Traveling with Your Dog

With these travel tips, you and your dog will enjoy the journey as much as the destination.


Before you decide to travel with your dog, ask yourself these questions.

+ enlarge image Taking your dog with you may not always be best.
  • Does my destination accept dogs? Many hotels and motels allow dogs, but you must call ahead and make reservations to ensure accommodations; there are often a limited number of pet reservations available. This is true for air travel too, so make your plans well in advance (ideally, three months ahead for airline travel). Always find out local pet restrictions and abide by them. Hawaii and some foreign countries require a sometimes-lengthy quarantine period for dogs. A number of Web sites for dog owners discuss good destinations for pets; a bit of time spent searching is sure to turn up good advice.
  • Am I willing to pick up after my dog? Being considerate when traveling with your dog is a must. In addition to standard pickup equipment, such as a pooper-scooper and plastic bags, consider packing a spray bottle with an odor neutralizer. A solution of water and white vinegar works as well as any commercial product to remove "doggy" smells from upholstery or carpeting.
  • Will the dog be with us most of the time? If you're going to a resort, for example, probably not. On a camping trip, on the other hand, your dog can go almost everywhere with you. Dogs should spend as little time as possible alone in a hotel or motel room -- or a tent, for that matter. When you must leave the dog in a hotel room, put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and tell the housekeeping staff that there is a dog inside. Confining your dog in a crate will reduce the chance of damage or injury and help your dog feel more secure.
  • Is my dog healthy? A week or two before you leave, take your dog to the vet. Make sure all her vaccinations are current and that you have the documentation to prove it, especially required health and rabies certificates. Not only is this better for your dog's overall health, it's also the law; "To travel interstate with a dog, you must have a health certificate," explains St. Louis vet Dr. Richard Albrecht. Also, certain vaccinations that are not routine, such as the vaccination for bordatella, will be required if you need to place your dog in a kennel on the vacation.
  • Is my dog well-trained? In an unfamiliar environment, a knowledge of basic obedience commands -- sit, stay, and come -- is essential for your dog's safety, the well-being of your fellow guests, and your peace of mind. "If your dog gets off the leash, it would be very tough to find him if he doesn't know basic commands," warns Dr. Albrecht.
  • Will my dog enjoy the trip? If your dog is not accustomed to riding in the car, take her for short practice rides before you go on a long trip. Try to create pleasant associations with riding in the car by going to fun places like the park (not the vet's office!) and rewarding your dog with a treat at the end of the trip. As you gradually lengthen the rides, you will be able to predict how well your dog will adapt to an extended journey. If she doesn't like riding, you could ask your vet about medications for carsickness or tranquilizers.

Make sure you pack all of the following when planning a trip with your dog:

  • Identification. Your dog should have at least two forms of ID, such as a collar and tags, a tattoo or a microchip (see the article, "Your Dog's ID"). ID tags with your address and phone number should be attached to a buckled collar, not a choke collar (these are easy to slip out of). Ideally, an ID tag should also have your vacation destination and a number where you can be reached (a cell phone number might be useful). Take a recent color picture of your dog, and a record of his or her height, weight, coloring, and distinguishing marks.

"Your Dog's ID"

  • Food, water, and equipment. Pack a supply of your dog's regular diet. His usual food may not be available at your destination and a new food could cause digestive distress. Bring food bowls, water bowls, grooming equipment, a sturdy leash, and waste pickup materials like plastic bags. Familiar blankets, pillows, toys, and treats will make a dog more comfortable in a strange environment. To avoid the possibility of diarrhea, bring some water from home. You can switch to bottled water at your destination. For a cool, refreshing treat, freeze a small bottle of water for your dog; he can lick it as it thaws.
  • Medications and first-aid kit. If your dog isn't already on heartworm medication, check with your vet to see whether she will need it for the region you are visiting. Bring any medications your dog normally takes, and consult with your vet about car- or airsickness and the need for tranquilizers. Pack a canine first-aid kit (available at pet-supply stores) to deal with minor emergencies.
  • Paperwork. Take rabies and health certificates with you. They are required for crossing international borders and at many campgrounds and parks. Take your vet's phone number as well.

Ready to hit the road? Follow these hints to ensure a pleasant journey.

