Bringing Your Dog to a Music Festival

The one thing I never understood about music festivals was people who bring their dogs with them. How can a dog possibly enjoy a music festival with the loud music, heat/humidity and rain/mud?

It never made sense to bring a dog to a festival under really any circumstances. Service dogs aside, dogs and music festivals don’t go together, period.

Then I brought my dog to a music festival and saw it from the other side of things. Before I share that story, lets talk about service dogs and “service dogs”.

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a service dog

First, there are real, certifiable service dogs, the kind that go through training, stay with their master/friend, and have a purpose to their being there. These service dogs lead the visually impaired, can sense low blood sugar in diabetics, seizures in epileptics and a myriad of other conditions that are better served with a companion than medication or simply not being able to enjoy things like music festivals. The certification process is involving and can ensure that those with a service dog can attend a music festival; or concert for that matter.

Then there are “service dogs” – I put that in quotes because they aren’t service dogs per se, it’s just that the owners have figured out how to fill out a form and bring their dog with them. This dog is a pet and provides no health-related service to their owner, except perhaps curing separation anxiety on either end of things. Perhaps a place to stay better than a music festival was hard to come by, or a kennel wasn’t an option, but “service dogs” or pets that provide no vital service, do not belong at a music festival, period. This group of individuals take away from actual service dogs who are needed to be there to help their owner/master/friend.

not a service dog
not a service dog

Then you have festivals that are so small and camping centric, that service dog or not, dogs are welcome at the discretion of the promoter and land owner. I’m not talking about Bonnaroo, Summer Camp, moe.down or even StrangeCreek – those festivals wouldn’t let you into a festival without proper documentation – and why in the world would you bring a dog to Bonnaroo when it’s June in Tennessee? I’m talking about a music festival that is small enough to accommodate fans who bring their dogs and has an atmosphere and environment that makes bringing a dog a plus.

On Aug. 8, I brought my dog Halley to Backwoods Pondfest, a small music festival in Peru, NY, outside Plattsburgh. The festival is dog friendly, charges $20 per dog and asks they be leashed at all times. This was a fair deal and was a great location to bring dogs, as the weather is never too hot or humid in the northern reaches of New York in early August. The crowd is very animal friendly, with a fair amount of dogs but lacking a negative attitude towards them. Dogs are welcome at Backwoods Pondfest, so long as their respective owners are.


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When I brought Halley to Backwoods, she took to the location quickly, watching me unpack what she had watched me pack the day prior, setting up the tent she was familiar with and making a home for the next 36-48 hours. She didn’t bark, she laid and enjoyed the outdoors, as well as her all natural tick remedy that I thought about at the eleventh hour. She enjoyed the crowd, the people and the environment. She is also 14 years old, healthy beyond light arthritis and always in good spirits. As she watched us eat, drink and enjoy our site, she relaxed on the ground and kept a watchful eye. It was like camping anywhere else, just with music playing 100 feet away.

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Halley took walks, went inside the grounds, and having lost her hearing this past year, we ventured backstage where she found things comfortable. Any younger and I would not have brought her backstage, but the area was open to all with a media pass, even a girl with a giant Macaw. When I wanted to leave her at the site, Halley was already content. She went into the tent when it got cold and got under her blankets. I checked on her often, being so very close to the site, it took not even a minute to pop in on her and get back to the music. This went on all weekend and she was a happy dog.

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But if I brought her last year, or three years ago, or to any other festival in her 14 years, she would have hated it and I would have hated the decision to bring her. Dogs need to run and play and sniff and be curious and explore. Halley has done all that. She was content to explore Backwoods Pondfest from the end of a leash in short walks and hang out at the campsite the rest of the time. With four friends camping with us, she always had someone checking on her and making sure she was having a good time – just like humans do for other humans at festivals.

Had I brought her earlier in the summer or to a larger festival, she would have dealt with heat and sensation overload and I would have seen little music. No fun for either of us. And that is why dogs aren’t meant for festivals. When they are at a festival, they are the focus and the one bit of responsibility a person can have to anyone but him/herself. I have always enjoyed that sense of ZERO responsibility at a festival and only needing to exhibit human decency for the entirety of the event. If I was covering a festival for a media outlet, I would take that responsibility in kind, but a pet, a dog, a friend to keep an eye on – that’s another story. Ever dealt with a friend who took too much of something and you had to babysit or alter plans as a result? Same thing with a dog at a festival, but it lasts all weekend.

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When it came to music, I didn’t mind missing some of the acts, since I may see these bands again in the next four months, as many come through Albany on a regular basis. I didn’t mind checking in on Halley and making sure she was OK. I didn’t mind much of anything with her there. I had seen many festivals (60 or so) and was content not overdoing it. The same went for Halley. All of us hung out and saw music and I treated her like one of the regular festival crew I rolled with. She just didn’t see all the music with us and was cool with that. And at night she got cold so she napped in the car with the heat on. Being a dog has its perks.

I brought Halley at the right time to the right festival and the right environment. She is turning 15 in a few weeks. I would never bring her to a festival again, only because this time was perfect all around. But if she was younger and she made it through one Backwoods Pondfest, I wouldn’t mind bringing her to the fest a year later.

Even though she enjoyed the experience, I would not have brought her if it was not allowed and I hadn’t been there before to know what it is like. Knowing the festival and the venue in advance helped a great deal, and I’ll love going back next year and seeing the random gathering of dogs among 1,000 or so festival-goers.

But if you can, leave you dog at home with friends or family. Festivals are meant for humans to enjoy.