10 Dog Trip Essentials
By Cricky Long
Betty Horner, a grandmother of seven in Middleburg, Va., has been bringing pets on family road trips since before some of her kids could walk. "It used to be that the dogs could only come if we were camping out or going to the beach house," says Horner. "Now, if we want to, we can take our dogs to the Four Seasons."
For many families, a vacation is no longer a vacation without their dog present. But bringing a dog along requires serious consideration, from deciding on your mode of transportation to determining where to stay and what to do. Following are 10 things your need to do before you bring your dog on your next trip.
1. Choose your lodging carefully
When choosing a hotel, take time to find out what the pet policies are. Many hotels have weight limits; some have breed restrictions and most require advance reservations. Most hotels post pet policies on their Web site, but it's a good idea to review the rules when you make your reservation so there are no surprises later.
Also, be sure you know the rules once you arrive. Len Kain, vice president of marketing at DogFriendly, says, "Don't assume you can sit in the lobby and have a drink with your dog or play chess with your dog." Most hotels provide pet owners with a list of rules upon check in. If you don't receive a list, when in doubt, ask about the hotel's policies.
2. Getting there -- plane, train, automobile or bus?
If you plan to travel with your dog in tow, you can cross Amtrak and Greyhound off of your list of transportation options, since the only canines permitted are service dogs.
Driving is certainly the most conducive to bringing a dog because you are in control and you are still in your own environment. When it comes to pit stops, however, you need more than just a clean bathroom. Plan your stops in areas where you can safely walk your leashed dog.
3. Keeping your dog safe in the air
Air travel is complicated enough and when you add a dog to the mix, it can get downright crazy. With a little advance planning, though, it is doable. Horner, who only flies with her small dogs, which can fit under the seat, says, "There are a lot of factors to consider when you bring your dog on the plane. I only fly direct and I dread delays even more so than usual."
Whether your dog is small enough to travel in the cabin or is relegated to the cargo section, the airlines have strict guidelines for flying with a pet, especially when it comes to kenneling, as well as feeding and watering your dog prior to departure. It is imperative that you follow all instructions to help ensure a safe journey for your pet and fellow passengers. You can find pet policies on most airline Web sites or by calling the airline's customer service number.
4. Get a health certificate and refill any meds
If you are flying, you are required to present a health certificate signed by your veterinarian when you check in. This document certifies that your dog is current on all vaccinations and is fit to travel. Be sure to keep this piece of paper in a safe place with your other travel documents. While you are at your veterinarian's office, also stock up on any medications your dog will require while you are both away from home.
5. Prep your pup for your trip
According to Kain, "You should orient your dog to traveling prior to your trip. If the only place you take your dog in the car is to the veterinarian's office, your dog is not going to like the car. Start taking your dog places that are fun for your dog." Additionally, if you are planning an active vacation, make sure your dog is in top condition. After getting a clear bill of health from your veterinarian, try going on long walks, runs or hikes with your dog to prep your pet. If you know you are going to encounter crowds on your trip, make sure your dog is comfortable around people by taking it with you to parks and other dog-friendly places where you can test your pup's people skills.
6. Stick with your dog's usual food and water
While you may be ready to sample the local cuisine, your dog is used to eating the same food every day and will be dealing with enough excitement without a sudden change in diet.
To prevent diarrhea, it is a good idea to bring water from home or try buying filtered water at your destination. "We've been taking our dogs to the beach for almost thirty years," Horner says. "It took a couple of years before I realized that bringing water from home prevented an awful lot of stomach problems and messes."
7. Make sure your dog has a collar with current ID tag
If you and your dog should become separated, you want to do everything possible to ensure a quick reunion. The best way to do this is to securely attach a current contact number to your dog's collar. You may also want to talk to your veterinarian about implanting a microchip in your dog, since collars and ID tags can fall off.
8. Bring a leash
Your dog may be perfectly trained off leash, but according to Kain, using a leash is a good idea when "your dog is in an environment not his own and is exposed to new scents." In addition to protecting your dog, a leash provides a sense of security to people around you who may be fearful of dogs. Also note that some places, mainly in the United States, have leash laws requiring you to keep your puppy on its leash at all times while in public.
9. Bring your dog's bed or crate and a favorite toy
If you have children, you appreciate the importance of packing your child's security blanket. The same goes for dogs that will be much more relaxed if they have their own bed with all its familiar lumps and scents. Also, be sure to pack enough toys to keep your dog entertained.
If your pooch is crate trained, seriously consider bringing its crate. Many hotels require that dogs be crated when left alone in the room.
10. Know when to leave your pup at home
When all is said and done, if your dog is going to spend the entire vacation cooped up in a hotel room alone, or if your dog is antisocial, aggressive, or anxious in new situations, then your dog may be better off at home with a pet sitter. With a little forethought, a solid plan and some common sense, however, there is no reason your dog can't take part in your next adventure.
Cricky Long is the author of The Complete Cat Organizer and The Complete Dog Organizer, as well as several other guidebooks for pet owners.