How to safely and enjoyably travel with your dog
Having pets and leading a life filled with travel and exploration don’t need to be mutually exclusive goals. Yes, traveling with our fur-babies can have added challenges, costs, and considerations, but it can be truly rewarding to take them with us instead of fretting over how they’re faring at home while we’re away. Since cats — our benevolent overlords — are often happier remaining at home to survey their kingdom, we will focus on tips for traveling with the most lovable of dopes: our canine companions.
We spoke with Dona Federico of Saratoga Springs, who is a longtime volunteer at Capital District Humane Association (CDHA) and a frequent road-tripper with her beloved pups, Ralphy and Rocky. She offered some expert tips for smoothing out the rough edges that sometimes accompany driving with doggos.
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure your dog is healthy enough to travel. Schedule a checkup with their vet before any big trip so that you can get the green light and have current medical records in case you need them in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to get your pet microchipped before any trip, in case they do manage to get away from you. Even if your dog doesn’t usually stray, a long trip could be stressful enough for them to engage in behaviors like bolting or running away.
The next key to an enjoyable and (relatively) stress-free car trip with Fido is making sure he’s ready for the ride. If Spot already loves accompanying you around town, happily drooling out the passenger side window, then this shouldn’t be a problem. If, on the other hand, you maybe acquired a pandemic pet and Queenie hasn’t even gone around the block in a vehicle, you should probably start her off with little trips first. Federico advises taking your pooch for a test drive around the neighborhood. If she shows signs of anxiety — shaking, lip-licking, whining, or excessive panting — then you are going to have to do some positive feedback training (reward her with lots and lots of treats) and work her up to longer trips.
Map out pet-friendly hotels in advance. Although the number of places that happily host pets is growing, every place has different requirements in terms of providing medical records or charging additional fees. Also, it’s a good idea to think about how you will get food while staying at the hotel, especially if you are traveling alone. It’s best to get your dinner, for example, on the road and bring it up to the room when you check in, rather than going out for a meal. Leaving your pets unattended in a strange place can cause anxiety, barking, and undue stress, and could lead to other guests reporting an issue (…and then it becomes your issue). “If they were in a hotel room and we went out to eat, I worried if they would be barking if we weren’t there,” Federico says. “So I always left the TV on so there was that little bit of distraction.”
While Sparky might love hanging his head out the window, it’s really not the safest way for dogs to travel. Not only can insects and other flying debris cause eye damage, but a sudden stop could cause serious harm. It’s important, especially for long car rides, to have a safe containment system for Fido, whether it’s a doggie seat belt or car seat (which can be found online or in pet stores), or a comfy crate put in the back of the car. If you choose to crate your dog, make sure they have room to stand up and turn around, and optimally something soft to lay down on.
Most importantly: Never leave your pets unattended in a closed vehicle, particularly on a hot day. It doesn’t even make a difference if you crack a window or think you’ll only be gone for a few minutes. “It takes seven minutes for them to basically move into a situation where it becomes fatal,” Dr. Danielle Bernal of Wellness Natural Food noted in a Mental Floss article. “We need to make sure that all pet parents are aware of that.”
Whenever Federico made the trip from her home in Saratoga Springs to her vacation home in South Carolina, she would put down the seats in the cab of the truck and make a cozy nook with Ralphy and Rocky’s dog beds from home. “They really liked it,” she says, “with a little bit of lavender oil on their paws, and they would sleep! They were happy as clams.”
In addition to making sure your pup can get safely comfortable for the long haul, it’s a good idea to make accommodations for when he needs to go potty. Stopping frequently for a bit of water, a little exercise, and an opportunity to “use the facilities” is a must, but be prepared. Make sure your pet has its collar or harness and leash attached before you open the door, and try to make your stops away from other cars or lots of people.
Many experts, including the American Kennel Club, also advise having your canine companion skip breakfast. Traveling on an empty stomach will help prevent car sickness (which is actually common in dogs), and will make cleanup a little easier if it does occur. Do provide them with plenty of water, though, as they can dehydrate quickly, especially if stressed out.
What to Pack
- Food and Water: Always make sure that you pack plenty of food, treats, and water for your dogs — for both the car ride and for your destination. Any sudden change in their diet could lead to upset tummies and messy accidents, which does not make for a relaxing vacation. If you are trying to reduce bulk, purchase collapsible bowls for water and food and make sure to acclimate Fluffy to them before your trip.
- Doggie Diapers: Whether it’s stress-induced or due to a dietary issue, dogs are more prone to “accidents” when traveling. Federico came up with the ingenious solution of having her pups wear diapers called Belly Bands while in the car and at hotels in order to save her the hassle of trying to clean up the messes.
- Familiar crates, beds or blankets: If you are staying overnight anywhere, it’s a good idea to bring something that your dog is used to sleeping on. For many pups that means a dog bed or crate you can easily set up. For the more, ahem, pampered pets, who like to sleep in bed with you, Federico advises bringing a familiar blanket to lay on top of the hotel coverlet. That way the dogs know where to sleep, and it’s a courtesy to the next guest staying there who might not love lying in a pile of Golden Retriever fur.
- Toys: Road trips can get pretty dull for humans, and the same applies to dogs, too. Pack a few of their favorite toys and at least one that will occupy a bunch of time, like those Kongs that you can stick a treat into so they have to work it out.
Yes, it takes extra preparation and energy to travel with your pets, but having them along can make the experience more worthwhile. Not only are you avoiding prohibitive kennel boarding costs and the stress of having someone else take care of your furry loved ones, but you get to make memories with them as well. Federico, whose dogs both passed last year from old age, says that while she is traveling with a bit more freedom now, it’s bittersweet. “I think … they’re part of our family, you know, so if you’re going anywhere for a long while they should be there with you,” she says. “It is a lot easier to travel without your pets than it is to travel with them, but I miss it. I do.”
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