A Quick Guide to Tailgating With Your Dog

It’s tailgating season.

The time of year spent packing the RV and driving to the game, ribbing with other tailgaters, chowing down on a warm plate of barbeque, and throwing caution and diet plans to the wind—because it’s game day, rah-rah-rah! Like you, the other tailgaters are abuzz, and the excitement lights up their faces (or maybe that's face paint) as they broadcast their team spirit to other diehard fans, their team, and the rest of the world. People, ice chests, cars, and RVs all sport the home-team colors, and every head is covered with the appropriately branded cap (...or else).

But to really put the “tail” in tailgating, shouldn’t you have a mascot—the four-legged, tail-wagging kind? After all, you share game day with all of your best friends, so why not bring your best fur-bud along for the ride?

Is Your Dog a Fan?

Everything is shaping up to be fantastic: great weather, well-matched teams, and like-minded superfans. But, while that sounds like a perfect game day to you, will your dog feel the same?

Before you clear space for your dog's carrier in the pregame party wagon, ask yourself a few honest questions:

  • Does your dog suffer from carsickness?
  • Can he endure the car ride to the tailgating grounds?
  • Is he noise sensitive?
  • Can he handle the deafening whooping and hollering from the crowd?
  • Is he microchipped?
  • Are his collar’s ID tags secure?
  • What’s his training experience?
  • Does he listen to you?
  • How are his recall skills?
  • Is he well socialized and does he have good bite inhibition?
  • Will he feel crowded and cornered amid all those people moving around?
  • What if an impolite child handles him roughly? Will he have enough self-control to not bite?
  • Do you have a “safe place” for him to retreat if he needs a little space?

Tailgating isn’t a walk in the park (pun intended). Boisterous public events like a tailgate party with blaring music, yelling, and so many people can frighten an unprepared dog. (Poor socialization is definitely a deal-breaker!) Dogs having little or no positive experiences with large crowds, loud noises, or long car rides should support the team from home. If a poorly socialized dog feels trapped or threatened in the tailgating huddle, his fight-or-flight response may result in a bite (uh-oh) or him fleeing the scene. Your little champion’s not running for a touchdown, either. He’s running away. A dog’s tolerance, an even temperament, and good training make a winning team for tailgating.

Go In with a Game Plan

Okay, so you’ve thought about it, and you've decided to tailgate with your dog. Well, there are a few other tips you need to kick off your season.

  1. Check the party location’s policy ahead of time to make sure that dogs are welcome. Not every tailgate party allows dogs, and even the ones that allow dogs may have restrictions.
  1. Whether it’s required or not, have a non-retractable leash handy.
  1. Bring plenty of water, food, and treats for your dog. (If he’s a little nervous about being a first-time tailgater, the stress may increase his thirst.)
  1. Monitor your dog’s eating and only allow him to eat and drink dog-safe products. Beer and coffee are poisonous to dogs, and the canine digestive system can’t process pork’s high-fat content.
  1. Find a cool, shady spot for your dog to rest throughout the day. If the tailgating grounds don’t have shade, bring an upright umbrella.
  1. To avoid penalty flags from the other partygoers, bring—and use—poop bags. (It’s smelly, it’s messy, but it’s life.)
  1. And never leave home without his carrier. Dogs need to feel safe, and if you’ve crate-trained your dog, his carrier makes a perfect hideaway when he’s partied-out, like a home away from home.

Pregame Pack List

  • dog-friendly food and treats
  • extra water
  • upright umbrella
  • poop bags
  • reliable leash
  • secure collar with ID tags
  • his favorite toy
  • durable crate or pet carrier

By following these tips, you can win big on game day (unless the home team loses, of course, in which case your dog may be the only happy one). If you can keep him well fed, well quaffed, and well entertained, you'll have a certified party animal to rally all the weekend warriors for the season's best home games.

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