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Tailgating With Dogs

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A brown and white dog sits in the bed of a truck with people

As summer ends and cooler weather takes its place, autumn is welcomed hand-in-hand with football season. Whether your football tailgates are at the stadium or a friend’s house, you’ll no doubt be taking part in barbequing, drinking of spirits, and playing classic outdoor games. Perhaps the only thing that can make the party better is having your dogs along for the ride. However, before your canine bud joins you for the next game, there are a few things to keep in mind .

Are Dogs Allowed at Tailgates?

As a general rule for taking your dog to any venue, it’s important that you first check if dogs are allowed—service dogs will always be the exception. Pet policies can often be found on a place’s social media or website, or you can directly call to inquire. In the instance that your tailgating event is at a friend’s house, it’s best to ask beforehand if your pup is welcome.

Even if your dog is allowed at the tailgate, it’s essential that you consider if that’s the type of environment your pup would enjoy. The football scene is often loud, bustling, and crowded, a combination that many dogs would not want. If you have a timid dog that doesn’t enjoy meeting new people or prefers to watch football from the comfort of the couch, tailgating may not be their thing. However, for extroverted, energetic, and social butterflies, a tailgating event where they could get endless ear scratches could be a dream.

Safe Tailgating Tips

Safe tailgating with dogs is key to you and your pup having a fun-filled day. Just as you may take precautions to ensure you stay hydrated and safe from the sun, there are a few ways you can keep your dog comfortable at the tailgating event too.

Food Safety for Dogs

A staple at any tailgating event is the food. Whether it’s a nacho bar, chili cook-off, or barbeque, chances are there will be a lot of food around that your dog shouldn’t have. Not only do many common foods cause an upset stomach in dogs, but there is also an abundance of foods that are toxic to canines and can cause severe health problems.

Common tailgating foods to keep away from your pup include chocolate (of any kind), anything with garlic or onions, salty snack foods, dairy products, and various produce. Many beverages, such as those containing alcohol or caffeine, should also be kept out of your pet’s reach, and any spills should be cleaned up right away before your four-legged floor cleaner can lick up any of the drink.

Keep a close eye on your pup to ensure they aren’t sneaking any food off anyone’s plates or the table, and remind any other party attendees not to feed your canine companion any human food.

Weather Conditions

Tailgating weather can vary greatly based on your geographic location, the typical weather for your area’s seasons, and whether it’s early or late in the football season. Although you may have already decided that your tailgating plans will be happening, rain or shine, it’s important to double-check the expected weather if your dog will be joining you.

In warmer or hot weather, bringing along water, a fan, protective booties, and a cooling pad for your dog can be helpful. Remember that, just like people, dogs can also get sunburnt, experience dehydration, burn their feet on hot surfaces, and even suffer from heat stroke. Taking precautions to protect your pup from the heat can allow them to enjoy the festivities, but it’s still crucial to know when it’s too hot and when your dog should stay home. Leaving your pet in the car should never be an option, even on days you believe aren’t too hot. The inside of a car can easily be at least 20 degrees higher than the outside temperature.

Following the Rules

Once at the venue, it’s essential that you are aware of any dog-related rules—this also helps set a good example of being a responsible pet parent. Perhaps one of the most common rules will include keeping your dog on a leash—make sure they also have a properly-fitted collar with updated identification tags and contact information. Leashes can help prevent any number of incidents, including your dog running away, them interacting with other dogs, and them getting into something they shouldn’t. Another common guideline you will need to follow is cleaning up after your dog. While some places may have designated areas for your dog to relieve themselves, others may give you free rein. Just remember to toss in a few poop bags when packing your tailgate supplies.

Teaching Basic Manners

To set your dog up for success for their first big sporting event, work on basic training and socialization beforehand. Cues such as ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘come,’ ‘down,’ ‘off,’ and ‘leave it’ are all valuable terms your pup should know. These good manners can help lower the chance of accidents or people losing patience because a poorly behaved dog is around.

Imagine the scenario: You’re waiting in line to get some food, but you don’t want your dog pulling on the leash, so you ask them to sit. Right when you reach the food, someone drops some onion rings (toxic to dogs) right onto the ground, so you quickly tell your dog to leave it. After you have your plate of food and go to sit down, your pup tries to jump onto the furniture next to you, but you encourage them to get off, lay down, and stay. All relatively simple commands that can help keep situations under control. Remember, when your dog listens correctly, rewarding them with positive praise or a treat it’s a fantastic idea.

Socialization, which involves the ongoing process of exposing your dog to different people and dogs, places, sounds, smells, and sights, can also be valuable. By slowly and positively introducing your dog to various socialization opportunities, you can help lower the chances of them becoming startled or anxious in a new situation. To prepare for a tailgate, watch other sports games on your television at home—even cheering and clapping like you would at a tailgate. You can also take your dog to dog-friendly bars or breweries (maybe on less busy nights) and get them used to a more bustling environment.

Dog Accessories for Football Tailgates

To ensure your dog has just as much fun as you do at the tailgate, there are a handful of items you can bring along.

  • Treats and toys

    Keeping some treats or toys on hand can be convenient to reward or encourage your dog. Depending on how long the tailgate festivities will be going, don’t forget to bring along food for your dog’s meals. You should also consider packing multiple toys or treat puzzles, as this can help keep your dog away from boredom.

  • Water and bowl

    No matter the weather, it’s essential that you bring along a bowl (collapsible ones are convenient) and fresh drinking water for your dog. If you are unable to set the bowl up in a spot that’s readily available for your pup at all times, be sure to offer them water frequently.

  • Travel bed

    You may have a comfy lawn chair, bean bag chair, blanket, truck bed, or blow-up furniture to lounge in during your tailgate party, but that may leave your best bud with the hard ground. To give your dog a more cushioned place to hang out, bring along their favorite bed or some blankets.

  • Bandana

    If your dog will be joining for the tailgating festivities, then they also should be repping your team. A fantastic way to accessorize your canine companion with some merchandise is to get them some team-related bandanas. Whether it’s your team’s colors, a bandana with the mascot, or the logo or team name, there’s no better way to spread that team spirit than with the help of your best pal.

  • Team-colored gear

    In addition to a bandana, you could go the extra mile and color-code your dog’s gear. Including their water bowl, leash, collar, and harness, you can also take the opportunity to show off more of your team’s colors.

  • Poop bags

    One of the main rules anytime your dog joins you in a public setting is that you need to clean up after them. Knowing that many tailgating events last for hours or entire afternoons, chances are your dog will need to relieve themselves at some point during the party.

  • Medication

    Depending on how long the tailgating event is, or more importantly, how long you and your dog will be away from home, you may need to bring along any necessary medications your pup is currently taking. Even if you plan on returning from the event in time to give your dog their medication, it never hurts to bring along an extra dose, just in case.

  • Sunscreen

    With the combination of your dog spending a large amount of time outside and them possibly being in the sun throughout the day, having some sunscreen handy can be helpful. Dogs with thinner and shorter coats and those with fair-colored fur or skin can be more at risk of getting burnt. Not to mention, areas of your dog’s body that have less hair, such as their nose or face, can also be at a higher risk. Remember to only use sunscreens that are approved and made especially for dogs. You can talk with your veterinarian about recommendations.

Football tailgating is the perfect time to hang out with friends, eat delicious food, and cheer on your favorite team—all of which is made even better when your best bud can join you. Whether your team wins or loses, with your dog by your side, you’re sure still to have a fun time.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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