Road trip are two of my favorite words on the planet. For me, it’s exciting to hit the open road, armed with a sense of adventure, great music and preferably, one or two of my four-legged companions. I’ve driven through just about every state in the contiguous U.S. with a dog as my co-pilot. I took two homeless dogs, Loren and Kara, across country to write “Pit Stops” and “Pit Stops 2” about our journeys. My current dogs, Melvin and Louie, have been to Utah with me several times, as well as all over Southern and Central California. Over those many miles, I’ve come to believe that dogs really make the coolest travel buddies. Here are just a few reasons why: Dogs never ask, “Are we there yet?” They won’t complain about that a hotel room is too small or the sheets are too rough. They won’t ask to change the radio station. And perhaps best of all, they’re always excited to do something new with you, whether it’s a quick walk at a rest stop or watching a beautiful sunset at a national park. Luckily, fall is a fabulous time to hit the road, with cooler temperatures that make it particularly suitable to traveling with your dog. So, if you’re ready to embark (pun intended) on an exciting expedition of your own, here are some tips to make it as safe and comfortable for you and your best friend. Take a Test Drive For some dogs, being in a car is a source of stress and anxiety, while others absolutely love it. If you’re not sure how your dog will react, take a series of test drives. Try a 15-minute drive first and note your dogs’ behavior. Panting, shaking, whining and lip licking are signs of distress, though those may ease over time and repeated experiences with being in the car. Continue to drive for 15-30 minutes a day or several times a week until your dog grows comfortable with it. Placing a blanket or dog bed for your dog to lay on can help, especially if it’s one that smells like home. Playing soft music or providing a food puzzle or toy can also be soothing. Stay Safe Once your dog is comfortable in the car, purchase a seatbelt tether, which can range from $9 to $30. Basically, it’s a short clip leash that snaps into the seat belt in your back seat, which you can then affix to a harness. This is recommended to keep your dog safe during a fast stop or accident. Do Your Research It’s important to find pet-friendly lodging, before you depart to avoid being stuck without a place to stay at the end of the day. Many chain hotels allow for pets. La Quinta and Motel 6 do not charge any extra fees, while others such as Super 8 and Red Roof Inn charge $10 or more per evening. Boutique hotels often offer pet-friendly packages that include the pet fee and perks like a dog bowl or bed, as well as treats upon arrival. Just make sure to the check the pet policy on the property’s website for details, as some have weight and breed restrictions in addition to fees. Short term vacation rental websites like AirBNB and Homeaway.com also offer pet-friendly rooms, condos, apartments, and houses. Each host has a different policy, so make sure to check the page for details on fees and size limits or contact the host directly prior to booking. For a wide selection of lodging options, including campgrounds, check out www.gopetfriendly.com or www.bringfido.com. You’ll also find activities such as dog parks and dog-friendly beaches and hiking trails there. If your dog likes to dine al fresco, find pet-friendly restaurants with patios along your route. Yelp is a great resource. Simply type in “dog-friendly restaurants” along with the name of your destination city. Things to Bring Just because you may like to eat new things on the road, doesn’t mean you should allow your dog to do the same. Keeping your dog on the usual diet is crucial to avoid potential tummy aches and diarrhea. Pack enough pet food and treats to last the duration of your trip, plus maybe an extra day’s supply (just in case). Here are the other items that are a must have on the road:
Keep It Cool If it’s going to be hot while you’re driving, purchase a roll-down window screen to protect your dog from the sun’s intense rays. While stopping for restroom breaks, park your car in the shade. If you have a human partner along for the ride, take turns waiting in the car with the air conditioning on or take turns walking the dogs while the other person uses restroom. If it’s just you, crack the windows a few inches down, leave your dog some water, and go as fast as you can (no more than a few minutes), then take the dogs for a walk so they can do their business, too. Check the asphalt with your hands. If it’s hot to the touch, avoid it and find some cooler grounds to take your dogs for a walk to avoid burning their paw pads. You could also invest in some dog booties to protect their feet. Before you hit the road again, offer your dog some water and drink some yourself. Staying hydrated is important for everyone. Travel Etiquette It may seem hard to believe, but not everyone loves dogs, so be considerate while traveling. That means:
- any medications or supplements your dog takes on a regular basis
- vaccination records
- dog bowls for food and water
- collar with current ID tag
- drinking water
- poop bags
- picking up poop at every stop and disposing it in a trash can;
- keeping your dog on a 4- to 6-foot leash at all times. A retractable leash is not recommended as your dog can be hard to control on one and they can break much easier than traditional nylon leashes;
- only bring your dog to off-leash parks and beaches if you’ve had positive experiences with them in such settings before;
- don’t let your dog jump up on people;
- if your dog doesn’t like other dogs, avoid public patios or tight spaces where trouble can arise.
- check your hotel policy about leaving dogs in rooms unattended. Some hotels forbid it, while others allow for crated pets. Some hotels will kick you out if your dog is a nuisance (aka barks a lot), so it’s best to keep your dog with you at all times unless they have proven to be quiet and crate-trained;
- bring a blanket from home to cover up the bed if you sleep with your dogs. This helps prevent pet hair getting on the bedding;
- and if your dog has extra energy or seems agitated, go for a long walk. A tired dog is a happy dog, and you’ll have happy neighbors, as well.