“how-to” travel with dogs
I frequently get asked how I “manage” traveling by myself with four dogs on these roadtrips. Hopefully, this page will answer these questions and inspire you to take your beasts along with you.
Firstly, you want to make sure your vehicle is a happy place for your canine companion. Start small: feeding meals inside, taking short trips to the grocery store, etc. Build up to a weekend trip. You want to know what to expect before you head off on some travel marathon. Some dogs are content to snooze or just calmly watch the passing scenery while others are stressed-out screamers.
To Crate or Not to Crate
Sensible people crate their dogs or use doggie seat-belt type restraints while driving. I’m not one of ‘em. Yes, in the event of an accident, if your dog is loose, he/she may be sent hurtling through the windshield or at your head. Your freaked-out dog may end up running down a busy road, collarless and lost. All of this is pretty terrifying to think about. But for me, having my dogs loose is worth those risks. If they were locked up in the back, I’d be bored out of my mind which would be hazardous in itself. Their antics and reactions to what they see out the windows add tremendously to my own enjoyment.
I also think being crated most of the day can’t be good for their bodies. But if your dog’s jumping about and barking is going to distract you, then you probably want to lock ‘em up. Or maybe just for city driving. Most dogs snooze on the interstate.
I actually do bring crates along on my roadtrips. They are disassembled and nested in the back of the van for emergencies. One is used as a storage bin for their dry food, favorite toys, and my snacks. Other “temptations” are locked in bins in the back (toys) and coolers (perishable snacks, drinks & doggie treats). Remember to be extra careful with such items as gum, chocolate, raisins, etc. which are all toxic to dogs.
If you are going to travel with your dogs loose, you want to make sure that they aren’t going to go near the vehicle’s pedals or controls. Common sense prevails: know yourself, know your dog(s). The number one rule in my pack is that you never, ever, never, jump out of the van until I say “okay”. When I’m getting stuff out of the van or putting leashes on everybody and that big side door is open, I don’t want to worry about anybody hopping out.
Collars / No Collars
I usually don’t have collars on my dogs when they are in the van. I have a friend who went into a 7-11 to get coffee and came out to find her dog had gotten her collar stuck on something and strangled herself in less than five minutes. So since I’m popping in and out of the van all day to take photos, I don’t want to risk that happening with any of my guys. Outside the van, they always wear collars except sometimes when I’m posing them. They just look sexier without them. Even then, Grem usually has to wear her collar since she’s a “runner”. I think it’s smarter to have your cell phone number rather than your home number inscribed on their tags just in case they get lost. All of my dogs are microchipped which means they have “internal collars”.
Packing for Dogs
Of course, you want to bring along all your doggie essentials — their regular food, favorite toys, etc. I’ve heard of dogs getting sick from drinking, or refusing to drink, water that they’re not used to. I’ve never had this problem. I usually fill up my two gallon water jugs at gas stations and that’s good enough. One for drinking and one for quick dousing from running around in the heat. It’s also good to have extra water on hand for an impromptu bath in case your dog(s) decide to roll in something stinky. Nothing worse than a dead-fishie interior on a long trip. An extra leash is good to have in case you lose one. Some people like to bring along marrow bones or Kongs to fill with peanut butter. You might want to buy a doggie first aid kit if you’re the type that likes to be prepared for anything. My emergencies are more likely to be running out of ballies and squeakies.
If you’re traveling across the border (Canada or Mexico), you’re going to need a health certificate from your vet that shows records of rabies and other shots. You might want to always have one on these on hand just in case your dog gets into a fight with another dog or bites someone. Some dog parks (see below) will ask to see these records before admitting you.
