Tips for Traveling with Dogs

Bringing Fido on a trip with you? Here are things to consider before you go.

dog in car

It's no secret that we Americans love our dogs. In cities across the country, pooches have access to doggy spas, dog parks and other canine-friendly businesses. It's not uncommon to see people with dogs in tow as they take in the sights on vacation. But before jetting off with Rover, consider whether it's feasible.

According to Jonathan Klein, a professional dog trainer, you should always consider "what you are going to be doing, where you are going and whether you will have time for your dog." If you will be running around and sight-seeing in places such as museums, galleries or restaurants, it may be best to leave your dog with a friend, find a pet sitter or board it while you are away. Research pet-friendly destinations and travel options to reduce the stress for both your family and your pup.

Here are some things to consider before traveling with your dog:

Short Car Rides

  • Buckle up your pup. Though your car is the safest way for your pup to travel over longer distances, remember that most accidents occur close to home. When traveling by car, even if you're just staycationing a town over, consider your dog's safety. Invest in an accident-tested safety harnesses or dog seat to help your dog stay safer and more secure in the event of an accident.
  • Stay inside. Avoid letting your dog stick his head or paws out of the car. Just like humans on a motorcycle, eyes exposed to high speeds and wind without protection are prone to dangerous debris. Keep the air conditioning on, or just crack the windows, to let the air flow instead.
  • No riding shotgun. Dogs should never ride in the front seat with you. They can impede your driving, and if you stop short they could be thrown into the windshield or injured by airbags. Dogs should stay restrained in the backseat or cargo area of your car.

Long Car Rides

  • Keep the collar and tags on. It might seem more comfortable for your pup to have his collar off in the car, but if you crash and your dog panics, he may run away. Not everyone checks for microchips, so that little tag is still the best way to get your buddy safely back in your arms quickly.
  • Remember your pup needs food, water and breaks, too. Feed your dog a small meal a few hours before your trip, recommends the ASPCA. Then stop for food breaks as needed -- no eating in a moving car. Because keeping a bowl of water sloshing around in the car while you drive isn't practical, offer your pet water regularly. Stop every hour or two -- or when your four-legged pal seems overly restless -- so you can both stretch your legs. And it's never safe to leave a dog alone in a car, even if the windows are open and it's only for a few minutes.

Flying

  • Travel in the cabin. If you must travel by plane, your pet may find itself at risk. Katherine Miller, director of Anti-Cruelty Behavior Research for the ASPCA says, "The best way to ensure [your dog's] safety is to travel with them in the cabin. Unless your dog is small enough to fit under your seat, the ASPCA recommends pet owners do not fly with their pet."
  • Learn the airline's pet policy. There are often fees associated with flying your pup, and certain breeds are almost never allowed to fly or only allowed to fly seasonally. Some airlines will not even accept canine passengers.
  • Pick the right carrier. If you must fly with your dog and it won't fit under your seat, a crate may be an option. But make sure you select the proper one. "The carrier should be large enough for your pet to stand, sit and turn around comfortably," Miller advises. "Plastic carriers provide better protection and security ... [it] should be a specially approved travel carrier to ensure the dog's safety." Here is more advice for How to Choose a Pet Carrier.
  • Prepare your dog for hours alone in a crate. "Practice, practice, practice with your dog before you get on that plane," Miller says. "They should associate their crate with positive experiences, and be happy to spend some time in their crate with you nearby." Give your pets several weeks before the flight to form a positive association with being in the carrier, and practice being calm and quiet in it. Leave the carrier out in your home with the door open, and with comfortable bedding in it. Feed your dog with the crate door open and work your way up to feeding with the door closed.
  • Create a super comfy crate. If your pooch has to be checked into the belly of the plane, Miller suggests freezing a bowl of water. This way, it won't spill when you're transporting it, but will have melted by the time the dog gets thirsty. Miller also recommends taping a small pouch, preferably made of cloth, of dried food outside the crate. "Airline personnel will be able to feed your pet in case he gets hungry on long-distance flights or a layover," she says. And leave your dog's favorite blanket or toy inside to comfort them.

Camping

  • Don't let pups run loose. Camping is one of the most popular vacation activities for furry families. And with so many new smells to explore in the great outdoors, it can be exciting for a dog. But there are also dangers to be aware of -- from wild animals to poisonous plants. So keep your dog on a leash during a camping trip.
  • Stay close at night. Though it may not be appealing to have a dirty pup that's been playing in the woods all day asleep beside you, a dog tied up outside risks weather and wild animal hazards. So keep them in the tent, cabin or RV with you.

Hotels

  • Check the hotel policy on pets before booking. If you are bringing your dog to a hotel, do some planning. Nothing is worse than trying to check into a hotel with your Great Dane and finding out that it does not meet the hotel's size restrictions.
  • Bring your dog's crate. Both Miller and Klein recommend toting along a crate (or a dog bed if it's practical) from home, as it will be familiar to your dog and will help it feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. By having a crate, your dog has a piece of home, and a place to stay when you aren't in the room. Make sure to train your dog before the trip, so it will be used to the crate.

Both Klein and Miller also recommend ensuring your dog has proper ID at all time, including a microchip and tag with a reachable phone number -- you don't want people calling your house when you aren't there to tell you they've found your dog. You should also bring vaccination records, photos and any medication with you in case your dog bites someone, gets lost or needs to be unexpectedly boarded.

Having your dog with you on vacation can be fun and memorable. As long as you consider all aspects of your vacation and do some pre-vacay training, you and your dog will have a great time running up and down the beach or hiking through the woods. After all -- doesn't your dog deserve a break, too?

Alaina Brandenburger is a freelance writer living in Denver. Her work can be found here.

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