ON THE ROAD WITH FIDO:
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR A
ROAD TRIP WITH MY DOG?
by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.
Out of necessity, my husband and I traveled cross country with our dogs (5 at the time, not to mention the two horses who were also on the trip!) for many years. I quickly learned what to do and what not to do to make the trips easier on all of us. Not only did the trips become easier, but the dogs seemed to enjoy the adventure more each time. By preparing thoroughly you can have a pleasant trip the first time out.
BEFORE YOU GO
Make sure that your dog is up to date on all vaccinations. Your dog's rabies tag and a current identification tag should be securely attached to the dog's collar. Record your vet's phone number where you keep your other emergency numbers. If you have a medical emergency during the trip, the vet treating your dog may want to call the dog's primary vet.
If you do not frequently take your dog for rides in the car, you will want to take some practice drives. If you find that your dog is anxious in the car, does not settle down after 10-20 minutes of driving, or gets car sick you will want to consult your vet for possible medications which may help. Make sure that you try the medication with your dog BEFORE you go. It is better to know up front if there are going to be any side effects or if the medication doesn't work.
Prepare your dog for the drive by feeding him a few days before the trip on the schedule you will use on the road. We feed our dogs about 30% less on the actual travel days because they expend less energy.
Take with you a towel & sheet, plastic bags for poop pick-up, a food bowl, spill-proof water bowl, bottled water, dog food, treats--nothing new, leash plus a spare leash and collar, dog bed or comforter, and a favorite toy.
WHERE TO STAY ON THE ROAD
Finding overnight accommodations that accept dogs requires advance planning. Many motels do allow dogs, but many don't. Guides such as the AAA travel guides and other books identify motels which permit dogs. Make sure to have more than one guide. Most motels charge a fee for pets. The fees may range from a flat rate of $5-$10, to a per dog fee such as $5 per dog. Some motels require deposits which are removed from your bill if the dog does no damage. If you stay in such a place, go to the room with the motel manager before you pay so that you are certain that the fee will not be charged. Other motels have large fees of $50 or more. I have assumed that those places do not really want dogs, and have avoided them.
Make reservations ahead of time. Call the motel directly. Some motel chains have a 1-800 number. Try to get the direct phone number for the branch of the motel where you want to stay. When we call, we tell the reservationist that we saw in the AAA guide (or whatever book had the motel listing) that the motel allows pets. We ask for a first floor room. We also try to choose motels with exterior entrances. It is much more difficult walking our crew down the interior hall of a motel--although we have successfully done that. An exterior entrance allows easier access to the outside for transfers to and from the car and for frequent walks.
My dog Gus.
IN THE CAR
Crates and gates and seatbelts, oh my! To crate or not to crate is an often asked question. Clearly crating is safest. Some dogs do not do well crated, so a place in the back of the car behind a gate is another alternative. There are pet seatbelts available, but I have not had any luck with them for my large dogs. Every vehicle type is different with regard to safety. You need to figure out what works best to make your dog safe. Think of it this way, it you suddenly had to slam on your brakes, what would happen to your dog?
Do not let your dog curl up on your lap or hang its head out of an open window. Both of these are unsafe. On long trips, animals can get serious eye irritations from the force of the wind on their eyes. The dog should not sit in the front seat as this is clearly unsafe. A dog can get underfoot and prevent you from braking, or steering out of a difficult situation. It is unsafe for you, for your dog, and for other people on the road. Do not let your dog ride in the back of a pick-up truck. Wherever the dog rides, it should be safe and secure.
Have water available at all times in a travel container which does not upset in the car. We carry several gallons of bottled spring water so that the dogs don't have any digestive problems with strange water during the trip. For treats, small biscuits work best. They are less messy, and can be fed more often. We never give our dogs any new or unusual foods during the trip. Canine flatulence is bad enough in a home, but in the confines of a car, it can be downright lethal!
When we stop for gas, we walk the dogs so they can relieve themselves and stretch their legs. Rest areas are better places for longer walks. Always make sure your dog is securely on the leash before you let her out of the car. Never let your dog off the leash. With traffic everywhere, safety is a major concern. Be careful where you walk with your dog, especially around gas stations. There are often broken glass and other debris which can harm your dog's paws.
If you are driving in the summer, never leave your dog in the car for more than a few minutes. Resist the urge to shop at the outlet stores or roadside attractions. If you do leave the dog momentarily so that you can use the bathroom, open the windows wide enough for air to circulate but not wide enough for the dog to put his head out. Park in the shade and lock the car doors. Always carry a spare car key in your pocket.
IN THE MOTEL
Good motel manners are extremely important. You should include in your dog's pack a large sheet and towel.
The towel is to dry off the dog in case of rain. Do not use motel towels which are meant for human travelers. When we enter our motel room, I immediately place sheets over the tops of the beds. We usually get a room with two double beds. Room enough for us and the dogs who feel a need to sleep with us. At home, the dogs have their own beds and places to sleep. Traveling is an unsettling experience, and sleeping close to their humans often helps dogs feel more secure. We have three dogs who sleep on the beds with us when we travel. The sheets keep the beds clean. If your dog sleeps in a crate at home, bring the crate along on the trip. Use it in the motel room. It will make your dog more comfortable and secure.
Since most dogs sleep away the miles, it is good practice to give them a good workout before bedtime. After checking into your motel, take the dog for a long walk. It will do you both good, and make a restful night more likely.
Keeping the air conditioner or fan on will help to provide background noise which can mask the sounds of people coming and going in the motel. Do not let your dog bark. NEVER leave your dog alone in a motel room. Bad pet experiences make motels reluctant to allow pets. We feel our dogs are ambassadors for all dogs. We want to make sure that as many motels as possible remain open to pets.
The preparation that you do before you leave home can make the difference between a pleasant trip for you and your dog or a disaster. A great experience will make it more likely that a happy Fido will go with you on future trips. So put on that Willie Nelson tape and howl along, "On the road again."
Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, five rescued dogs (four greyhounds, one terrier) and two horses. If you have a suggestion for a general behavioral problem you’d like Deborah to discuss, please e-mail us.
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