Nancy Kerns, founding editor-in-chief of Whole Dog Journal, a monthly publication offering advice on responsible dog ownership.
Most dog owners are eager to take their pets on vacation with them. It is fun to travel with Fido, and more places now allow you to bring along well-behaved dogs.
But it also can be limiting and requires planning, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are some tips from Whole Dog Journal editor-in-chief Nancy Kerns…
When searching for motels, hotels, Airbnbs and other accommodations that will welcome your pet, ask the following questions…
Are there fees for dog(s)? Are there weight, size or breed limitations? How many dogs are allowed per room? Can you leave the dog in your room unattended? Does your dog have to be crated when you’re not in the room? Are there designated pet-relief areas nearby…and off-leash dog parks in the area?
Best: Check out booking apps such as BringFido and BarkHappy for other pet owners’ experiences at accommodations as well as discounted rates.
Before you commit to a long drive, make sure your dog is able to relax in a moving vehicle. Important: Teach the dog to ride in the backseat of your car—front-seat airbags can be deadly to pets.
Take the pet on two-hour test drives. Before getting in the car, always walk the dog so he has had a chance to empty his bowels and bladder and is not restless in anticipation of an opportunity to do so.
If the dog shows signs of car sickness or anxiety, try one of these approved stress-reducing products…
Adaptil Calm collar ($24.99, Adaptil.com) for around the neck or Adaptil Travel spray ($29.99), which is applied to the seat or crate where the dog sits in the car. These were developed to mimic a pheromone emitted by lactating female dogs to calm your pet and reduce barking, chewing, whining and whimpering.
Anxiety Wrap ($34.95, AnxietyWrap.com) or ThunderShirt ($39.95 and up, ThunderShirt.com) both apply gentle, constant pressure around the trunk of the dog’s body, which has a calming effect on many dogs.
ThunderCap ($19.95, ThunderShirt.com) is a sheer hood that allows the dog to see only shapes and reduces arousal from outside stimuli. This helps dogs that are triggered into a frantic state by what they see outside the car windows.
Try playing dog-friendly music in the car. “In the Car” features classical music specifically geared to the anxious dog ($15 to $29.98, iCalmPet.com). Available as a download, CD or microSD memory card.
Ask your vet for medication to calm your dog if the products above don’t help.
Also: If you’re planning to take your dog on a hiking, canoeing or kayaking vacation, do some test runs first to make sure your pet feels comfortable with these activities. That means trying out a doggie life vest for water sports and bringing along a first-aid kit for cuts and scrapes on the trail.
Behaviors to encourage: Teach your dog to walk loosely on a leash—a leash will definitely be required at times…come when called (in case the dog gets off leash)…and calmly greet human and canine strangers. Also: Your dog should be crate-trained—there are many instances when the pet may need to be confined while traveling. Examples: In the car…at hotels when you go out for the day or for meals…and at campsites.
Although most states do not have laws requiring dogs to be restrained in vehicles, it makes good sense for everyone if you do. To make the trip pleasant for you and your dog…
Place the dog in a crate that is strapped to child-safety seat anchors or cargo anchors (such as those in the back of an SUV or wagon). A loose crate is no better than a loose dog! Best: Crash-tested car kennels—these are different from typical household crates, which have been shown to fly apart in crash situations. These crates are more expensive than house crates (with the larger sizes costing the most), but dogs in them have survived accidents that totaled the cars they were strapped into.
If you don’t have an SUV or you need a less expensive option, restrain your pet with a specially designed dog harness that attaches to a seat belt. Best: A recent review of car harnesses by Whole Dog Journal found the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain Plus ($109.99,
Sleepypod.com) to be the safest harness on the market. Other good choices: Ruffwear Load Up Dog Car Harness ($79.95,
RuffWear.com)…Kurgo Impact Car Dog Harness ($86.99, Kurgo.com)…and EzyDog Drive Dog Car Harness ($115, EzyDog.com). Note: All but the Ruffwear Load Up Harness have a leash attachment so you can walk your dog from the vehicle to your destination, but these harnesses are not for long or frequent walks.
Pack essentials for your pet—water, food and food bowls…poop bags…the aforementioned pet first-aid kit…medications your pet takes regularly…brush and tick-remover tool…dog bed or blanket…crate…and an extra collar or harness and a leash. Also remember: Proof of rabies and other vaccinations.
Make sure the dog has a well-fitted collar with an ID tag that displays his name and your current cell-phone number. Also, every dog should be microchipped, with the chip registered to your current phone number, in case the collar comes off. Avoid: Retractable leashes. Your dog can get into trouble with oncoming vehicles or aggressive dogs faster than your ability to restrain him. And those long cords can cut into any body part they come into contact with.
Bring toys and chews for the dog to play with both at your accommodations and when the pet is awake in the car.
You know you should never leave your dog in the car while you go into a store or restaurant or sightseeing. Even with the windows open, the car can quickly heat up to a temperature that is deadly to a dog. Likewise, cold weather can be dangerous. And there’s always the danger of your pet being stolen. Also…
Do not let your dog stick his head out the window while the vehicle is moving. Dirt, debris and objects can fly into his eyes, nose or mouth. If your dog loves the wind in his fur, purchase a safety product for your car window. Example: BreezeGuard (starting at $274, BreezeGuard.com), powder-coated raw steel mesh screens (not unlike a security screen door) that fit in the car window so your pet can feel the breeze without sticking his head out (or being able to jump or fall out).
Limit daily drives to seven to eight hours for your own enjoyment and the dog’s. Plan to stop every few hours to walk and interact with your dog. To facilitate fast stops: Teach your dog to eliminate on cue using a command such as, “Get busy” or “Go potty.” Offer a food treat when the dog complies.
Booking a dog-friendly accommodation is just half the equation of traveling with your pet. Next, research whether you can bring your dog to attractions, restaurants, galleries, trails, beaches and parks. Important: Dogs are not allowed on trails at some national parks and must be accompanied by their owners in campgrounds. Good news: With the emphasis on outdoor eating these days, dogs are welcome at more restaurants and venues than ever before, but check out these opportunities before you arrive.