Traveling with pets

Hi, all!

Turns out moving is hard on spines. Mine went out, and I’ve spent about a month recovering! Hopefully, though, we’ll be going back to a semi-normal schedule. Starting with…


I know a lot of people spend the summer months traveling, and some take their pets. If you travel with your pets often — even if it’s just a trip to downtown — they’ll have an easier time. (This means that if you don’t usually take them in the car, start now!)

I’m going to address road trips, as flying would be a whole other beast!

First: Prep. Hopefully you’ve taken your dog in the car often enough that they’re reasonably calm. If not, start now. You may need to crate them or seatbelt them in the car, and if driving causes them anxiety you might talk to your vet about calming medication. You can also use dramamine for dogs who get car sick (and if you get the drowsy type, you’ll have a quieter ride!).

I would suggest taking along  a collapsible wire crate or x-pen, as well as their bed, food, some bones to chew on (both in the car and when you arrive) and their favorite toy(s). Of these, the most important things are the crate and their food! Make sure your dog is crate trained, and if not check out these posts. Just before you leave, exhaust your dogs. My dogs are older, so exhausting them might mean taking them to the beach the day before and letting them wear themselves out, knowing they’ll be tired for another day or two. It might mean taking dogs for a long walk (an hour at least) before they get in the car. It might be fetch until they’re flopping over, tired. But wearing them out will help immensely.

The drive: Presumably you’ve done all the prep you can at this point. If it’s going to be a drive of more than an hour or two, give your dog some things to chew. My dogs love bison horns, antlers, and kongs stuffed with goodies. My mom, who has small dogs, uses bully sticks. I pick up these things inside the house a week beforehand, so that when they get them in the car it’s new and special again. If your dog won’t chew in the car, give them something good anyway. Maybe after a few hours they’ll change their mind. Maybe not. Either way, it can only help!

If your dogs are experienced travelers, then use your best judgement on when they need to get out and stretch their legs. My dogs are excellent travelers, but if we’re going on a long ride we get out every four hours. I keep my eyes open and find a place where they can be off-leash, safe from cars, such as a large, empty field. If your dogs don’t have a strong recall, take a long rope to tie them to, or make sure you have enough time set aside for a good walk (30 minutes at least). I like to give my dogs five-ten minutes to roam and play, and then — especially if they aren’t playing — we play fetch for ten minutes or so. It’s not enough to exhaust them again, but it takes the edge off! If your dog is easily excited and has a hard time calming down, roaming and walking is a better bet than fetch. You don’t want them amped up when they get back in the car.

Getting there: whether “there” is a hotel for the night, a cabin for the weekend, or your best friend’s house, the actions are the same. In a perfect world, you would unpack without removing your dogs from the car, or leave the car packed so you can deal with the dogs first. Then you would take them for an hour walk and, if you need to unpack, put them in their crates in the house.

The world is never perfect! When I traveled with Cash when he was young, I would take him out of the car and put him directly into his crate in the house. This way, I could unpack and settle in without worrying that he might mark or do anything else he shouldn’t be doing. This is especially the case in someone else’s house! (If that someone else has a dog, this is also a good way to let them check each other out while you’re not able to supervise.) If your dog ever marks, chews, pulls out trash, or does anything else you wouldn’t want them to do, crate them while you’re unpacking.

Now, you’re unpacked. Hooray! Time to deal with dogs.

If you’re somewhere dog-free, then you have choices. A young or high energy dog really needs a walk or some play time at this point. Which one you choose depends on how much energy you have! A walk is best. If you’re beat, then playing fetch up and down the hall or around the beds while you enjoy a cup of tea or glass of wine is perfectly fine. Not ideal, but okay. If they’d rather go sniff around and check things out, that’s fine too. Trail them — you don’t have to be in front of them — to see what they’re getting up to. If they’re too interested in something on the floor or the corner of furniture, it’s probably where another dog peed. Chase them off or use a squirt bottle so they know not to pee there, as well! In the future, keep a wary eye on whether or not your dog is headed over there.

If you want to establish new rules, now is the time. When I go somewhere and there’s a section of house or yard I want my dogs to stay out of, I walk into that section and when they try to follow me, I chase them out. They quickly learn the boundary line! Likewise, if I want them to stay off the furniture I sit on something, and when they try to come up I push them off. Praise for being where they should will counteract any negative feelings (and probably bait them to try again, so I can enforce the rule again!).

