We enjoy camping, and love to take our yellow lab, Kayla, along with us. With Illinois currently as our home base, we’ve taken her on trips as far away as California, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and South Carolina for wonderful camping trips. Being prepared for road trips with your dog is very important. And in this article I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned from our experiences.
Before you hit the road
There’s nothing worse than loading up the car and heading off for a long-awaited family vacation, only to discover your carsick dog is throwing up all over the back seat sixty miles from home. So make sure your dog can handle long car trips well before you leave town. Take you your dog on several “practice runs” of varying time/distance, and if your dog does experience car sickness, consult your vet about possible remedies, or consider leaving your dog home.
Speaking of the vet, we get print-outs of all our of dog’s most recent records to take with us on the road. We do this in case she has to visit a vet while we are away, and some kennels require them for short-term boarding and/or grooming. And we make sure she’s up to date on all of her vaccinations. If one will expire while we are away, we make sure she gets it before we leave, even if it’s early.
If you’ll be staying in motels along the way, make sure you are familiar with chains that accept dogs in the room. Don’t wait until you are tired from a long drive to start looking for a motel, because many won’t allow pets, and you could be searching for quite a while. We do one of two things. Either we call ahead and reserve a room at a motel we know accepts pets. Or we plan to stay at a chain we know allows pets. Motel Six and Holiday Inn have pretty broad acceptance policies, as do many Super 8’s and Day’s Inn (though not all, so make sure you know which ones do). Some motels will allow pets on an individual basis. Just make sure you have travel guides, or have done internet searches, so that you are know where you will be welcome with your pet before you leave home. (For example, AAA guides list which motels allow pets, and there are many pet-travel websites that list them as well.)
If you’ll be camping, make sure you know the rules for dogs in campgrounds before you arrive. Most private and public campgrounds will allow pets, but require them to be leashed at all times. We have discovered that National Parks allow leashed dogs in parking areas and paved walkways, but most won’t allow them on hiking trails. Zion National Park has a 2 mile paved trail on which dogs are allowed, and they welcome in their campgrounds. Grand Canyon allows dogs on the paved “Rim” trail, but not on hikes down into the canyon. Bryce Canyon allows dogs, but only in cars on in parking areas. However, Red Rock Canyon in the Dixie National Forest, near Bryce, allows dogs not only in campgrounds, but also on all of their hiking trails (as long as they are leashed). My advice is to find out before you go by visiting web sites or calling ahead so that you aren’t disappointed by the restrictions when you arrive.
What to bring
Kayla has her own “suitcase” – and whenever she sees us take it out of the closet, she knows we are about to take her on a trip (and she gets very excited). Here is what we keep in her bag:
- A couple of towels (she’s a lab, likes to swim wherever she sees water, so they are handy for drying her off, or if she has an unexpected accident, throws up, etc.).
- Plenty of plastic grocery bags for picking up after her while on the road. One of the reasons pet owners are unwelcome in many places is because they don’t pick up after their dogs in rest areas, motel lawns, campgrounds, etc. So make sure you always clean up after your dog.
- A couple of filled water bottles and water dish. We offer Kayla water at every rest stop, and occasionally even on the road if she seems thirsty. Keep her hydrated. As much as dogs love to travel, it can also be stressful for them.
- Individual baggies of food portions, if her mealtimes will occur on the road. We also include a few treats, to reward her for being such a good girl in the car.
- Chew toys/balls: Kayla doesn’t usually like to chew things while we are driving, but some dogs do, and it helps alleviate boredom.
- We also bring wet wipes and paper towels, in case of any spillage or accidents.
- Bringing a dog bed of some sort is helpful because motels don’t like dogs on the beds. If your dog uses their bed regularly at home, it also brings something familiar along with them. If it will fit, you might put it on the seat where the dog will ride as well. The familiar scent is comforting, and offers more comfortable ride for the dog.
In addition to the items we bring in Kayla’s suitcase, we keep her medical records in a safe place.
Some dogs get pretty excited when traveling, and are hard to restrain. This can cause dangerous situations for drivers. If your dog has a hard time sitting still during the trip, you might consider a dog harness which attaches to seat belts. There are many out there, and make the trip safer for you, and more comfortable for the dog (like when you make those sudden stops or turns that throw the dog onto the floor).
While on the road
Frequent stops: We try to stop every couple of hours at a rest stop. Normally Kayla doesn’t need to go potty that often at home, but being in the car for long stretches can be stressful and/or boring for a dog. So we stop more frequently to let her get out and stretch her legs. She LOVES rests stops (all those new smells) and sniffs every blade of grass she can. We find it is good for us as well, because when we travel without her, we stop very rarely. But with Kayla, we find our travel experience more enjoyable because we get to take a break from driving and stretch our legs too. Just remember to always pick up after your dog. It’s the right thing to do, and in some places, it’s the law.
We don’t let Kayla stick her head out the window when we are driving, particularly at high speeds. As much as dogs love doing this, it can be harmful for them. Objects flying through the air may strike their faces and do damage to eyes and ears. When we do open the window to let her hang her head out, we do so only at lower speeds.
Never leave your pet alone in your motel room. It’s against motel policy, and if a dog destroys objects in a room, you have to pay for them. In addition, if a barking dog annoys other guests, you may be asked to leave. If a motel has several problems with pets, they may change their pet policy, so for your sake and other pet lovers, always stay with your dog.
On a warm or hot days, we try to never leave Kayla in our parked car for long periods of time. On the rare occasions that it’s unavoidable, we try to find shade and leave the windows cracked, and get back as soon as possible. Most of the time we can avoid leaving her alone by splitting up to do shopping and other errands, always leaving one of us with her.
Related to the suggestion above, we tend to eat “on the road.” We get fast food or other take-out food while driving, and eat it in the car so as not to leave Kayla unattended for long periods. If we do go in to eat at a restaurant, we try to go after dark, when the sun is down, and leave the window cracked. Then one of us checks on her every half hour or so (particularly when it’s very hot) and makes sure she has water and is doing okay. Traveling in the cooler months makes this less necessary – but if your dog is a barker it can quickly become a nuisance to other patrons, so be respectful of them.
Other general suggestions
The reality is that sometimes while on the road, we like to visit places Kayla isn’t allowed. So rather than leave her alone at camp or in the car, what we do is check around at local kennels for day boarding possibilities, or even overnight boarding. For instance, we spent a day at Disneyland a few years ago, and for $10, she was boarded at the Disney Kennels for the day (she even got a certificate after her stay). On a rafting trip in Colorado, we found another day kennel nearby where we could leave her. And for an evening excursion, we know we can leave her overnight. Sure she’ll miss us, and we’ll miss her. But she’ll be safe and well cared for, which is what is most important. (Be prepared that this is where you may need a copy of her medical records – and make sure her Bordetella (Kennel Cough) Vaccine is up to date.)
Be patient with your pet. Traveling is an exciting experience for them, but can also be stressful because you are removing them from their regular routine. Just like children, they may not behave as they normally do at home. Kayla tends to bark at anyone who wanders near our campground, and is hard to handle on her leash when we get anywhere near a river. Be calm and consistent with your dog, understanding that this is a new situation for them. And if it seems to be causing more problems for you and your dog than it’s worth, you may have to consider leaving your pet at home in the future. Hopefully that won’t happen – but if it’s what is best for your beloved dog, then you do have to keep it under consideration.
These are just a few suggestions I have from several trips with our dog, Kayla. It certainly isn’t exhaustive, and I may add things as they occur to me or I experience them in future travels. But I hope the suggestions are helpful for you as you consider traveling with you dog.