Beach House Diaries: The Dog Days of Summer

dog sleeping on couch

Some people love travel, some people love pups, and some people love both -- which explains why an increasing number of hotels now promote themselves as being pet-friendly. Even big luxury brands are catering to dog devotees with packages that include everything from "peticures" to "bone-a-petite" dining options (Ritz-Carlton's Central Park location, for one, can provide four-legged guests with gold-plated ID tags and rain-proof Burberry trench coats).

But if dogs could tell you where they would like to go on vacation they'd probably say "a beach house." Whether nestled in pines or fringed by palms, such places promise sun, sea and off-leash liberty plus quality time with beloved owners. It's a combination that canines find irresistible. My dog is a case in point: when she sees our Pictou Island gear being retrieved from its off-season basement hiding place, her entire backside starts to vibrate (since her tail is a mere stump, wagging it alone has little impact).

For the record, that's about as animated as my cocker spaniel ever gets. When we originally brought her home, the elementary school-aged siblings who were supposed to be her primary caregivers were so enthralled by her drooping, Dumbo-esque ears that they promptly named her Flopsey. Over time, though, she has become plain "Flops" -- partly for the sake of convenience and partly because it is the verb that most accurately describes her favorite activity.

My dog's lazy demeanor has occasionally been questioned. An acquaintance who fancies herself an animal psychologist once hinted in hushed tones that it was evidence of low self-esteem: the theory being that Flops felt inadequate living in a part of the world that is famous for its big working breeds (I was reminded that Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands and Nova Scotia Duck Tollers all originated in Atlantic Canada), and so she's simply stopped trying.

Her issues, I was earnestly told, could be resolved with a little positive reinforcement. However, I rather admire Flops' unapologetic indolence. After all, she has clearly mastered the lost art of lounging and adopted a daily routine -- rotating from bed to deck to beach -- that many of us over-worked, stress-hobbled human vacationers can only aspire to.

Admittedly there are times when I wish she would make a bit of an effort. From my beachfront perch, I'll often watch neighbors' pets bound into the water and swim off energetically. Flops, on the other hand, disdains the dog paddle, preferring to be a dog paddled... specifically in a kayak, while she sprawls Cleopatra-style on a cozy nest of lifejackets. Similarly, I will observe pooches playing fetch for hours, their exuberance never waning. Mine? The single stick she has ever expressed interest in is kind that has a bubbly, just-roasted marshmallow attached to it.

What makes her lackadaisical approach to life even odder is that, being a cocker spaniel, Flops herself is technically a working animal whose ancestors were bred as hunters (woodcocks were the prey of choice, hence their name). Nevertheless, she'll amble right past a blue heron at the water's edge without batting an eyelash. I take this to be evidence of utter indifference or blissed-out oblivion because it's hard to ignore a bird that stands as tall as a third grader -- especially when it unfurls its feathers like an avenging angel, revealing a six-foot wingspan in the process.

The ubiquitous bunnies here don't merit much attention either: Flops will, at most, chase one a couple of paces before swallowing her instincts (or her pride) and turning around. Visiting pets typically elicit the same reaction, except with a slow-rolling growl added for good measure. I know the latter seems anti-social and obedience classes could likely put an end to it. Yet it seems too late in the game to be teaching my old dog new tricks. Besides she already understands the two basic commands that coincidentally sum up my own beach house creed: "Sit" and "Stay."

Next: 6 Tips for Vacationing with Dogs

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Each week writer Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb will report on summer beach house life from her vacation home on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia. Follow along for a glimpse of the shore, plus tips on what to pack, how to entertain guests and how to relax at your own beach house.
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