Ready to travel with your pet this summer?
Data is certainly indicating that following the COVID-19 crisis, many families will be staying closer to home and traveling for mini-vacations, by car or RV, rather than flying for big trips, at least for a while. Part of this shift will include more families than ever traveling with their pets, whose role as a family member was only further solidified during our quarantine and stay-at-home orders.
It also feels like there are so many things to do to get ready for a trip…especially if traveling by car. Shopping for the perfect swimsuit and shorts, packing your luggage, having neighbors bring in the mail and keep an eye on your house…but what are you doing to get your dog prepared to travel?
So many families adopted a new puppy or adult dog over the COVID period, and many are now realizing they need the training to help their dogs. That takes time and effort so make sure to plan ahead of your vacation to work with your dog and ideally a trainer. You will not be able to just hand your naughty, misbehaving dog over to a trainer and get a perfect travel companion back in a day or two. YOU are going to need training help too so you are skilled and able to continue helping your 4-legged buddy. Make sure to take time to socialize your pup to a variety of sights, sounds, smells, people, dogs, textures, and locations BEFORE you take off on your trip. That exposure will boost your dog’s confidence to soar through new experiences on the road with you.
What should be included in the training? What about gear for your dog? Have you thought about what needs to go in their suitcase too?
Here are a few pointers we have learned over the years of traveling by car and RV with our own personal dogs, whether on vacations or work-related trips and what we help our training clients with.
- What should ‘pre-training” for travel include?
- Place command. Have a really solid place command and nice place mat or cot for your dog to chill on, whether in the car/RV, at a park or other outdoor venue or at a restaurant. Read the RV forums at how many RVers complain about other RVers with dogs that are allowed to run over to other camper’s rigs or bark and carry-on rather than staying on their own sites.
- Sit-Wait. There are times when you need your dog to be calm while you step away for a minute or two or turn your focus to something else going on before you keep on moving . Having a dog who isn’t nervously pacing around but instead is able to sit calmly by your side or wait calmly to move through an open doorway (think…car door) can be invaluable in so many circumstances.
- Down-Stay. We love to see dogs joining their family at an outdoor cafe or retail establishment, as long as they aren’t a nuisance to the staff or other patrons. Whether it’s place command or a down-stay, having a dog build their impulse control to be able to chill and/or focus on you, no matter what distractions are going on around you, is HUGE! That is what keeps dogs being invited back again. What do you do with your dog while you go to the bathroom if you are by yourself. Again, the downstay can be valuable here too.
- Leash control and loose-leash walking. This one is often as much about the human as it is the dog being trained. Next time you are out at a park where there are lots of owners walking their dogs, take note of how many people just slap a harness and leash on their dog and go, and let the dog pull away as if the owner was on a sled and they were out to win the Iditarod. Then they have to sink their heels in to try to stop their dog from pulling across the park. Take time to learn proper leash handling skills. There is nothing more beautiful than being able to walk your dog and enjoy the scenery without having a body part ripped off.
- Carve out a comfortable, safe spot for your dog to rest and ride on your journey, just like you would for your child.
- Practice having a Spot ride in a crate in your car. You can make the crate cozy but find a crate that is car safety tested if you want to ensure your dog will survive a crash. Check out Gunner Kennels safety ratings. They will definitely be our next crate/kenneling purchase.
- Alternatively, practice your pup riding with a travel harness that attaches to your car’s seating system and even gets a bolster for the little guys so they can see out and enjoy the beauty of travel views too.
- Work on Place Command, not only outside the car but in the car. Put a comfortable, cozy placemat, like a Huggle Hounds HuggleFleece mat where you want them to ride. Our dogs love them in the backseat of the car. Roll it up and slip a yoga mat strap on it and take it with you anywhere your dog goes for a portable placemat. The familiarity of their mat in new locations will be helpful to get the consistent behaviors you trained for, whether at a restaurant, hotel, friend’s house, or park.
- Dogs need jobs. If you have an anxious dog, this will be especially important if they are encountering new places throughout your vacation.
- Get a quality, good fitting backpack for your pup to carry their gear (and some of yours) on your walk or hike. Check out EZDog’s Convert Saddle Bag harnessing system. The packs are removable and pretty lightweight for easy off dog travel too.
- What to pack? In addition to a good fitting martingale collar your dog can’t slip out of and a versatile weather and dirt resistant leash made of a material like biothane (Lakeview Dog Gear makes great custom gear), leather or hemp (nylon are too slick), and a roll of poop bags, there are some essentials to pack in a convenient, easy to get to location in your car.
- Have a copy of each dog’s current vet records, including vaccine history, in a ziplock baggie with you at all times. Include a list of medications.
- Make sure your dog has an identifying tag on their collar and is microchipped. Check out Boomerang collar tags that slide over your dog’s collar rather than the metal tags that bang together and are so noisy.
- Make up a clean-up pack in the event your dog has an accident in a store, restaurant, or other indoor location. Put a few poop bags, cleaning wipes, and hand sanitizer in a ziplock and keep it in easy reach. It’s bound to happen, don’t make a huge deal out of it, especially if you forgot to potty them before going in. Just be responsible, clean it up, and throw away the evidence so wherever you are visiting does not have to.
- Pre-package their food by meals, whether raw food or kibble. It is much easier to pull out a small ziplock with a pre-portioned meal while you are on the road than getting out a big 40# of dog food and measuring out portions.
- Carry collapsible bowls for water and food for each dog. They usually are silicon and collapse down flat to easily hook them to a backpack on the go too.
- Take a case of bottled water. You never know the quality or availability of the water where you are traveling. If you can be environmentally conscious and use a refillable water bottle, great, but a clean source of water may not always be available and you don’t want to be without water on a hot day.
- If your dog is anxious or nervous, supplements like Lullex full-spectrum CBD oil or VetriScience’s Composure will help calm a dog to help them relax and be able to listen to you rather than being frightened and unfocused.
- Treats….don’t forget a treat toy like a Kong Wobbler or Kong Bamboo Treat Ball and yummy treats to reward your pup for their great behaviors and purposeful companionship, or even feed a meal in.
- Some extra quick dry towels for after a romp in the stream, lake, or ocean or to dry off after a hike in the rain or bath after a mud puddle dive.
- What will you do with your dog if they are not allowed in somewhere you plan to go? Can your vehicle or RV setup accommodate leaving your pup unattended? If you plan on leaving them in your vehicle, make sure you have a generator to keep the AC running and a temperature monitoring system that alerts you if the inside of the vehicle/RV exceeds a pre-set temperature. Insides of closed up vehicles get hot fast. Many states have laws against leaving pets in closed up vehicles. Don’t be surprised if your window is bashed in and the cops are waiting on you when you return if it is warm or humid and you don’t have an AC monitoring system with notification of such equipment in your vehicle.
- Plan potty-breaks and food stop along the way, for you and your dog. There are lots of rest stops with pet paths and open space, but make sure to be respectful to others and give them and their dog space. No meeting between dogs on leash, that is an unnatural greeting for a dog and usually increases the tension that easily results in reactivity.
- ALWAYS CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG. It is just gross to leave the poop around, not to mention it is not healthy and a mess if someone or their dog steps in it.
- Plan ahead for dog-friendly hotels along your route. Not all hotels will allow non-service animals, some reserved a small number of rooms to accommodate dogs, so don’t get left stranded without a hotel room, plan ahead.
You may even think of more items to prep for your trip based on the details of where you are going and what you are doing along the way and at your destination. Be creative and most importantly, get on the road, enjoy the country-side and have fun with your family and dog and report back to show us travel photos of you, your pet, and your awesome vacation!