Paws to the Pavement: Getting Ready to Hit the Road

Road Trip Love!

Road Trip Love!

It is getting to that time of year again!  This week we revisit a post from last year on how you can make sure you and your canine are prepared for your next trip!!

Ah, the open road… Grab some refreshments and good tunes, then sit back and enjoy the ride, right? For many dogs, simply getting to go for a car drive is exciting and rewarding in itself. Auto-enthusiast canines are generally ready for adventure and handle it well. For some, however, car travel can mean upset stomachs, stress responses like drooling or barking, and even complete (uncharacteristic) meltdowns resulting in unhappy caregivers and destruction of hotel rooms. The worst part is, we can’t simply tell them everything will be alright, that “we’ll be there soon,” as we might do for another human traveller or young child. The best way to deal with these stressful responses is preparation. By using some of Canines By Designs concepts, such as setting up for success, these behaviors can be minimized and even stopped from occurring.

And, it’s good to learn how to best travel with your dog as it’s getting easier and more acceptable for your dog to join you on your family vacation. Hotel chains across North America are catching on that we don’t want to leave our pups behind! Alternate options are not always desirable or feasible: We don’t necessarily want to have to pay for a kennel service (after a lengthy and tedious research and screening process) or have to always find a stay-in sitter. In fact, planning a vacation and trip can be a great way to bond with your canine, to get out and explore, practice and proof, proof, proof! Together you can enjoy a relaxing vacation, but it’s important to consider a few aspects essential to making things smooth. So, how can you set your canine up for road-worthy success?

1. Plan your route and accommodations:

This first step includes some of the bigger “how” and “where” decisions for the trip. Let’s say you are driving over several days to your destination, and need to stop overnight before you reach your final stop. Too, if you aren’t staying with family or friends at your destination, it is important to plan out where you will overnight. This will impact how long you travel each day, and where you stay. When driving a distance, I generally add 1.5 to 2 hours of travel time to each day of the journey to accommodate bathroom breaks and play stops.

For your overnight location, many online booking services are a great place to start as they offer filters in which you can select “dog-friendly” locations. From my experience it is always good to double check directly with the hotels via phone or email to make sure you are aware of any upfront charges or deposits, of any restrictions and to confirm that they are aware your booking is for yourself and your canine. Sometimes, aspects of the reservation can be missed or lost in translation while using these services so I have found a quick call puts the mind at ease. If you forget though, I have yet (knock on wood) to be turned away for a mistake that occurred during the booking process.

2. Supplies:

Once you know length and travel time of your trip, you can plan for the amount of space you will need for your dog’s supplies. When I did my first trip with Zoom, I realized why you see parents with young children hauling so many bags with them… If you plan ahead, the supplies add up, but your success rate for the unforeseeable also goes up. Basic stuff to think about is enough food and water for each day of the trip. If you are traveling across an international border, use original bags for the food, as they do have regulations around pet food crossing the border and official packaging will help explain what it is (NOTE: they may still confiscate it as that is the regulation so don’t bring a big full bag. If you know you will be staying for a period of time, bring enough for each travel day and purchase more at your destination). Bring enough clean water with you to cover off stops and quenching their thirst. If your dog gets an upset stomach easily, bring familiar bottled water from home. Also include any necessary medication in their original containers that is needed for the duration (at minimum) of the trip.

It is a good idea to have a checkup before you go. If you are traveling internationally, you will need a health certificate and a rabies vaccination certificate to cross the border, so a routine checkup will be mandatory. Note: These certificates are only good for a period of time and then expire. Also ensure their heartworm and flea/tick prevention is up to date. Many veterinarians can give you a copy of your canine’s health records. Converting a paper copy to an electronic version means you can save it and carry it on a USB stick in your luggage, or as a PDF on your smart phone or tablet at all times without taking up space.  Also, make sure their ID tags, phone numbers, and addresses are up to date prior.

3. Plan for the unforeseeable:

If you know your pup is prone to stomach upset (or if you are unsure or on a first-time trip), come prepared with the items and methods you use to make your dog feel better. The last thing you want to have to do is call every local pet store to see if they have low residue food, or run to the grocery store at 11pm because you need white rice. You’ll also be grateful for cleanup supplies, like paper towels and garbage bags, if the situation arises.

Always bring a first aid kit for your canine. A basic understanding of first aid and wound care will go a long way to making you feel prepared.

Stress and stress responses can be hard to predict unless you have already had a diagnosis, and even then, the cues and triggers than set them off can be hard to plan for. . Sometimes all it takes is a little familiarity to alleviate the situation… minimize stress by bringing a few favourite toys and comfort items. I like to bring a blanket or two for the car seat, puzzles for Zoom to play with at the hotel rooms, and of course his favorite toys to play with on breaks.

Also, try not to leave your canine in a hotel room alone. The space is foreign and a closed door will not offer any comfort. If you are making trips to the car to unload, you can practice high level heeling, and also get them to help! Plan dinner around including them. Maybe that means a picnic meal at the local park or beach, or “staying in” at the hotel. I’ve seen a dog-friendly hotel that allowed canine diners to accompany their families at special tables in the lobby!

Beyond what I’ve discussed here, if you truly feel that your canine needs a little additional help for traveling, some fantastic naturopathic options (e.g. Adaptil) have become available on the market to address travel-related and new environment stressors. These over-the-counter alternatives replace the more “traditional” method of using sedatives or tranquilizers to achieve “good” behaviour. Check out Canines By Design’s Links page for more information on some of these products which I’ve tried and tested myself.

So, there you have it. You’ll need to pack a few more things than just a playlist and some trail mix to ensure a great road trip with your four legged family members. But, you’ll also get to explore more great places together and enhance that great view out your rear-view mirror with a big smiling furry face looking back at you!

Ziggy and Zoom at the Beach!