Taking Dogs on Road Trips

More and more people are choosing to bring their dogs with them on vacation.  We are two of those people.

My husband and I have had the luxury of being on leave this year, and have spend much of our time on the road.  Our two dogs Maggie and Arlo have been our companions on our travels.

Maggie is a 7 year old lhasapoo, who weighs about 15 pounds.  She barks at anything and everything that comes into sight. Arlo is a one year old golden doodle who is pushing 90 pounds.  He’s still very much a puppy, with lots of energy.  And although he is a big boy, he thinks he’s a lap dog.

Travelling with our pups as been lovely for us.  We don’t have to worry about getting a dog sitter.  We don’t miss them while we are gone.  We don’t have to endure the cold shoulder they give us when we return after leaving them for a while.

But we do have to rethink how we travel when we have the dogs.  

So far these two have been camping in Northern Ontario.  Hiked with us in Cape Breton.  Taken a ferry to Newfoundland.  Travelled to Nashville and Chattanooga.  Enjoyed a visit with their “sister”,  otherwise known as our actual human child, in Minnesota.  Experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  And lived next door to a longhorn bull in Texas.

They have crossed the US – Canadian border twice, stayed in hotels, enjoyed VRBO rentals, and lived with us in our RV.

After many miles on the road with these two, here is what we have learned about taking dogs on road trips:

  1. Slow Down

My husband and I have done many, many road trips.  We are used to driving 12 hour days.  With the dogs, we have still driven 12 hour days, but the mileage covered is simply not the same.  You need to stop more frequently, every two hours or so, to let the dogs out to pee and stretch their legs.  And there should be at least one longer stop during the day to allow for a longer walk – especially with young dogs or breeds that have more energy.  They have to have time to get some of that energy out so they can settle in the car the rest of the time.

2. Pack a lunch if you can

Rest areas along the highway make for better stops with dogs than fast food places.  They have big grassy areas that allow for good walks for the dogs.  But they often do not have food to buy for lunch.  If you pack a few sandwiches, rest areas make the perfect spot for both you and your dogs to stop, stretch your legs, have lunch, and go to the bathroom.

3. Make a nest for the dogs in the back of the car

We have a pick up truck which allows us to put up our back seats, leaving a big flat area on which we put a pillow, some blankets, and some toys.  Whether or not your back seats fold up, creating a space that allows them to sleep comfortably and have some familiar objects helps them to settle sooner.

4. Dogs do get car sick

We have learned that throw up happens sometimes.  Under the blankets and pillow we bring for the dogs, is a wipeable vinyl table cloth.   If one of the dogs does throw up, it does not get on the car upholstery, and can be cleaned up more easily.  We also carry an all purpose cleaner, paper towels, and extra towels and blankets. Make sure the blankets and towels you use are old ones that you no longer care about. More than one of ours has just been thrown away at a gas station. 

5. Keep your dog on a leash

When you get out of the car, resist the temptation to let your dog run at the rest area, no matter how well trained they are.  Dogs respond to strange areas in strange ways sometimes.  We have witnessed more than one dog run away from a rest area – sometimes down the highway.  

6. When staying at a hotel, read the fine print.

Many hotels are now pet friendly, but do read their policies carefully.  Some have restrictions as to the number of pets allowed.  Many have weight limits on the size of dogs – often no more than 50 pounds.  Do not assume that the pet friendly paw symbol mean all pets are welcome.  And there will be additional cleaning fees – some per pet, and some as high as an additional $50.

7. Dog proof where you stay

Dogs chew things when they get bored and stressed.  And being in a strange place, especially if you leave them to sightsee, is stressful.  Put away anything the dogs might get into.  When we stay at a VRBO, I take a picture of the room to record where the of all the knickknacks have been placed.  Then I put all of those items in a closet or up on a high shelf.  When we leave, I look at the picture so I can put everything back the way it was, unharmed and unchewed. 

8. Think though your accommodations

Downtown hotels or rental units are convenient to sightseeing, but don’t often provide good walking areas.  Dogs bark at people in hallways, so getting an end unit, or one on the main floor, can minimize noises around you.  Similarly, if you are travelling in an RV, choose your spot carefully so as not to be next to the public areas.  We have found that, though our RV is small, the dogs seem more comfortable staying in it than a hotel room or VRBO.  It is familiar to them and they settle quickly when we leave them to go somewhere without them.

9. Carry immunization records with you

Customs officers can ask for proof that your dogs are up to date on their immunizations.  Carry their records with you, and make sure that the paperwork includes a physical description of the dog.  These records can be obtained from your vet.

And most importantly…

10. Plan your activities with your dogs in mind.

You brought your dogs on vacation with you, so don’t just leave them alone all day and all night.  Plan lots of dog friendly activities – visits to parks or nearby hikes, or choose dogs friendly patios for dinner when the weather permits.  Remember to plan daily activities so as to be able to be home to feed them.  Spend evenings in if you have been out all day.  Make sure your dogs do not spend too much time alone.

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