Greetings from Palm Springs! Rocket & Pinkie and I are enjoying the winter desert weather, sitting out on the patio most morning and evenings. 


When you are outside at a campground with pets, what do you do to keep them by your side? (Boss Tweed the cat never goes out, so this article is about dogs, but I have seen cats on leashes, in wire kennels, and in elaborate mesh tubes and tunnels at campgrounds.)

I am envious of people with dogs with no desire to leave the campsite. Mine are certainly not that way. One whiff of a bird or a squirrel or someone walking by with another dog, and all bets are off. (Even if your dogs stay close, don’t let the park folks see them off-leash. It’s a big no-no.)

Invisible Fencing

Questions about invisible fencing pop up on the RV forums almost daily, usually posted by someone who has not yet started to camp or full-time.  Invisible fencing simply is not allowed at campgrounds.  All parks require that animals be secured in some way, and from a distance invisible fences don’t look secure. Invisible fencing can also confuse and alarm passersby and create a lot of heartburn and consternation for you and the campground.

Regular Fencing

I am often impressed by the extensive barricades campers pack and set up at their sites – plastic or metal fashioned in a circle, or projecting from the rig. With the big rigs, the barrier must also cover the tall area under the coach to prevent escape. I just don’t have the kind of storage required to carry it all, or the energy to set it up and break it down.

“Playpen” Type Systems

When I first saw this vinyl and canvas hexagonal thingy, I was convinced it was the ticket for Rocket & Pinkie. It folds up into itself, creating a tiny package that will store almost anywhere. At a campground in Wisconsin, I fluffed the pen open and dumped in the doggies; Rocket immediately jumped out. The pen comes with a mesh top that zips on to prevent escape. I put Rocket back in and zipped them both up tight.

Rocket absolutely hated being constrained, as evidenced by his howls and cries of despair. I swear I saw Pinkie, as calm as ever,  rolling her eyes at his High Drama. He repeatedly jumped and slammed himself against the wall of the pen, until it finally flopped onto its side. At that point the pen was like a hamster wheel, and Rocket began to run. Most of the campsites were empty, so there were few obstacles in the way. As the pen rotated like the drum of a dryer, Pinkie could be seen once with each spin, wide-eyed and rising like a sock, ears floating up like the pup from “Our Gang,” dropping down again with a thud.

I was laughing so hard I couldn’t compose myself to chase after them. Other people around the park laughed and pointed as well. Systems failure came in the form an unyielding tree. 

I thought briefly that tiedowns might fix the problem, but I knew better, because I knew Rocket. I spied a camper with two small Dachshunds across the way and asked if she would like the pen. Heck, the color even matched her rig. She was thrilled.


Through trial and error I have found that good, old-fashioned tie-outs work best for Rocket and Pinkie. I tried these retractable kind for a while,

but Rocket could often pull them out of the soft ground, and the retractable feature did not prevent Rocket and Pinkie from becoming less entangled. The trick with tie-outs is to space them far enough apart so that Rocket cannot play and wrestle with Pinkie until they are both twisted and cannot move.

Usually I use a picnic table as the base and try to move it far enough away from other outdoor furniture so the dogs cannot knot themselves or turn everything over.

I am ecstatic when my campsite is equipped with two reliable, tall anchor points (usually two trees); I run a “clothesline” and attach the tie-outs to that. (This is sometimes called a “dog zip line.” If you attach a pulley, that is known as a “dog trolley.”)

There are far fewer entanglements, but make sure the line is visible and preferably taller than the humans at your campsite, or they just might take themselves out in a classic wrestling move on their way to the bathroom or the barbecue.

If it looks like the clothesline method might work for you, be sure to read park rules. I was once given a written warning at a county park in Florida for tying a clothesline to trees.

Know The Rules

Whatever method you use, please, please do not leave your animals tied up and unattended at the campsite. Not only is it against park rules, it’s just a dickhead thing to do.