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If chartering a private plane so your dog can see the world with you seems reasonable, you’re either very wealthy or really love traveling with your pup. Since most of us don’t have a Learjet at our disposal, eventually there will come a time when we’ll have to leave our dogs behind while we embark on extended travel (a week or longer).
The best way to ensure that your time away is fun and stress-free for both you and your dog is to have a good game plan in advance of departure. Though dogs have very different personalities, maintaining a sense of normalcy and routine during owner absences is beneficial for every type of dog.
Also, a confident, happy dog will have a much easier time with an extended absence than one who has had little socialization—one of the many reasons training and socialization are beneficial for dogs and humans alike. A visit to a familiar dog park will reconnect your dog with well-known scents, activities and other canine friends.
Recently, we spoke with Abbie Mood, Canine Behavior Science and Technology diplomate/owner of Communicate with Your Dog  in Westminster, Colo., who offered some useful insights.
Mood stresses the importance of maintaining a routine with your dog. “Anyone who has a dog likely wonders how the dog knows when it’s time for dinner, for a walk, to go to sleep. It’s because your dog has a routine. Keeping this sense of normalcy is a good way to help your dog stay on schedule and feel a bit more comfortable in your absence. For some dogs, especially those with separation anxiety, the preparation and the leaving ritual themselves can induce anxiety, so varying your [pre-trip] routine can be helpful. The best thing you can do to prepare your dog is to set up the logistics ahead of time so you aren’t rushing around at the last minute, and staying relaxed yourself.”
When it comes to care, the best-case scenario is one in which the dog remains at home with a trusted friend or family member; second-best is a pet sitter. As Mood notes, “Being able to be in the home environment is the best situation. That being said, a dog who is distressed or shows anxiety while you are gone (tearing things up, urinating or defecating indoors), will probably do better staying with a friend or family member who is home more often, or even at a doggie day care, where [he or she] will be around other dogs and people all the time.”
Clearly, having an established network of trusted, responsible pet sitters can make your absence much easier on your dog. Familiar human and canine friends can greatly reduce a dog’s anxiety, especially if the dogs already share a bond. For this reason alone, it’s worth volunteering to watch your friends’ dogs to help establish your own dog’s sense of comfort with being part of another “pack” for a time.
Whether your dog is staying at your home or a friend’s house, making a list of detailed instructions is very important. “If a pet sitter is coming to your house, make a list of phone numbers— the vet, poison control, closest friend or family member (think about the list you would create for a babysitter). Also, write out instructions for feeding, exercise, special requests/requirements, or any reminders that might be important (don’t let the dog meet other dogs, the location of the closest dog park and so forth),” suggests Mood.
Dogs have incredible scent memory, so it also can be helpful to provide a shirt, blanket or other article of clothing with your scent. Some people even leave a “fresh” used shirt to be introduced at some point through their time away. Boarding at a kennel is another option, and for some dogs, the chance to play with other pups all day is as fun as it gets. However, it’s best to give your dog a few nights at a trusted kennel before your trip so the change isn’t as abrupt.
Whether your choice is pet sitter, day care or kennel, do your due diligence before making a decision. Mood says that while she asks candidates “tons” of questions, the most important relate to discipline and training policies. “If they are going to be walking your dog, how do they practice looseleash walking? What happens if two dogs get in a scuffle? Can you handle my dog with anxiety/dog-dog aggression/door dashing? Other questions might include, can you administer my dog’s medicine or accommodate a special diet? For a doggie day care (or kennel), always tour the entire facility—they shouldn’t have anything to hide.”
A trusted friend, family member, pet sitter or kennel staff member, or other friendly face will keep your dog in good spirits, as will mingling with canine friends. While your dog will, of course, notice your absence, extra attention or longer walks can help. And once you’ve found reliable and trustworthy pet sitters or other services, stick with them.
Sometimes being apart is tougher on the human than on the dog. Luckily, technology gives us ways to deal with this. “Regular check-ins with the pet sitter, getting photos from family or friends, or even Skyping or Facetiming with your dog can help the person,” says Mood. “Some doggie day cares have [real-time] video, or at least post pictures throughout the day, which can put your mind at ease. It is important to find someone you trust so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s safety and well-being. If you are trying a new sitter/day care/kennel, do your research ahead of time, and trust your instincts. If there’s anything you don’t like, find a new source!”
Finally, establish a budget in advance, not only to pay for care but also to provide cash on hand for emergencies or if supplies run low (though you’ll be stocking up on food, treats and pick-up bags before you leave).
While parting with your dog can be such sweet sorrow, having a system to keep him or her happy and healthy in your absence will make your travels much easier. Yes, it’s quite normal to miss your dog, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Plan ahead and look forward to a joyous reunion upon your return—oh, and be sure to bring home treats!
Illustration by Shino Arihara