Family travel with dogs is becoming more popular, especially for road trips. Leash free dog parks are popping up along highways, like the new Benson Dog Park on I-95 in central NC! But, before you take off, it’s important to make sure you have the best dog travel equipment and accessories for a successful, pet friendly road trip!
Before you set off on dog friendly holidays, confirm that you’ve actually booked dog friendly accommodation. Even if a booking site says that a hotel is dog friendly, I recommend you call before travel to confirm policies have not changed. Dog friendly vacations start with dog friendly hotels and campgrounds! Am I right?
Another good idea before you take pets on vacation is to give it a dry run:
- Take your pet on a long car drive — to see if he has the right temperament for it,
- Take your pet places that help them develop “social skills” like a local dog park, pet friendly stores (like Lowe’s Home Improvement and pet stores), and for walks in busy communities,
- Spend the night at a friend’s house, so to speak. If your pooch can handle an overnight stay in a non-familiar house, he can probably handle a hotel stay.
If your dog barks at every new noise, it might also help to try to break that habit. Barking dogs don’t make good hotel neighbors.
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1. Vaccination Records
If you’ll be staying at a hotel and/or kenneling your dog at any point in your trip, you’ll need proof that vaccines are current. The rabies vaccine is pretty much universally required (for domestic travel with dogs and international travel) and must be current. Bordetella vaccine is often required, especially for boarding. And proof of worming is required to return to the US from most foreign countries.
If your dog bites another dog or a person, you’ll want proof of rabies vaccine, too. Even if your sweet pup isn’t normally a biter, the stress of travel could cause unexpected behavior. If your dog becomes sick during travel requiring a vet visit, vaccination records will help, too. So, carry a copy of your dog’s vaccine records and your vet’s phone number when you travel.
Take an extra step if you’ll be traveling internationally or for an extended time, and get a veterinary health certificate confirming your dog’s vaccination records and general health for travel.
2. Safety harness
I have an adorable rescue pup who weighs only 18 pounds. She’s a cuddly lap dog, very tiny. But, when she tries to sit on my lap while driving, I am not as safe a driver as I could be. Driving down the street to a neighbor’s house (don’t judge, it was rainy), I didn’t strap Daisy into her harness. She climbed into my lap and propped herself up on my left arm to look out the window — not safe at 15 mph. Definitely not safe at 70 mph!
Needless to say, Daisy gets strapped in with her safety harness whether I’m headed to the neighbor’s house or taking a road trip to the lake.
Daisy is a Houdini! She broke free from the first THREE harnesses we bought! Learn from my mistakes (and my dog’s stubborness) to make sure your dog car harness is effective as a dog seat belt.
The best dog car restraint will:
- Adjust at multiple points — both shoulders and both sides of the abdomen,
- Secure firmly into the seatbelt to keep her from being free to roam (while still allowing her to lie down),
- Have a wide shield in the front that tapers and fits around the legs.
3. Dog car crate
Some dogs do better in a crate with bedding and water available. Dogs who are crate trained or who like to “cocoon” in small spaces will probably travel better in a crate.
If you’re staying at a hotel and the dog will be left there alone, a crate also keeps Fido contained and the hotel room safe! Some hotels only allow crate trained dogs to stay in the room without their humans.
Tips for getting the best dog crate for car travel:
- Get one large enough for your dog, but not too large,
- Get a crate with a waterproof bottom tray made of plastic so it’s easy to clean if needed,
- Consider a crate with wheels and handle for easy transport through the hotel (even if Fido walks on a leash, it’s easier to pull a crate than carry it!)
4. Collar and leash
I highly recommend reflective, quality dog collars for travel. Reflective collars make your dog more visible when walking in rest areas, in hotel dog walk areas and along city streets. For dogs who like to tug, a reflective dog harness that gives you more control over your pup might be a better choice.
Be sure your dog’s rabies tag and ID tag are firmly attached. Instead of an address, put your cell phone number on the back of the tag. Your address won’t help on vacation six states from home!
It’s also a great idea to have your dog microchipped. Every year, hundreds of dogs make their way back home thanks to the information provided with microchips.
Likewise, a strong, reflective leash will provide added security for both of you on long walks. If your dog “spooks,” a strong, reflective dog leash will keep him close. I used to use a retracting leash that allowed my dog to roam a little further from me, but she has wrapped that lead around my ankles and gotten further away than is safe. Most vets recommend against using retractable leashes for a preferred lead of 5′ long or less.
A comfortable dog pad is essential for crated dogs. But, a dog bed will help a dog riding in a harness to feel more secure as well. Here are some unique dog beds to consider, depending on your dog’s size and needs:
- Cooling dog mat, great for crates and summer travel,
- Waterproof dog bed, which is important for easy cleanup during travel. Most waterproof dog pads come with removable, washable covers,
- Orthopedic dog mat, which is good for dogs who will be in the car for long periods of time (though, take breaks for a walk every few hours — it’s good for both of you),
- Hammock style dog bed, which protects car upholstery from damage and hair while providing your dog a safe, comfortable place to ride,
- Raised dog bed, which is on Daisy’s wishlist! This booster seat provides your pooch with a safe place to ride AND a good view out the window!
At the very least, a towel or blanket will give your dog a sense of place. If your car has leather seats, a blanket will help keep your pet cooler in summer.
6. First aid kit
Prepare for the unexpected to keep your pet safe during travel. Pet first aid kits include essentials for small emergencies to clean cuts and cover them without pulling dog’s fur, among other things.
7. Prescription medications
Just like their humans, some dogs need daily medication. Carry your pet’s medications in their prescription containers. If they get sick and need medical care, having the labeled medications will make it easier for an emergency vet to care for your pup.
Daisy’s beloved vet, Dr. Laurel Causby, adds:
I like the idea of a complete typed list of meds, too, if an emergency visit is necessary. This could be packed in the emergency kit and would need to be updated regularly. This list should have contact info for your home veterinarian, also. This way an emergency vet can contact the home vet for refill authorizations, recent test results, etc. This has been helpful in our practice if there is a lifelong or chronic medical condition being treated.
She also says if you anticipate needing a vet during your travels or if you’ll be gone for several weeks,
Research local veterinarians at the travel destination. For older pets or pets with lifelong diseases or chronic conditions, you do not want to be scrambling to find a veterinarian when something arises!
8. Food and water
Pack your dog’s regular foods for travel. Vacations are more stressful for pets than for people (most of the time), so don’t change foods just before travel. Pack your dog’s regular food and stick with it.
Likewise, have water for your dog and provide opportunities to drink every couple of hours. If your dog pants heavily during travel, provide water even more often.
Collapsible food and water bowls are easy to store in the pocket behind the seat. Get one large enough for your pet’s needs!
If you’ll be hiking, taking long walks or going to dog parks, I highly recommend a portable pet water bottle. If you’ve ever tried to pour water into the palm of your hand to give your dog a drink, all I can say is “you’re welcome!”
9. Favorite toys
Daisy is a chewer! We carry a Nylabone for her to chew on, especially in new situations. We also carry her favorite ball and her tug rope. Having her favorite toys makes her feel secure wherever we go.
10. Other essentials for your specific trip
We spend a lot of time on the water. Daisy wears a life vest when we go boating just in case there’s an accident. We keep her on a short leash on the boat since there are no seatbelts.
You might also need:
- Cleaning wipes for dirty paws,
- Special care items and a doggie day pack for heavy duty hiking,
- A dog coat (and maybe dog boots) if traveling to a cold climate (especially for southern dogs who aren’t used to the cold).
What else would you include on a must have list for a pet friendly road trip?