Off With the Leash
The most important thing in maintaining your sanity is to get your dogs lots of exercise. I get mine out for at least two good runs each day in addition to pee-breaks every 2-3 hours. Their morning run is essential to take the edge off. Two of my dogs are very active so we play lots of retrieving games. My other two are happy just to sniff around. If your dogs have good recalls, you can get by with big lawns or dirt lots just about anywhere. Look around for semi-funky school grounds, cemeteries, church properties, big vacant lots behind gas stations off the interstate, etc. Avoid pristine ballfields, golf courses, and places with big “No Dogs” signs. I have been all over the country in all kinds of rural and urban settings but I have never had to drive more than five minutes to find an acceptable spot to cut ‘em loose. Be on the lookout though as “funky” places usually have discarded fast food wrappers and sometimes broken glass, nails, etc.
If you’re into nature, you might want to do a little pre-trip research for off-leash or on-leash trails. Before becoming a “lawbreaker” in a remote area, you want to consider how rock solid your dog’s recall is when encountering wildlife. My dogs, like most, love any kind of beach so I try to include lots of ocean and lake pit-stops in my itinerary. Legal, off-leash beaches are rare so you need to use your judgement. If you find some slightly skanky, remote, sunbather-free spot, it will probably be okay. Many beaches on the East Coast permit off-leash dogs in the off-season.
If you don’t trust your dogs off-leash, you might want to check out fenced dog parks. Most of them are free of charge. Even many of the private/members-only places offer a cheap day pass as well. Some of the bigger, nicer dog parks have lakes, picnic tables, and things for the dogs to play on. Many have a three dog limit (seldom enforced). Some don’t allow toys or treats (no point in being there for us). So you might want to poke around on-line before your trip. Here’s one of the best resources:
Most dog parks have separate big and small dog areas. I usually take my small dogs into the big dog area since it’s more spacious and my guys are hard-core socialized from our huge park in NYC that we go to every day when we’re home. If your dog isn’t used to all the dogs and activity, you might want to use the more subdued small dog area if that’s okay with the other folks there. Or find a quiet spot in the big dog area. This article covers the subject of dog parks well:
Training your dog to come when called will make roadtrips much more enjoyable for both of you. You’re going to want to have great treats to reward your dog for coming especially when faced with all the distractions of new places. You might want to practice at home in new environments with a lightweight 50 foot leash and then bring it on the road with you. Processed dog treats aren’t going to cut it and they’re not healthy for your dog either. I recommend cheddar cheese, roast beef, kielbasa — think gooey, stinky, tasty. I also like to have treats that will float in water which encourages my dogs to swim or at least wade to cool off in hot weather. Original flavor Goldfish or just bits of bread can come in handy for this.
The secret, once again, is in the cookies. Start with very short distances and always give your dog the treat back where they are staying. Once your dog has mastered the concept, you can mix your stays with recalls and turn it into a fun game. The dogs love it and it builds their focus on you.
In open, safe places, I play the “van game”. I walk a good distance away from the van with the side door wide open. Then I call all the dogs to me with a loud “okay!” — treats for all. Then I send them all back inside with a “get in!”. Sometimes, I’ll stand closer and call just one dog by name at a time. I reward the dog who comes AND the dogs who stayed. My dogs think this is a real hoot. Tricks and brain games are another good way to get your dog exercise and wear them out.
Dog Friendly Hotels
I’d love to support mom & pop motels but it rarely works out that way. Most of them have a no-pet policy. It’s usually just easier to pick out a place from my handy-dandy Red Roof or Motel 6 books. Both chains welcome pets and don’t charge extra for them. Although they both have a one-small-pet-only policy, 99.9% of the time, it’s not enforced. Many of the other chains (Days Inn, Comfort Inn, Super 8, Holiday Inn, etc.) accept pets but it depends on the location and they usually charge $10-$20 per pet. Not within my budget since I’m traveling with four of them.
Basic motel courtesy. Pick up poop, of course. If you’ve got a shedding type dog, cover the bed with your own blanket or sheet. Don’t leave your dog(s) alone in the room in case they decide to bark, chew, or dig. Check under the bed for edibles and other gross stuff that your dog might find. Mine like to eat the bath soap so I have to grab that before they do.
I hope you have found this info useful. Happy travels to you and yours!