  • Protect your pet by providing the proper restraint or carrier. If your dog is accustomed to a crate and your car can accommodate it, that is the safest way for your dog to travel. Keep the carrier out of direct sunlight. Harnesses come in a variety of styles and sizes and are designed to serve as doggie seat belts. It is best to attach the restraining harness to a back seat or the cargo area of an SUV or station wagon. Designate a specific area as the dog's "space" and do not let children annoy or disturb your dog. Never let a dog ride in the bed of a truck without being in a restraining harness or a firmly-attached crate.
  • Refrain from feeding your dog for at least three hours, and take him for a long walk, before starting your trip.
  • Stop frequently -- every few hours -- and give your dog fresh drinking water. Let your dog relieve herself and walk around a bit.
  • Always keep your dog on a leash when traveling. In a new place, there's a great temptation to run off and explore, so put the leash on before you and your dog get out of the car.
  • Pay attention to weather conditions. Never leave a dog alone in a car on a hot day. Even with a slightly open window, a car can get unbearably hot incredibly quickly. Lack of air circulation and high interior temperatures can cause heatstroke, suffocation, or death. Park your car in a shaded area to keep it cool. If you must leave your dog in the car, family members should take turns sitting with your pet, and keep your windows open enough for adequate ventilation, or turn on the air-conditioning. Even in cool weather, do not leave your dog inside the car for long periods of time.
  • Make sure there is enough fresh air for your dog. Windows should be open enough to let air circulate but not wide enough for a dog to fall out or stick his head out. As much as dogs love the wind in their face, they could be hit by debris from the road.
  • After you have arrived at your destination or stopped for the day, feed your dog. The closer this is to a dog's regular feeding time, the more relaxed and comfortable your dog will feel.

Many dogs have become world travelers, trotting the globe with their owners. Before you fly with your pet, review this basic checklist for a safer, smoother trip.

  • Research pet entry requirements before you choose a destination. Some states and countries require pet quarantining, which makes it pointless to take Fifi with you unless you are relocating.
  • Make airline, hotel, and resort reservations for your pet, as early as possible -- three months in advance to ensure airline reservations. Airlines limit pet reservations, both in the cargo area and in the cabin. (Small dogs can sometimes travel in a pet carrier that fits beneath a seat, for an additional fee.) Always call ahead to ask about pet policies.
  • Watch the weather. When an airline decides that it is unsafe for your dog to fly due to weather conditions, such as extreme heat or cold or excessive turbulence, they will not allow your dog on the plane. You may want to confirm that your pet is on board before you get on the plane yourself.
  • Try not to travel during peak hours when delays and stopovers are more likely. If at all possible, choose nonstop flights; pets, like luggage, can get lost when changing planes. To reduce any weather-related discomfort your dog may suffer while being transported on and off the plane, travel very early or very late in the day during summer; in winter, travel in mid-day.
  • Every dog passenger must be in an airline-approved carrier or crate. Call your airline to make sure that your crate meets their standards. Purchase the crate in advance so that your dog can get used to it. Put a favorite pad or blanket on the floor of the crate.
  • If necessary, consider giving your dog airsickness medications and tranquilizers. "If a dog is likely to be nervous, he may need tranquilizers," says Iowa veterinarian Suzanne Robinson, DVM. If your dog isn't acclimated to a crate, for example, or doesn't like to be alone, consult your vet. Dogs who tend to get carsick may also get airsick, so a preventive medicine can help soothe the trip.
  • Make sure your dog has proper identification, such as a collar and tags. Your dog's name, your name and address, and the phone number of someone who can be contacted at your dog's destination should be clearly and prominently displayed on the crate. Place several "Live Animal" labels on the crate. Attach a deep water cup to the crate door and put in just enough water to avoid spillage. Tape extra food to the exterior of the crate.
  • Health certificate requirements vary by airline and by state. Be sure that you know the requirements and that all your pet's vaccinations and documents are up to date.
  • Take your dog for a long walk before you leave for the airport, even if the flight is short. Travel is unpredictable and there can be unexpected layovers and delays.
  • When the plane lands, go directly to the pickup area to meet your pet. Have water and some food or treats with you, and plan to spend a few minutes saying hello and exercising your pet before you hop into a car and finish the journey.

A little bit of preparation can help ensure a safe and pleasant trip for you and your canine companion. Bon voyage!

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