Show them where the food bowls are, and the door so they can go out and potty. If they’re bell trained, hang your bells so they still have their cue. If you have access to a yard, take them out there and walk the fence to be sure it’s secure while they sniff around. You can do all this with your tea or wine in one hand! If you were able to bring bones or toys, put them where your dog will easily find them (ie, the middle of the floor). If you weren’t, make a pet store (or dollar store) run and get some.

When you leave to tour the sights or when you’re ready for bed, put your dog in his crate. Dogs think that new places have new rules; you don’t want your perfectly behaved dog to decide the new rule is to chew if bored, get on furniture when they aren’t allowed, mark in the house, go through the trash, etc. (If your dog is well trained, you can close them in the bedroom with you at night instead of crating them.)

The next morning, start with a walk, some fetch, their breakfast, and you’re ready to go! If your dog is seeming nervous, keep giving them calming meds from the vet. Keep in mind that this is a new place: they will try to establish new rules, as well. Stay firm with your old rules (or the house rules), and your dog will figure it out quickly. If the house rules are different than your rules, then they’ll soon realize that this place has different rules — no big deal to a dog! When you can’t watch them, crate them. That way they won’t have a chance to break the rules!

You’ve just finished unloading the car. Yay!

Presumably by now the dogs have had a chance to sniff through the crate. If not — if, for instance, your dog is protective of his crate and so you put him in a room and shut the door — then they need to meet each other. The very best way to do this, especially if they’ve never met, is to put both dogs on leashes and go for a no-sniffing walk. Note the no-sniffing part: they should not be tangling leashes trying to say hi. By the time you’ve walked for five minutes they’ve got each other’s scent without being in each other’s faces, and things will go much more smoothly. Walk until they can walk next to each other; sniffing each other’s cheeks and shoulders while they walk is perfect. Then head back into the house, letting the new dog go first. (This lets the resident dog know that we are allowing him, and we like him.) Take them straight back to the yard if there is one, and release the hounds! The new dog will probably check out the area, while the old dog checks out the new dog. They should start getting along pretty quickly!

When they’ve worked out their kinks and are either playing well or mostly ignoring each other, invite them in. If the old dog is possessive AT ALL over toys, water, or food, then pick up his toys, put down a second water bowl in a different area than the first, and feed them separately. Get some new toys from the pet store or dollar store, nothing of high value (what is high value is determined by what the dogs like best, but usually includes bones), and let them share those.

Typical problems you might encounter would be jealousy/possessiveness of owners, toys, food, beds, and furniture, marking problems, and house rules. It is okay for two dogs to have two separate sets of rules. Dogs are not humans, and won’t object to the unfairness! So, if the old dog is allowed on the couch but you don’t want your dog learning that, it’s okay. If the people you’re visiting don’t allow their dog on the couch but are fine with yours on the couch, that’s okay, too. Always default to the house rules if you want your dog allowed back. Don’t break them just because the owner of the house isn’t in the room! Remember: dog hair doesn’t lie.

Keep the dogs in sight for the first twenty-four hours. Crate your dog when you’re not around to supervise, and watch closely for any wariness or stiffening in either dog. These are signs of discomfort, and should be attended to immediately. You can typically break this up early on by simply calling either dog’s name and giving them a quick pet when they come over. You’ll see these happening if there’s any possessiveness of the above list going on!

Sometimes, formerly housebroken dogs will start marking. If they do so, keep them in sight or crated at all times and take them out to potty frequently. If you see one sniffing intently, chase them off, then take them outside to pee and praise them for pottying outside.

Do not leave the dogs unsupervised overnight; take your dog into your room or put him in his crate! By the time twenty-four hours is over, you’ll know if you need to worry or not. If there have been no mishaps, relax. If there has been some growling or snapping, then casually keep the dogs apart (calling names, for instance, when they get too close) or even put the nosier one (not always the aggressive one) on a leash so you can pull him away when he gets too close to the other dog. Most likely, though, the dogs will be getting along like gangbusters!

Have fun, and safe travels!



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