagination go wild!
To leash or not to leash, that is the perpetual question of smaller events with dogs. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that every smaller event has a leashed dog policy but the extent to which it is enforced has varied from event to event. My policy with Chewie is when we go awandering, he’s leashed (and often teathered to my utility belt, so I don’t lose the leash) and in camp he can wander about within the area or his pen. This is for both his safety and the safety of others. Chewie’s not aggressive, however, unleashed dogs pack up and a pack of dogs is a whole different animal than a dog that is leashed and mindful that their guardian in control. Additionally, I suspect that he takes a measure of comfort knowing that I am right there, supervising him. Dogs want to know who’s alpha and you are their alpha — a leash is the tangible reminder of that status. That being said, I know dogs who are far better at recall commands than Chewie and who stay close to their guardians, even without a leash. I’ve said it already and it bears repeating — Know Your Dog.
Lastly, and most importantly, bringing a dog is a responsibility, and yet, it can be one of the richest burn experiences possible. Have FUN with bringing your dog. Prepare by knowing your dog, taking care of their needs, following the event guidlines and then go nuts with creative and fun ways of interacting with furry beasts. Blinkie collars, fun and interactive dog camps, costumes! There is a a wealth of creative and interesting ways to incorporate your dog into the event in a manner that is beneficial to everyone.
Survival Guide for Burner Dogs by Gyesika Safety is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at gyesikasafety.com.