More and more people are choosing to travel with their dogs and the options for pets on the road are increasing as a result. From “ruffing it” at campgrounds to enjoying fabulous four-star hotels, the time has never been better to pack up your pet and go.
Traveling with dogs can present some challenges, but nearly all are surmountable with a little common sense and creativity. Here’s what you need to know when you’re on the road with your best friend:
Step 1: Talk to Your Vet
While most dogs learn to enjoy riding in the car, most dogs also need help getting used to car trips. Just like some humans, some pets get motion sickness. For others, the problem is anxiety. Some dogs vomit when experiencing motion sickness. Others may drool excessively, producing copious amounts of saliva and drenching your car’s upholstery, or they may pant uncontrollably. Some pets may do all of these.
Talk to your veterinarian about medications that can help address issues like anxiety and vomiting. For anxious pets, the medication may only be needed while learning to become more comfortable in the car. For those pets with queasy tummies, anti-anxiety, and anti-vomiting medication may always be needed when traveling. Your veterinarian can also help determine if medication is not the best option for your dog.
Step 2: Get Your Dog Acclimatized
Teach your dog to enjoy riding in a car by using treats to reward tiny steps such as walking up to the car (treat), getting in (treat), getting into a harness or crate (treat), and then treats for progressively longer rides. Make sure during the learning period that the destination is somewhere your dog wants to go: A park, a pet store or business where treats are handed out, or another place where your dog feels comfortable and happy, such as a friend’s house.
If your dog doesn’t seem to be getting more comfortable in the car, talk to your veterinarian about a referral to a veterinary behaviorist who can help.
Step 3: Get the Gear
Safety experts advise that dogs be secured in your vehicle in a crate or harness. Should an accident occur, a loose dog is a danger to herself, to others in the car, and to everyone on the road. It is easy for one accident to turn into many if other drivers have to not only avoid your collision but also a terrified dog. Crates are probably the best means of safe restraint, but if you have a big dog and a small car, a crate likely isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are many car-harness restraints available that are not only comfortable for your dog but also work with your vehicle’s seat belts or child-seat anchors.
What about barriers? While these have long been popular in wagons, vans, and SUVs, many barriers crumble or collapse under the forward impact of a dog in a crash. If you choose a barrier, be sure it can be secured to the car’s frame and is sturdy enough to hold up in an accident. If not, use a crate or a seatbelt harness.
You’ll also need food and water dishes, preferably both in spill-proof containers. You’ll also need a leash and a comfortable travel harness or collar, and pick-up bags for cleaning up after your pet. A basic pet first-aid kit is recommended as well, and travel will be easier if you have a book of pet-friendly hotels or a tablet or smartphone app to make these listings available. Make sure you bring any medication your pet is taking and whatever you use to give the pills, such as a pill gun or pill pocket treats.
You should also make sure your pet has an ID tag with your cell phone number on it. Even better: use an ID tag AND a microchip and make sure your pet’s chip is registered and the information is current.
Step 4. Don’t Forget to Take Breaks
Walk your pet well before you hit the road to give her a chance to relieve herself. Once you’re en route, schedule potty breaks at least every few hours. Offer water at these breaks, and keep your pet’s feeding schedule as close to normal as possible. If your pet is on medication for nausea or anxiety, ask your veterinarian when to give the pills – with meals, on an empty stomach, an hour before you leave, and so on.
Even if your dog knows to come when called in your own neighborhood, keep your pet on a leash when traveling. Many pets get confused in new places and situations and may not be reliable off-leash, even where it’s allowed. And be responsible: Not only should you pick up after your pet but you should also prevent your pet from bothering others, whether by barking in a hotel room or running up to people who may not like dogs.
The most important thing to remember is that even on a day that’s merely “warm” the temperature in a car can reach dangerous levels within minutes – well over 100°F – even if the windows are partially opened.
Traveling with a dog has never been more popular, and never have there been so many products to help you and hotels to welcome you. Take advantage of dog-friendly America and you’ll both be happier.