Taking Fido: Making vacations and road trips fun

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

road trip with dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • When planning a road trip with your dog, imagine different scenarios, then while making a list of fun things to do, make another list of how to both avoid and prepare for emergency situations
  • Getting Fido used to being in a crate and wearing a harness well beforehand are good ways to help prevent an accidental escape
  • When you’re on the road, never leave your dog alone in a hot car, and when you stop every few hours to allow your pooch to relieve himself, get a drink of water and burn off a little energy, have his harness at the ready
  • Up-to-date dog tags and the phone number of your dog’s veterinarian are good to have with you on your road trip
  • Flying disks, a portable, battery-operated fan, an extra blanket, recreational bones and a reflective windshield cover are all extras that might help make your dog more comfortable on the road

If you’ve been having fantasies about a dream vacation that includes the whole family — or maybe just you, your honey and your dog — take it from dog loving veteran vacationers with enough experience to know how to do it right: Prepare.

Preparation is never overrated when it comes to keeping pets and people happy, especially away from home. One good tip is to envision scenarios like everyone riding down the road in the car together, and imagine what certain situations might look like, both positive, which can help you plan things to do, and negative, which can help give you a heads up regarding things to avoid.

As you make list of items to take along and things you want to do on your excursion, you might even want to go a step further to consider worst-case scenarios, then take the steps necessary beforehand to ward off such dilemmas.

Getting ready for the trip

If you’re like most people with a pet, especially if you travel, one fear is that your dog will somehow get away from you or get lost. Getting Fido accustomed to both being in a crate (one that’s collapsible is convenient for hotel stays) and wearing a harness with ease well beforehand are good ways to help prevent an accidental escape.

Having appropriate and up to date ID tags (or a GPS tracking collar, if you question your dog’s ability to come when called) is important. Also having your dog’s medical records on a thumb drive is a good idea, if you have an unexpected medical issue. Taking your dog on short car rides that gradually become longer might help get him used to the routine of getting in and out of the crate as well as the car and fitted with his harness. Make sure there’s a cushiony mat inside the crate for him to get comfortable.

When you’re on the road, stop every few hours to allow him to relieve himself, get a drink and burn off a little energy, but have his harness (or leash) at the ready. That way, if you stop at a roadside park or need to stop in an area with a lot of traffic, you’ll be confident of Fido’s whereabouts and safety. (Don’t forget the leash and the poop bags!)

Although your laid-back dog may seem to take things in stride pretty calmly, it can be hard to predict the circumstances that might throw him off his game. Keeping recreational bones (not to mention freeze-dried or dehydrated dog food) set aside that your pup finds especially enticing is one way to keep a card up your sleeve, so to speak. Bearfoot Theory relates another way to handle treats while traveling:

“When he first jumps up in the van, he gets a treat which shows him that getting in the van without being coerced is what he’s supposed to do. Then if we stop at a gas station, and he goes to the bathroom, he gets a treat. Then when we call him back into the car, and he jumps in, he gets another treat. On the road, if we are eating lunch in the car, and he sits quietly in the back without begging, he gets a treat.”1

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A few more travel ideas to consider

Just like parents do with small children, having a clear hard copy photo of your dog is never a bad idea. Documentation that might come in handy includes up-to-date rabies tags. Along the same lines, take along the phone number for Fido’s veterinarian back home. Packing a first-aid kit is never a bad idea.

In case of rainy days or being stuck inside for extended periods, a deck of cards is a welcome diversion for people, but dogs need a little distraction at times, too. When considering toys for Fido, try to bring along things that will hold up under heavy chewing, and by all means, bring a few towels along in case your dog’s a drooler.

A few flying disks are favorite toys to combine play and exercise for you both. Some veteran travelers like taking a chuck-it, a launcher that allows the ball you throw to travel farther, which is great for dogs who love running, fetching and chasing balls.

Depending on your schedule, if you and your pooch have time to take in the sights on your trip, it’s always helpful to find out where dog parks are to get you both out of your car, get some exercise and blow off some steam. Accessing GoPetFriendly.com2 and BringFido.com3 will show you where local dog parks are located all along your route, as well as dog-friendly hotels, beaches and walking trails.

Be ready for all kinds of weather

One thing that can make your experience a whole lot more comfortable for everyone is being aware of the weather where you’re going and all along the way, especially if rain is in the forecast or you’ll be driving in the mountains where it can get pretty chilly. Taking along your dog’s favorite blanket will be worth the space it takes up.

Depending on the area, it can also be uncomfortably hot. Needless to say, never leave your dog alone in a hot car for any amount of time. In case of an emergency situation, keep plenty of fresh water on hand. A foldable water dispenser designed to prevent leaks might be something to consider, as keeping your dog hydrated is an absolute must.

When the weather is cool, “cracking” your car windows for Fido when the car is shut off is one way to supply fresh air, but when it’s warm, supplying him with a portable, battery-operated fan might come in handy for a few minutes, such as when you answer your own call of nature.

Additionally, a reflective windshield cover, or even a sheet hung over windows that are allowing too much sun in, will help lower the temperature inside your vehicle — but as mentioned, do not ever leave your pup unattended in a hot car.

Also, as Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, told HealthDay News, "Do not allow your pet to ride with his head outside of the window, as dirt and other debris can enter the eyes, nose and ears, causing injury or infection.”4

Whether your dog is with you or not, being constantly aware of your surroundings is a good way to circumvent potential problems, and that’s never more true than when you’re in areas you and your dog are not familiar with. If taking a trip with your dog seems intimidating, starting with a jaunt to a park or dog-related event for an afternoon might be all it takes to get you and Fido used to and loving taking to the open road together.

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