By Melissa Hart, a special contributor
Like people, dogs crave the stimulation of new places — exciting sights, sounds, and, of course, smells. Even the shyest pups love a run on the beach, a hike on a snowy mountain trail, or a swim in a summer-warm lake. So call off your pet sitter and bring your pooch along on your next weekend getaway, or consider a longer vacation to a dog-friendly destination.
More than 63 million U.S. households count at least one dog as a member of the family, and many owners can’t imagine leaving their best friend at home while they’re seeing the world. Amtrak and Greyhound don’t allow pets, and airlines offer a limited number of spaces for dogs on each flight. However, when you travel by car, it’s easy and practical to take your pooch along for the ride. Read on for tips on traveling with your dog, and a list of accessories that will ensure a smooth, safe adventure.
How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Happy on the Road
Some dogs leap into the car with excitement, anticipating a thrilling adventure. For other dogs, riding in a vehicle is no fun. Dogs may be especially wary of the car if they associate it with trips that result in negative experiences.
You can train your pet to tolerate riding in a car in increments. First, put your dog in the car and start the engine, but don’t move the vehicle. After a few minutes, turn off the car and reward your pooch with a small portion of a favorite food or a treat-dispensing toy. The next day, do the same thing, but move the car a few feet forward or back, and then reward your dog. The following day, drive with your pet around the block and offer a reward for calm behavior. In this way, train your dog to become comfortable with short trips, and then lengthen them into multi-day road trips.
Before you pull out of your driveway for a longer trip, make sure your furry traveler has an up-to-date microchip and a collar with a license, ID tag with your cell number, and proof of rabies vaccination. If you may need to board your dog, bring a complete vaccination record.
Some dogs don’t adjust well to changes in diet. For maximum comfort, travel with your dog’s usual kibble and wet food from home. In the case of a sensitive dog, consider bottling the water they’re accustomed to drinking. Keep plenty of H2O in the car to hydrate your dog several times a day — especially during summer months.
Hot dogs are not happy dogs. On warm days, run your air conditioner to keep your pup cool, and don’t leave dogs in the car alone. On a 70 degree afternoon, the inside of a car can top 104 degrees in 30 minutes, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Challenges can occur on even the most painstakingly prepared trips. In case your dog falls ill, download a canine first aid app before you leave. Also, program your veterinarian’s number into your phone. Your vet may be able to recommend a trusted counterpart with an office in your vacation destination.
Riding in a car makes some canines sick. Younger dogs, in particular, can suffer from motion sickness, as can pets with inner ear infections. Keep an eye out for symptoms of nausea such as whining, panting, drooling, yawning, licking the lips, and vomiting. To ward off illness, travel at least an hour after your dog eats. If you notice symptoms of nausea, stop the car and walk your dog outside in fresh air for a few minutes.
Even if your dog has a cast-iron stomach, plan on stopping every two or three hours for a brisk walk or run. Various apps make it easy to find dog-friendly beaches and off-leash parks. Other apps list hotels and other lodgings that welcome four-legged friends.
Before you leave, train your dog to come when called to alleviate the fear of a runaway pet. If the unthinkable happens and your dog jumps out of the car or gets loose on a walk and runs away, take immediate action. Never chase a loose dog. Instead, call a pet back to the car and reward them for coming.
Carry a couple recent photos of your pet in case of an accidental separation. If your dog becomes lost, make copies of the photos and put them on large neon posters around the location. Offer a reward for safe return. Call the local shelters and veterinarian offices in case someone drops off your dog. Also, spread the word on social media. Many people have found their beloved pets thanks to sharing a post with photos.
Travel Accessories for Your Dog
These 14 must-have accessories for traveling with your dog will keep your best friend healthy, safe, and happy during your adventures.
1. Collapsible bowls
These useful accessories come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They pack up small, so you can pull them out at rest stops and fill them with food or water. Some include stands for dogs who have difficulty drinking and eating on the ground, and some include lids to contain leftover snacks.
2. Dog-friendly water bottle
For walks and hikes, consider this handy accessory which makes it easy to hydrate your dog without wasting water. Many are BPA free, with filters and food-grade bowl attachments that fill when you squeeze the bottle. Bonus: Many varieties fit in a vehicle’s cup holders.
3. Car seat cover
These durable accessories keep your upholstery free of fur and protect your pooch as well. Covers come in a variety of sizes and fabrics. Have a lake-loving dog? Consider a water-resistant cover. Want more protection for your dog in the car? Get a hammock-style cover, which keeps your dog secure in case of an accident or sudden stop. For the perfect fit, measure the longest part of your car’s back seat and purchase accordingly.
4. Dog car barrier
This tool also helps keep your car clean. Plus, it keeps dogs safe in the backseat and stops them from jumping into the front seat and distracting the driver. Barriers can also block the view of motorcycles, dogs in neighboring vehicles, and other potential triggers.
5. Seatbelt harness
This accessory attaches to a seatbelt and is essential for keeping your best friend safe while traveling in the car. Look for a crash-tested one that includes a padded chest plate for maximum comfort. Harnesses come in a variety of sizes; measure your dog’s length, chest, and neck to find the perfect fit.
6. Seat extender
This accessory provides a solution for dogs buckled into the backseat who need a little more space to stretch out. Extenders can be soft cubes that fit behind the front seats or fabric stretched between seats like a tarp. Either design keeps dogs from falling behind the front seats if you need to make an abrupt stop.
Does your pet feel more comfortable in an enclosed space? Fasten a sturdy crate with a no-slip rubber base behind you with a seatbelt to help alleviate your pet’s stress while traveling. If your dog barks at objects outside, considering covering the crate with a light sheet.
Affix this accessory to rear windows to keep pups cool in the summer months and protect them from harmful UV rays. Shades affix to windows with suction cups or static cling.
A lightweight ramp from the ground to the back seat or trunk allows an elderly or disabled pup to walk into a car instead of jumping. Plus, it may save your back, as well.
10. Calming treats
If your dog never stops barking on a car ride or tries to leap out the window, try a treat with medicinal herbs, CBD oil, or an aromatherapy component.
11. Thunder jacket
Some owners swear by these tight-fitting garments, which are also called anxiety wraps. They come in a variety of sizes and make your dog feel secure by producing pressure and warmth.
12. Life jacket
If you plan to paddle or lake swim with your pup, invest in a vest or life jacket. Opt for one in a bright color with a D-ring for leash attachment and a handle for a quick and easy rescue if a dog falls overboard. You can find personal flotation devices in all sizes from tiny vests for Chihuahuas to extra-large jackets for a Newfoundland.
13. Rechargeable LED dog collar
For nighttime dog walks and hikes, consider this handy accessory. Many collars allow you to choose a steady light or a flashing display so you can easily find your pup if he wanders into a corner of a dog park on a balmy evening or takes off on a mountain trail.
14. Dog-friendly smartphone selfie tool
Don’t forget to record your adventures with your pup! Try this tool to help command your dog’s attention with a tennis ball or edible treat clipped to the top of your phone. Your pup will be picture-perfect every time.
Bringing your dog on vacation can increase the joy-factor exponentially. With a little planning and preparation — and a few essential accessories — you and your furry friend will create a lifetime of memories.
Melissa Hart is a consultant for Say Insurance. She’s the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens and the award-winning middle grade novel Avenging the Owl. She’s contributing editor at The Writer Magazine and a Creative Writing instructor for the MFA in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University.