by Lindsay Lowe
As the weather gets warmer, chances are you’ll be spending more time outside — and for many pet owners, that means going on picnics with your dog in tow.
Dining outdoors can be fun for both pets and people, but even a casual picnic requires some advance planning, from choosing a pet-friendly location to packing appropriate toys and snacks for your pup.
Here are five tips for planning a safe, dog-friendly picnic
First, make sure your picnic location allows dogs. Try to avoid crowded spots with lots of people and other animals, which can be especially overwhelming to dogs with behavioral issues.
“Don’t go where other dogs and people are if (your) pet doesn’t play well with others,” says Dr. Marisa Pasekoff, a veterinarian at Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital in Laurel, Md.
Also, check the area’s leash laws and, when in doubt, use a leash or harness, says Dr. Sandra Sawchuk, a clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.
“If you don’t have good recall on your dog or they’re not well socialized, that would not be the spot to be letting them off the leash to see how they do,” she says.
Picnics are full of potential food hazards for dogs, especially because the food is often low to the ground and easy for them to reach. Make sure your pup can’t access foods containing toxic ingredients such onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate, alcohol and anything with bones, which could present a choking hazard. Corn cobs can also pose a problem for dogs, so take your corn off the cob before bringing it to a picnic. Also, scan the area for non-food items that your pet might gobble up, such a cigarette butts.
Keep an especially close eye on kids, who are often carrying around plates at a dog’s eye level. If your pup is a prolific food-stealer, you might consider leaving him at home, Sawchuk says.
Also, use extreme caution when grilling, especially at open grills in public parks.
“The hot coals can just drop through onto the cement below, and as a result that can be a real problem for dogs when they’re walking around,” she adds.
Don’t forget: your pet needs to eat and drink at a picnic, too. Sawchuk recommends bringing water and a water bowl from home, “because you never know if the water’s going to be safe that they’re drinking there.”
She suggests packing safe snacks, such as carrot sticks or green beans, which can be great for both dogs and humans to munch on. She also recommends finding creative ways to keep dogs hydrated while also giving them something to do.
“I freeze Tupperware containers with low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth, and just freeze it into blocks. And that way they have something to lick, and as it melts, they can drink it,” she says. “They really like that, and they tend to leave me alone.”
Pasekoff recommends bringing treat-filled toys to keep your dog occupied.
And if your dog has tons of energy, it can help to give him exercise before the picnic to tire him out, “especially if you want to have some peace and quiet,” Sawchuk says.
If local leash laws allow, you could also play fetch with your dog at a picnic. Just make sure your pup’s recall is good and that they have proper external identification tags and a microchip. Similar etiquette rules apply in a picnic environment as they do the dog park, Sawchuk says.
Dogs can get sunburns, especially breeds with thinner hair and lightly pigmented noses, Sawchuk says. Ideally, choose a picnic spot in the shade, but if you’re in the sun, apply veterinarian-approved sunblock to the dog’s ear tips and the bridge of his nose. If it’s an extremely hot day, Pasekoff recommends leaving your pup at home.
Also, if you’re picnicking in an area with tall grasses—or anywhere fleas and ticks are a concern—it’s a good idea to apply insect repellent to your dog. Only use vet-approved products because human repellents can be toxic to canines, Sawchuk says.
Finally, use caution around lakes, rivers, or areas of standing water where you dog might try take a dip. “You’ve got to know ... what else is living in that water before you let your dog go swimming in there,” Sawchuk says. Talk to your veterinarian about which non-core vaccines your dog needs, particularly if you anticipate that your pet will interact with stagnant pools of water.