Pawsitive trip Tips to keep you and your pet happy on the road
San Francisco dog owner Ben Lowenstein loves to travel – and he never leaves his dog, Javi, behind.
Together, the couple took road trips to Chicago, Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles. They hiked the trails of New Mexico, explored the national parks of Utah and traversed the snow banks of Colorado.
The best part of traveling with Javi, Lowenstein said, is that his best friend is always with him. He loves it when Javi lays his head on the console of the car and falls asleep as they head off on their next adventure.
But going on a road trip with a dog is not all about good times. This can be difficult for the dog and the owner. Tips to help your furry friend succeed on the road:
Teach them to love the car
Long before your car trip, teach your dog positive associations with the car.
“Practice makes better,” said Erdem Tuncsiper, who runs PACK Leaders Dog Training in Chicago. “Don’t make your big trip his first trip.”
Take them on as many local rides as possible and give them treats and toys to make the ride fun. Drive them to exciting places so they don’t see the car as a direct-to-vet mobile.
If a dog is apprehensive, pet parents “can encourage deeper engagement with the car by rewarding any vehicle-directed interaction – such as looking, sniffing, moving towards or entering it – and taking steps from there,” said Darris Cooper, national dog training manager at Petco.
Bring items like bowls and blankets that your dog is not only used to, but finds comforting, Tuncsiper said.
“That includes anything for sleeping, eating or drinking,” he said.
Keep your dog as comfortable as possible
“Make sure your dog isn’t stressed by the sights, sounds, or movement of the vehicle,” said Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at VCA Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. “There are many additions that can help reduce stress, such as playing classical music, spraying pheromones to help with relaxation…proper training on restraints, favorite treats, and not feeding at the least two hours before the start of the trip to avoid nausea.”
Dogs also overheat easily, so make sure you have good ventilation (and never leave them alone in a parked car).
“If your dog is panting a lot, he’s hotter than you and needs air,” Tuncsiper said.
Excessive panting can also be a sign of anxiety. If your dog just doesn’t seem comfortable, talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medications, as well as over-the-counter chews and drops.
Expect the trip to take longer
Dogs need regular stops to run, relieve themselves, and explore all the exciting new smells.
“We have a two- or three-hour drive time rule in our family,” said Christina Howitt, co-founder of Find Your Blue, a Kansas City-based travel company that specializes in dog-friendly itineraries. “We always strive to add frequent stops. … We also try to avoid driving more than five or six hours in total per day.”
Pack Your Puppy’s Suitcase Responsibly
Dogs need a lot of things when they travel. Marks said the checklist should include medication, vaccination records, a dog first aid kit, an extra leash and collar, their ID tag, a crate (in case you need to leave your dog alone where you are staying) and collapsible bowls.
Bring at least two days worth of extra food and water.
There are water bowls that attach to your car so your dog can drink whenever he wants. Howitt recommends a spill proof bowl from RocKur Designs: “It can easily be folded up and taken on hikes. We pair it with a hydration backpack to fill the bowl.”
In case of an emergency, plan ahead for veterinary clinics along your route.
And discover the many products designed to keep your dog safe in the car.
“Supplies such as a booster seat, travel bag, crash-tested harness, seat belt adapter … are essential for road trips,” Cooper, of Petco, said. “Restricting your dog’s movement helps reduce the risk of injury in the event of an accident.”
Find places in advance where dogs are welcome
Traveling with a dog requires more anticipation and less spontaneity.
“Do your research beforehand, especially for hotels and sightseeing,” advises dog owner Leksa Pravdic, who drove her dogs, Scout and Pluto, from their home in Chicago to New Mexico, in Arizona and Colorado. “Many national parks don’t allow dogs or restrict dogs to certain small areas. Look for national monuments or state parks that allow dogs.”
Enjoy the ride
“Have fun and introduce them to everything,” Tuncsiper said. “Let them smell the new things you buy and do.”
“Even though sometimes the logistics can be a hassle, taking road trips with my dogs was 100% worth it,” she said. “They are happy to be with you wherever you go.”