The challenges of traveling with dogs
More families every year are including their dogs in their travel plans. This is a good thing — but it definitely requires some preparation, especially the first time.
It’s a lot like traveling with a toddler or young child, but with the additional challenge of many situations you will encounter where your dog will not be allowed to accompany you.
Even the simple pit stop and roadside meal break are complicated by probable high temperatures, which can turn a car into an oven in minutes, and the fact that dogs are not allowed in restaurants. Safe places to exercise a dog may also be hard to find. Although most cities have at least one dog park, you as a visitor don’t know the local dog park culture, or when the park gets its highest use. Experience using different parks with your dog at home will help you both to be comfortable in new places. Having travel documents – at the least, a current rabies vaccination certificate – is required in all states.
If your dog is on any medications, take an adequate supply with you, but it’s also prudent to have a prescription in case it gets spilled or lost far from home.
Ask your vet for a scrip that you can fill at a pharmacy, if possible (it usually is) so you don’t have to waste time and money searching out a vet and possibly having to pay for an exam in order to purchase medicine.
Food is an issue that may require you to locate sources en route or at your destination. Most quality dry foods can be safely packed as long as you preserve it in the original bag, roll it tightly after use, and keep it from getting hot. The natural preservatives break down when exposed to heat, air and humidity, so buying a week’s worth at a time is safest if you are traveling in the summer. If you feed a raw, meat based diet, you can get freeze-dried versions that will travel well. Simply rehydrate when you serve it.
Many motels, resorts and campgrounds allow dogs, but do not permit you to leave the dog alone on site. If some of your activities will separate you from your dog, don’t count on being able to find safe shade so you can leave him in the car.
Plan ahead by checking out day cares, pet walkers/sitters and boarding facilities near where you’ll be staying. While some facilities spell out their requirements and allow you to make reservations on line, I recommend calling and talking to a staff person to book a day or overnight visit. Not every operation will suit every dog, and you won’t know that without actually talking to someone before you finalize your arrangements. Many day cares don’t have individual kennels and do not offer overnight boarding.
Dogs must enjoy social play and not be aggressive or overly timid. Adult dogs who are used to accompanying their humans everywhere are often terrified to be left, even in the most dog-friendly facility.
Part of the socialization a good canine traveler needs is experience being left for short periods. Frequent separations teach a dog to expect your return and to enjoy, or at least be comfortable, in new places without your constant presence. Carry some good simple photos of your dog with you so you could put together a poster if he should get lost in a new place.
Needless to say, he should have current ID on him at all times (I take my dogs’ collars off at night, at home — but not when traveling.) Better safety and slight discomfort than disaster. You might even want to have a traveling ID, with cellphone numbers instead of a local address.
Every humane society worker will tell you how rich they’d be if they had a dollar for every lost dog whose owner said, when reunited, “I just took his collar off to give him a bath, or because it was bedtime.”
For the same reasons, always have your dog on a leash (not a retractable) until you have made certain it is safe to remove it.
If your vacation will take you to a place your are completely unfamiliar with and you don’t have local friends to consult, you might be well rewarded by calling the local shelter or pet services center for tips you’d never think to ask about. You can learn about recreation opportunities that welcome you and your dog, rules you might not expect, hazards different from those you’re used to.
Preparation for travel with a dog is a must – but it will vastly enhance your enjoyment of a vacation that includes him.
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