Most dog people would like nothing more than to share the adventures and memories of a road trip with their pet on a dog driving vacation.
The first thing to consider is how fair that would be to your pet. Is your dog an adventurous one that would love to accompany you? Or, would your pet prefer to gracefully bow out and stay closer to home?
Who’s Going? Who’s Staying Home?
Let’s face it, some dogs detest or cannot tolerate car rides. Just the sound of the car keys has their tummies in a knot. This is not the dog you want to force on a road trip. It will become an unforgettable nightmare before you even leave town…and remember you’ll still have that trip home to look forward to.
Instead of stressing both yourself and your dog, find a mutually pleasant alternative. Maybe you can convince someone in the family or a friend to watch your dog. Or you may have to consider a dog sitter or boarding facility.
It’s a good idea to introduce your dog to the dog sitter or boarding facility a few weeks before you leave. This gives your dog a little time to adjust. What surprises many owners is just how well they usually adjust when they feel comfortable with their surroundings.
Now that we have the homebody taken care of, let’s focus on what you need to do, for your “Cruising Canine.”
Before You Head Out
Check to see if there are any breed restrictions. There’s nothing worse than having to turn around and return home before your vacation even starts because your dog is not welcome at that location.
Make sure your puppy or dog is up-to-date on their inoculations for your destination and put a copy of their records in the car immediately.
While you’re at the vet, have your dog microchipped. Should they get lost at a rest stop or at your destination, at least you’ll have the peace of mind knowing when they are found, they can be scanned and you will be reunited. This will come in very helpful, should they lose their collar or tags. It’s always a good idea to have a back-up number included.
Make sure their collar fits correctly and has external identification with the dog’s name, your name, home address and phone number as well as a phone number at your destination. A back-up number for back home won’t hurt.
Get your pet familiar with being crated or harnessed before the trip.
Have at least one extra set of car keys made. That way, you won’t have to find a locksmith because your dog is locked in the car.
Pack their suitcase or backpack, too! Remember to pack any medications, bowls, spare leashes, spare collar with I.D. tags, favorite toy, blanket, first aid kit, brush, food, treats, towels, a 30 foot training lead and those all important cleanup bags! Don’t forget the camera!
Check into pet-friendly accommodations and make your reservations before you hit the road. Not all hospitality facilities are all that hospitable to pets!
Most “pet friendly” hotels or motels do not allow you to leave your pet unattended in the room. It may be helpful to find a local doggie daycare facility nearby. Most tourist attractions, restaurants, and beaches may have rules about permitting non-service dogs in their site. Having a back-up plan is a good way to allow you to enjoy your day trip and not worry about your pet.
Something you may not want to think about, but should is what would you do if your pet does get lost? Naturally you’d contact the local newspaper and animal control shelter. Still, you may not have the luxury of waiting around until your dog is found. It’s not a bad idea to have LOST poster prepared. Keep it simple, with an updated, clear picture of your dog and your phone number. Hopefully, you’ll never need it, but like the inoculations records, you have it ready just in case.
It is important to bring a few things that are familiar to your dog. It could be their crate, favorite toy, or blanket. The scents from home and familiar objects can be quite comforting.
Exercise, exercise, exercise! Tire your dog out, before you hit the road. A tired dog is a good dog!
On The Road
Keep a couple of leashes conveniently available. Never allow your pet to leave the vehicle without being leashed.
If your dog needs travel medication, follow directions carefully, do it before hitting the road.
Restrain your dog when the vehicle is in motion. Invest in a doggie seatbelt/harness or pet carrier. A dog left to roam loose in a car can be a distraction or even a projectile should you have to make a sudden stop. Long car rides can get boring to even the most well behaved pet. Having a comfortable place to rest will make the trip a bit easier on all concerned.
To feed or not to feed prior to the trip depends on the dog. Some travel better with something in their belly, while others don’t. If you’re not sure, play it safe and don’t feed them for at least 4-5 hours prior to the trip.
Make sure the temperature is comfortable and well ventilated in whatever location in the vehicle you have secured your dog. Use shade screens or panels to deflect direct sunlight on them or their crate.
Never leave your dog unattended in the car, with the engine running, because you want to leave the air conditioning on for them while you are gone. Not only is it dangerous, in some states, it is illegal.
Plan to stop every 2-3 hours, to allow a your dog a few sips of water, an opportunity to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.
If you plan to take advantage of a rest stop to take care of business yourself or to grab a quick bite, do not leave your dog in the car!
Take turns holding the dog, outside of the care. In the summer your car can become an oven of any dog. In the winter, it can be a freezer, especially for small or toy breeds. Keep in mind, on a 95 degree day, even if parked in the shade, in less than 10 minutes your car can heat up to over 120 degrees. Leaving the windows open “a crack” will not be enough to save your dog’s life.
Carry at least two gallons of water and a towel. You’ll need a little water for those rest stops, but more importantly, should your dog become overheated you will need it to prevent them from going into heat stroke or shock.
Pour water over dog, concentrating on their feet, and the pits under their front and back legs. Do not pour water down their throat. Soak the towel and squeeze the water into the corner of their mouth. If you have ice chips from fountain drips, place them into your dog’s mouth. A wet towel and putting the dog in front of the air conditioner may give you enough time to find a local veterinarian for help.
Ice chips or ice cubes are a good way to hydrate your dog, without filling their tummies with water.
Exercise, exercise, exercise! Tire your dog out, before you hit the road again. Find a secure location or dog park and let them burn up some energy. If you can’t find a secure location, use that 30-foot training lead to let them roam around and sniff a bit. A tired dog is a good dog!
Do not allow your dog to leave the vehicle without being leashed. They may be so anxious to get out of the car; they could bolt for parts unknown. They don’t have a clue where they are and you don’t want to start your vacation hunting for a lost dog.
Give your dog time to adjust to their new location. Leash them and take them for walks around the area as soon and as much as possible, so they can leave little personal markers. It could be just enough to help them find their way back to you should they sneak out when no one is looking.
If you have made accommodations with a local boarding facility, contact them and let them know approximately when you will be arriving with your dog.
If your dog will be staying with you, be especially careful about keeping all doors and windows secured. A nervous or even curious dog will spend endless energy finding ways to escape.
Some dogs are sensitive to changes in their drinking water. If that’s the case with your pet, pick up a few gallons of bottled water. Tummy problems could ruin not only their vacation.
Do not change their diet while on vacation. Stick to the same food and feeding schedule as much as possible.
If your dog is having a hard time adjusting to all the changes, don’t force them to participate. Always have a Plan B for your own activity itinerary. Remember, your dog comes first.
Find a local dog park. Dogs need dogs. Let your dog have a few hours of their idea of a fun vacation with new friends. The exercise will help tire them out. If they are exhausted and sleeping peacefully, it just may allow you a few minutes to sneak away without them. A tired dog is a good dog.
Remember, you’ll still have that road trip to get home!
Bottom line: Be prepared. Be flexible. Be patient. Be ready to have a wonderful time creating memories of great adventures shared with your puppy or dog. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures!
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