Are you a road warrior or a road worrier? Twenty years ago when I started traveling with dogs, I admit I fell into the latter category. How could I possibly visit friends across the country and make sure my dog was not left behind? Back then folks used to do a double take when I mentioned traveling with my dog. Today, we know better and we travel more frequently with Fido in tow.There are dog travel do’s and dont’s for the holiday season.
In a 2011 survey by PetRelocation.com, 60 percent of pet owners traveled at least one time with their pet in 2010, and 93 percent of pet owners claimed they would go on at least one trip in 2011 with a pet. That’s a lot of dogs on the road, considering there are over 78 million dogs in U.S. households.
So, apprehension be gone! Armed with this combo of time tested, off-the-beaten path dos and don’ts for holiday travel, worriers can become warriors with a few shakes of the tail. (Note: This list primarily applies to road travel, as I am personally opposed to flying dogs as cargo.)
DO remember those “oh yeah, wish I took that with me” items
Staples like a first aid kit, identification and vaccination records, and any medications Fido takes regularly are a given, but don’t forget these other, less obvious things:
- Water from home: My last dog would get sick or refuse to drink “other people’s water” -– I kid you not. Pack a few jugs of water from home.
- Fido’s favorite blanket/pillow/kennel: Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt; in fact, it can breed contentment when surrounded with coochie-cooing family members.
- Treats: It goes without saying, but what grandma has ready for your darling’s snacking needs might not be the best choice, especially digestive-wise.
- A spare leash and collar, and an extra identification tag: I’ve lost more leashes in my travels than I can count, so it’s nice to have a spare to keep in the glove box. I also make a temporary ID tag for my dog with the address we are visiting. What good is a tag from home if my dog isn’t there? We recently invested in a GPS collar, too.
DON’T force a travel-fearful dog into an upsetting road trip
If your dog doesn’t like car travel, you can try to change this. Assess road readiness with a five-minute trip around the block. Slowly increase the amount of time Rover spends in the car, making the destination worthwhile (i.e., a favorite park). Praise “getting there” with a treat upon arrival. Desensitizing and gradually acclimating a dog takes time and patience. A vet or animal behaviorist can help. My Dexter digs travel, so traveling in a car is second nature for my boy.
DO decide on the sleeping arrangements ahead of time
Is your dog easily startled by things that go bump in the night (like someone going to the bathroom in his own house)? Why scare Uncle Ned with barking and put your pooch under any undue stress when dog-friendly accommodations might be nearby? Ask if anyone has allergies to dogs prior to making holiday plans.
DON’T assume your dog will stay put in the car or that an accident can’t happen
Do your homework and find a restraint system that works best for your dog’s needs. For me, Dexter and I generally sit in the back seat, harnessed safely into our seat belts.
DO prepare for the worst but hope for the best
I found out recently that while Dexter is unhappy with thunderstorms at home, he is fine when they occur while traveling. If your dog normally wears something like a Thundershirt or requires the assistance of an anti-anxiety spray, pack those along just in case.
DON’T assume there will be no other pets present on arrival
Nothing can ruin a holiday more than finding out your sister-in-law’s dog doesn’t play well with other dogs. Keep calm and prepare.
DO plan for pee stops
Does your dog need to relieve himself every few hours at home? Implement the same schedule when traveling. At each rest stop, make the experience the greatest thing in the world. As a friend once told me when I was training Dexter to pee outside, “Act like he just won Westminster every time he pees where he should.” If pit stops are positive ones, Fido will want to please. Plus, you can get some fun bonding time in while on the road.
DON’T leave a dog unattended in a vehicle
Pets are prone to accidents, theft, and even death when left unattended in a car. I recently discovered a product called Too Hot For Spot to monitor the temperature in my car. Additionally, ultraviolet rays are as harmful to pets as they are to humans, no matter the time of year. A veterinarian-recommended sun block and in-car sun shades will keep your dog safeguarded en route and during your stay.
Traveling with Fido takes a little planning, but if you travel with these tips in mind, it can be a safe, fun experience.
What’s your favorite pet travel trip and/or tip? Bark at us below!
(note: I wrote this article for Dogster magazine and am re-running it here to try and save more dogs’ lives and help pet parents traveling with their dogs this holiday season)