Written By: Chelsea Murray ATDI, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP
From dog-adventure vacations to trial weekends and shows, dog enthusiasts are bound to spend time on the road with our dogs. Managing all the details for travel can be intimidating, but with some planning, you can take the stress out of your travels and ease your mind. I spend a lot of time on the road with my Alaskan Malamutes at dog shows, nose work trials, and mushing-filled vacations and while packing for each trip looks a bit different, my system stays the same and sets us up for success.
As you start thinking about your trip, create a packing list for yourself and your dog by jotting down all the things you will need you can ensure that you don’t forget anything. You can organize your list into categories for example equipment, food/treats, grooming, and hotel, which will help you organize the items when you sit down to pack into separate bags. Keep the list somewhere central so you can add to it as you remember new items. By creating a list ahead of time, you are less likely to forget anything and more likely to have bags organized in a functional manner, which can also decrease your stress at the event since you will easily be able to find all your essentials.
MEANS OF TRAVEL
Before travel, you also want to think about how your dog will travel. I recommend consulting The Center for Pet Safety, which has studied crates and harnesses to give you a breakdown of how they hold up in the event of an accident. I find crates to be most convenient for the human and most relaxing for the dogs. If a new travel crate is purchased, or your dog is not frequently crated at home, you will need to spend time conditioning your dog to it. You can keep the car crate inside for a few weeks before its maiden voyage and spend a few minutes each day working with the crate. I work on training “in” and “out” on cue, and progress to rewarding relaxation inside with the door open, and finally relaxation inside with the door closed. This will allow your dog some time to adjust to the space and be rewarded for our desired behavior of relaxation in a location they are already comfortable.
After the dog is comfortable using the crate indoors, the crate can be moved to the car. Ratchet straps can be used to secure the crate so it stays in place and you can repeat your relaxation practice in the car while it is stationary and then in motion. Since the dogs will be spending lots of time inside the crate during travel and while at our events and shows, spending adequate time in advance will ensure that our dogs are relaxed and comfortable instead of frustrated, stressed, and vocal.
While on the road it is likely you will need to pause your travel for a bathroom break and some stretching. Big rest stops and gas stations tend to be heavily trafficked environments that will pose bigger risk to our dogs’ health. To avoid accidentally ingesting trash or picking up intestinal parasites, I choose quieter restaurants with grass spaces or larger parks for our breaks. This is especially important when traveling with puppies who do not yet have immunity to some pathogens and are at a much greater risk around other animals and their excrement. Finding a nice space for a short walk will also help your dog fulfil some of their physical and mental enrichment needs, making it easier for them to settle back down quietly for more time on the road. After our breaks you can provide younger puppies or teenagers with a safe chew or enrichment item like a stuffed Kong to help ease tension through the transition between activity and rest.
WHERE TO STAY
One of my favorite parts about traveling with dogs is choosing where I will stay. There are many options now for satisfying your sleeping needs including hotels or rentals through AirBnB or VRBO. While our length of stay and where we stay does vary between trips, my selection criteria stays the same. I try to look for places that are walking friendly. With a high energy dog, I need to be able to safely walk outdoors for a short walk for with my dog.
If you are staying in a hotel be sure to confirm that their pet policy includes your specific dog. Some pet policies have restrictions based on weight, quantity, or breed. By speaking on the phone with a receptionist you may even be able to reserve a first-floor room, or a room near the stairwell, which makes bathroom breaks and carrying gear to and from the car much easier.
I also look at proximity of the hotel or rental house to our event site and food. Our vacations, shows, and trials take a lot out of us mentally and physically. So, convenience and closeness can reduce any additional time we have to spend on the road and ability to get food quickly even with a packed schedule.
The final consideration I take into account when selecting a place to stay is space. Traveling with multiple dogs or friends with dogs who do not normally live in the same home will increase the need for space. Having separate rooms for dogs to decompress when they are tired or overwhelmed or large bedrooms or living areas for crates to go in will help keep order amongst multiple dogs and is one more way you can plan ahead to help set everyone up for a successful trip.
At home, dogs thrive on routines. That’s often why, for puppies, we recommend bathroom breaks in certain intervals and feeding at consistent times. However, travel tends to throw off any semblance of routine. Many dogs are confident and resilient and have no trouble with this change in schedule. For some dogs, especially those who may be dog selective, reactive or sensitive, changes in routines and lack of “normalcy” can create anxiety.
Before packing up and leaving on your adventure, you can reflect on the routines that fill up your dog or provide important enrichment. Special bones for chewing, bully sticks, and frozen Kongs can help reduce stress and allow your dogs time for decompression. Special toy toys can help recreate at-home play that is important for bonding and burning off extra energy. Settle mats that have been used to train dogs to remain relaxed in place can help reduce pacing in a new environment as your dog tries to find out where they should be.
PREPARING FOR EMERGENCIES
While none of us want anything bad to happen while we are out of town, there are some things that are out of our control. When emergency strikes, panick can take hold and our brains don’t process like they should. So, I prepare a few things ahead of time to make sure that if the time comes I’m prepared with the information or materials I might need.
On each of my dog’s crates I’ve created an “In Case of Emergencies” kit for my dogs. I printed pictures of the dogs for identification, emergency contact information, veterinarian contact information, health records and medication history. I placed it inside a clear pencil case and adhere it to each dog’s crate. This helps give me peace of mind that my dogs would be taken care of in case I get into an accident and have to be separated from them.
I also pack a first aid kit for the car. I have some basics for first aid care, nail care, paw care, and bites or stings. As our adventures change, our first aid kit can expand or shrink based on needs. But having a foundation to build on that you can keep in the car will help you in case your dog gets hurt.
I also recommend doing some research ahead of time on local veterinarians and after hours emergency or specialty veterinarians. I often am not familiar with the area that we are staying in, so making a list on my phone with phone numbers and addresses of those veterinary teams that I would feel comfortable caring for my animals in case of emergency.
LEAVING YOUR DOG ALONE- SEPARATION STRESS
While traveling with our dogs, some outtings may have to be done wihtout our dogs. Many people experience personal stress when leaving their dogs as they worry if their dog will be okay. And many dogs do well at home but have not yet generalized that relaxation and confidence when alone to new environments. Fortunately, there are a few additional items you can pack to help reduce stress when you and your dog are separated.
For our dogs, I pack Adpatil, which is a phermone that has been shown to reduce signs of stress in dogs. I also bring along a portable music speaker, ICalmDog, that plays specially designed classical music, which can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and drown out external noises that could startle or disturb your dog. I also pack stuffable pacifiers like Kongs so that I can freeze them and leave my dogs with a puzzle as we walk out the door. This will help promote positive associations with my depature, instead of causing stress, and will help tire my dog out as they prepare for a nap. Preparing my dogs for stress-free relaxation reduces my own stress level, but setting up portable cameras, like Wyze or Furbo, can help give you even more peace of mind by allowing you to know that your dog is quietly resting.
While each dog show, trial, or vacation may be different, our dogs travel needs will be the same. Planning and preparing a system that works for you and your dogs will help you be prepared to handle each unexpected moment. In my experience, being prepared and ready for those moments when things don’t go as planned helps reduce stress for me and my dogs. What works for you and your dogs? How do you prepare for travel?