Vacations, spas for the pampered pooch

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Are you living in a petocracy? Does Rover rule the roost?

Well, join the pack if you’re dogged by utter devotion to your dog. Putting your pet on a pedestal is an increasingly common practice as owners pamper furry family members more than ever.

From luxuries to lessons, including organic food, spa treatments, daycare and extracurricular activities, nothing’s too good for Fluffy. Days are planned around pets’ needs, and so too holidays as more owners navigate trips around pet-friendly travel to include that special furry family member.

And that includes March Break, which is now underway in B.C., and kicks off next week in Alberta and Manitoba – you can bet pets are along for the ride. Actually, 78% of dog owners consider their dog an “equal member” of their family, reports Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Kristina Kreber and husband Justin Peck are passionate pooch owners who are heading to the Caribbean – a dog-friendly beach is a must because Button is going along for some sun, run and sand.

“We won’t travel anywhere without our dog. He’s been on at least 15 or 20 cross-country flights already and several shorter ones,” says Kreber, adding Big Sur in California is an outstanding dog-friendly destination. “Everything is more fun with him – he’s sweet, funny and fun.”

Their 10-pound pal also joins them on most daily outings; they even sneak him into restaurants inside a secret pooch pouch. Button is allowed up on the bed, couch and pretty well everywhere else he pleases but the four-year-old mutt is extremely well behaved.

“Button is like our child… He makes our house a home and completes our family,” says the Vancouver native, adding that respecting Button’s “dogginess” is key to a balanced, healthy relationship.

Lucky for Kreber it works, but too much pampering and most dogs will push the boundaries, say the experts. Pet love can cause the fur to fly in some households but for many owners it’s not a bone of contention.

“Our house has gone to the dogs,” says Elinor Robin, who admits her two pooches are not the best behaved but they fill her empty nest.

“They walk all over me the same way my children do, so clearly I created this dynamic. I take full responsibility for this,” says Robin, who doesn’t travel without her dogs. Stella and Roscoe are also barkers, “but that’s their job. They are protecting us from birds, squirrels, and other wildlife as well as burglars,” says Robin, a 57-year-old Florida divorce mediator.

And, yes, her dogs are allowed up on the bed. Nowhere is the petocracy more evident than in the bedroom.

Stats reveal more than 50% of dogs and cats are invited to snuggle up at night. Not a problem if you have control and respect, but you might want to rethink the bedroom hierarchy if you’re being asked to sleep in another room because your snoring is keeping Princess awake.

According to experts, investing all this time and energy isn’t leading to better behaved pets. And when household rules don’t apply to our furry friends, this can lead to a few doggie dictators.

“The petocracy is endangering people and creating unhappy, anxious and often times aggressive dogs,” says Brian Kilcommons, Connecticut dog trainer to the stars, including Harrison Ford, Diane Sawyer and Diana Ross.

Bad behaviour is rationalized and excused by the people who love them, says Kilcommons.

“Dogs are allowed to behave in ways where humans would be arrested,” including greeting people at the door by humping their leg, nose bumping their crotch, and assertive jumping and licking.

Reconsider indulging them with “unending attention, affection and treats just for breathing or being cute,” says Kilcommons, of “Some owners are creating emotional cripples. Many dogs are emotional hostages for the needs of the owners only, without consideration of what the dog needs.”

A clear concept of love and authority is crucial, just like successful child-rearing, says dog behaviourist John Wade, pet columnist for Sun Media.

Women make great trainers but they are often misguidedly “treat their dogs like their grandkids, instead they should treat them like their husband,” adds Wade, of

On the road again

Pet travel is gaining mileage with owners and businesses.

Amy and Rod Burkert have been travelling in a Winnebego for a year with “the boys” — Buster and Ty — and couldn’t be happier. They consider themselves a couple of lucky dogs. And they’re making pet travel a breeze with, an online resource providing pet-friendly hotels, activities and advice for pet travel.

It’s no vacation vacationing away from your pet.

“People have discovered that they don’t want to leave their friend, confidant and trusted companion behind when they travel,” says Burkert, mom to Ty, a seven-year-old Shar-pei, and Buster, a four-year-old German shepherd. Businesses are cashing in on this growing trend. New amenities have clients howling with joy. “Hotels that deliver pet beds, bowls, treats and other amenities to spoil the pooch rate high, simply because they love our pets as much as we do.”

Upscale pampering can include pet room-service menus, turndown service in cozy custom beds, in-room doggie massages and even a plush doggie robe.

Cities are now marketing themselves as pet-friendly destinations, says Burkert, and provide online information regarding dog-walking routes, pet-friendly restaurants, grooming facilities, attractions and local vets.

The Burkerts are getting great response to their site.

“We have had people thank us for starting because they can now travel with their pets. One woman mentioned that she hadn’t been on a vacation in eight years because she refused to leave her pet rabbits.”

Take paws for these travel tips

Do not pull a Mitt Romney and strap your pet pup to the roof of the car for a road trip. Dog expert John Wade has tips to ensure your pet’s safety for car travel:

— Google vets in the area you’ll be staying.

— Vaccinations need to be current; bring along vaccination records.

— Take along your pet’s food, medications and some water.

— If your dog is on meds, see a vet before going to get a backup prescription. — Bring along your vet’s phone number.

— Use a travel crate. Regular bathroom and stretch breaks are needed.

— Always leash the dogs prior to opening the car door so they don’t jump out and bolt into traffic.

— Make sure there are identification tags plus travel tags with an emergency contact

— since you won’t be at home to receive emergency calls. Give your contact instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency.

— Microchip your dog before departing.

— Only use pet sedatives or tranquilizers prescribed by a vet.

— Do not let your dog or cat stick their head out the car window.

Dogs get in on the game, too

Soccer lessons for Sara. Hockey for Justin. Flyball for Fido.

Extracurricular activities are a growing trend for all family members. While the kids get karate, hockey or dance lessons, pet parents are signing up their four-legged friends for dog sports. Fun physical activity is healthy and life enhancing, whether your “kid” has fur or not, says expert Jeff Rooney, owner of, two state-of-the-art indoor dog centres in the GTA – the Dog’s Park and The Dog’s Garage – offering a multitude of pooch-centred programs.

Dogs need the same manners as other family members, and that requires attention and training.

“Untrained pets are unhappy pets – they need rules and boundaries,” adds Rooney, who provides daycare, training, play sessions, grooming stations and dog sports.

Dogs bark for joy for basic obedience lessons and classes including agility, flyball, rally and pet tricks.

“Some owners are taking five to six training courses a year because their dogs love it so much.” You’re barking up the right tree when you exercise your dog: “A tired dog is a happy dog,” says Rooney. Under-exercised dogs often resort to annoying and even destructive behaviours to release the energy.

Be fair and firm and make training fun.