RV family with dog.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Corey Grant. Read this and other columns in the July issue of Woodall’s Campground Management now going out to 14,000 RV parks and campgrounds in North America.

Americans love their pets. From belly-scratching and grooming to daily walks and little sweaters to keep them warm, happy pet owners reciprocate the love and companionship their animals give them by spending time, attention and money on their four-legged friends.

As a result, the pet product and services industry continues to grow year after year, because of happy owners. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), Americans between 1994 and 2004 doubled their pet expenditures from $17 billion to $34 billion. And the economic downturn has not slowed owners from indulging their pets. For 2010, it is estimated that Americans will spend $47.4 billion on products and services for their animals.

The APPA details that though some of this money is spent on food, vet fees and other expenses that come with responsible ownership, a substantial amount of the $47 billion is spent on lodging and pampering pets while on vacation.

The dramatic increase in spending over the years reflects the rapidly growing trend of people bringing their pets along on their vacations rather than leaving them at home. This option is especially popular among RVers.

According to RVtravel.com, almost half of all RVers travel with a dog. Indeed, the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) reports that pooches are the most popular animal pet that travelers take with them on vacation. Woodall’s readers are among them. The most read article every month on the Woodall’s consumer newsletter is “RVing with Your Pets,” written by RVing expert Julee Meltzer, who is also the co-author of Camping and RVing With Dogs.

With the increasing influx of campers traveling with Spot and Rin-Tin-Tin, the importance of RV parks maintaining and promoting dog-friendly environs is becoming more and more critical in drawing and accommodating guests. Close to one-quarter of the Woodall’s representatives who visit RV parks around the country travel with one or more dogs. Johnny and Nancy Johnson are RVers and Woodall’s representatives who travel with their giant schnauzer, and they tend to stay (and return) to RV parks that welcome pets and have nice dog runs or parks.

“[Being dog-friendly] is as important to us as whether the park has Wi-Fi or a clean restroom,” says Johnny Johnson. “It is nice to let the dogs off the leash and have them run around a bit and get some exercise.”

While it might be easy for RV parks to label themselves as “pet-friendly,” there are amenities or services that can be added that will appeal to the large pet-pampering RV market.

First, at the risk of stating the obvious, a park must allow pets. This does not mean, however, that a park has to allow all pets, in any number. A number of owners and managers put certain restrictions on what pets are allowed at their parks. Some family-oriented campgrounds do not allow some of the more aggressive breeds, like rottweilers or mastiffs for obvious reasons – the safety of their guests.

Some parks limit how many pets RVers can bring into their park. Most people don’t want to stay at a park where one camper has a small army of canines wandering around. However, it is important that RV park owners let travelers know that they encourage and welcome bringing pets into the park.

Secondly, to really draw pet owners, campgrounds must have some sort of designated area in which dogs can run around and play. Throughout the country, those in the RV travel arena are realizing that the small investment of building a dog run is resulting in huge dividends by attracting travelers to their parks. More parks, for that matter, are setting aside small plots of land to construct dog parks in order to appeal to those RVers with animals.

But building an area for dogs does not have to a monumental undertaking. Even a small bit of landscape can be converted into a suitable area for Fido to run off some energy. A few principles to keep in mind:

  • The location of any dog park or run should be free of toxic plants or materials that the dogs could eat. The ideal spot should also include some trees for shade from hot days. If trees are not in the area, consider setting up a couple of inexpensive beach umbrellas for the pooches to lounge under.
  • Make sure to fence the dog area away from other sites and amenities, which allows pets to go off-leash, ensuring pet owners that their animals will be safe and cannot run away or wander around the park.
  • A dog run can be any shape, but the best design allows for a long stretch for dogs to sprint back and forth comfortably without running into fences or objects. A longer run allows dogs to “cover more ground.”
  • Include a “watering hole” containing watering dishes that pets can use, and keep the area clean and sanitary.
  • Consider placing a few benches or patio tables in the dog run area for owners to relax on as they watch their furry companions enjoy themselves.

If you make the investment of time and resources to build your RV park or campground into a pet-friendly destination, let RVers know! Any advertisement for your park should highlight the fact that you welcome creatures great and small, and if you have built that dog park, make sure to splash that across the ads.

A few parks have also taken it one step further by displaying pet products and services directly on their website. Bear Run Campground, in Portersville, Pa., and Blue Spruce RV Park and Cabins, in Bayfield, Co., both list pet friendly amenities on their sites. Bear Run lists a Pet Ranch and a Veterinary Service located nearby, and Blue Spruce lists a number of affordable pet care companies and pet resorts within their area, along with telephone numbers.

The growing trend of RVers traveling with pets should give park owners and managers “paws” (pun intended). More and more people are hitting the road with their pets in tow, and they are sniffing around for places where they are both welcome. Welcoming four-legged guests, setting aside dog runs and updating your website will all help earn the “pet-friendly” title and put you in a position to bring this significant market segment and their canine companions to your park.