Taking your dog on a road trip to visit friends or family this festive season (or any other time)? This travel checklist will help ensure everything goes smoothly.
The holidays bring joy, excitement, and warm gatherings with family and friends. They’re also one of the busiest times of year for road travel, and that can create stress, especially if you’re taking your dog with you. With proper preparation and planning, however, your trip can be safe and stress-free.
The first consideration should be your dog’s comfort. Be honest. Does he enjoy travel, or does he get anxious and uneasy? Not every dog travels well, and if yours is one of them, it may be better to leave him with a pet sitter. Yes, you’ll miss him and he’ll miss you, but you’ll both be better off in the long run. And reuniting with him will give you something to look forward to when the holidays are over and it’s time to come home.
If you know your dog is travel-worthy, the following checklist can help ensure a comfortable and enjoyable trip.
Before you leave
- Start by making sure your dog is going to be okay in the car, especially if it’s awhile since he’s been driven anywhere further than the local park or vet’s office. Make a few trial trips to help him get reacquainted with your vehicle and its movement.
“It’s important to let your dog get used to the shape and smell of his crate or carrier, harness and/or car seat several days (or weeks) before the trip,” says Healthy Pet Coach, Jodi Ziskin. “Leave these items out at home out for him to investigate. If he’ll be traveling in a carrier or crate, putting treats inside it can create interest and even encourage him to nap in it.” Also make sure the crate or carrier can be safely secured in the car.
- If you’re staying with family or friends, check ahead to see if your dog is going to be welcome at their home. Will he be allowed on the furniture? Must he sleep in a crate? Does he get along with other animals, both dogs and cats, and is he good with children? If he won’t be allowed on furniture, practice having him stay off the couch at home in the days or weeks before you leave, using positive reinforcement. If he must sleep in a crate overnight while at your destination, practice this at home too. If possible, take along his own bed and bedding.
- It’s a good idea to bring the food your dog is used to eating at home, in order to avoid digestive upsets. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, “acclimatize your dog to the diet he will be eating on your trip,” says Jodi. “I recommend freeze-dried foods for many reasons — they are lightweight, easy to prepare and are nutritionally bio-appropriate.” If you are going the freeze-dried route, look for natural, premium products.
- If your dog hasn’t been to the vet lately, schedule a check-up to ensure he’s healthy for travel.
- Make sure he had adequate ID and that the information is complete and up to date.
- Is it going to take you more than one day to get where you’re going? If so, you’ll need accommodations. Dog-friendly hotels and inns are getting easier to find but be sure to research their individual policies. Read online reviews to get an idea of what they’re like. The holiday season is a busy time, so make your reservations well in advance. Be sure to speak to a real person, and get a receipt. Ask for a ground floor room, near an exit for easier access when you have to take your dog out.
- Packing is almost as big a consideration for your dog as it is for you.
While on the road
- Make sure your dog is properly secured and comfortable before you set out. If he gets nauseated in the car, make sure you have some remedies on hand (see sidebar). You don’t want the driver to be distracted by a dog who gets free of his crate or harness, or who is fussing, restless or sick.
- Whether your journey will take a few hours or a couple of days, try to follow your dog’s routine as closely as possible. Whenever you can, stick to the usual times for feeding, exercising, playing and sleeping. Take along some familiar comfort items like a favorite blanket or toy.
- It’s a good idea to plan out your entire route and make note of where and when you’ll be stopping for potty and exercise breaks, or to eat and rest.
- Wherever you stop, remember to properly pick up after your dog and dispose of his waste responsibly.
- Never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle – dogs are as susceptible to cold weather as to hot. He might get anxious or even panicky at being left alone in the car in a strange place, and there’s the risk of theft as well.
- Give yourself some extra time. You may need to stop more often than you think you will, breaks can take longer than you anticipate, and that means it will take longer to get where you’re going. Be patient, go with the flow and expect the unexpected.
Properly planning your holiday road trip with your dog is well worth the time and effort. Being prepared can mean the difference between a safe, relaxed and enjoyable experience, and one filled with tension and upset. And who wants more stress, especially this time of year?