When packing for a trip with my dog, I load his bag first. Then, I set it on top of his travel bed right next to the front door, where, without fail, he’s waiting. “You’re going!” I say. He wags his tail madly, but it’s hard to tell which one of us is more excited.
I’ll admit that taking dogs along on trips has its challenges—fur in your travel mug, for one. It also requires research to find accommodations and attractions that welcome them. But the joys of a having a canine co-pilot outweigh these minor inconveniences.
Chief among the aforementioned joys is dogs’ enthusiasm for the smallest things; they have the right mindset for adventure and can teach us a thing or two about enjoying the moment. Plus, dogs require pit stops, and with each one, there’s an opportunity to explore places you might otherwise have passed by. And it’s not just the landscape that opens up under a pup’s scrutiny; people do, too. Dogs are the world’s best icebreakers.
Your dog not only can instigate some interesting detours on a longer journey, she can also inspire a trip. For example, make a bucket list for your buddy, and then set out to fulfill it. Has your pup splashed in a frosty glacial lake? Explored the base of a giant sequoia? Savored the complex aromas of a big-city park? Rather than narrowing possibilities, trip planning with a dog in mind injects a little giddyup into an itinerary.
As you plan, keep a few things in mind.
Remember that “dog-friendly” is relative. It may take a little digging to determine if a hotel, inn, B&B or condo is more than “dog-tolerant.” Special pet packages and amenities, a canine mascot, and websites with photos of dogs are good signs. A phone conversation with the front desk will also help you get a bead on the extent of their dog love. Be sure to ask about size and/or breed restrictions as well as extra fees and rules, such as a prohibition on leaving dogs in your room.
Do your research. It pays to know if your destination comes with special canine concerns, such as ticks, thorny cacti and foxtails. If your plans include hiking, ask about sensitive wildlife and flora and if predators pose a risk.
Advance work is also essential if you plan to visit national and state parks, national forests, or land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). As a general rule, national parks, wilderness and recreation areas have more restrictive policies and national forests and BLM land have fewer. But there are plenty of exceptions. While there is no one-stop clearinghouse for this information, most areas clearly spell out pet policies on their websites.
Pack smart. In addition to your pup’s regular gear, remember to take a canine first-aid kit, grooming supplies, and an extra collar and leash. Travel with plenty of water in the summer and extra blankets and coats in the winter.
Make and carry a “dog file.” It should include your dog’s vital info, (vaccinations, medications, allergies and health conditions) as well as a photo in case she goes missing while you’re on the road. Some travelers keep this material in their car’s glove compartment in an envelope marked DOG INFO so it’s easy to find in case of an accident. If you’re a tech type, load the records and photos on a small USB drive and attach it to your keychain.
Make sure your dog has proper identification. If she becomes lost in an unfamiliar place, a tag and a microchip could be key to getting her back. Since time is of the essence, be sure to provide your own contact number and that of a reliable friend or relative as a backup.
Restrain your dog. If you’re traveling by car, find a comfortable way to transport her safely. A harness seat belt or secured crate keeps a dog from moving around the vehicle and becoming a dangerous distraction, as well as potentially reduces injuries to both of you in case of an accident. If your dog is not used to wearing a seatbelt or traveling in a crate, take a few pre-trip practice runs before embarking on any long hauls.
Be a good guest. Reward hoteliers, restaurateurs and shop owners who roll out the canine red carpet by following the rules; traveling with your own dog sheet, towel and lint rollers; and spreading the word about good dog service.