Dog's Life: Travel
Help finding a dog-friendly room at the inn.
April 10 2017
Doors slammed in our faces as we walked from hostel to hostel in the Patagonian city of Punta Arenas.
“Can we stay here with our dog?” I’d ask. “She’s well-behaved, trained, and—”
We heard “no” for at least a half hour. Or if the answer wasn’t “no,” it was “She can stay tied up outside.”
Having pedaled our bikes all day in punishing headwinds, trudging across the city looking for pet-friendly accommodation was not what my partner and I wanted to be doing.
In the end, the one affordable place that admitted dogs was fully booked, so we finally relented and signed ourselves into the city’s most expensive dog-friendly accommodation.
Over the past two years, we have visited 23 European and South American countries accompanied by our dog, Sora, mostly by bicycle. In many places, dogs are not viewed as members of the family. They are seen as dirty, untrained animals who belong on the streets, behind fences or on top of roofs barking all day long to protect the property.
Even in dog-friendly countries, finding accommodation with a dog in tow is not always easy. Over time, however, we have developed several tactics that have increased our success rate. While following our advice doesn’t guarantee that a hotel will permit your dog, it should increase the odds.
Book in advance. When we have a set arrival date, we often book ahead. The site Booking.com is great, as it allows you to filter search results by those that are pet-friendly. But be sure to read the fine print. Some places say they they’re pet-friendly, but require prior approval. Or you’ll arrive and find that they only permit small dogs. Specify that you’ll have your well-behaved pup with you, and call before booking if you have doubts.
Avoid large nationwide chains. While some, such as Kimpton and La Quinta, are pet-friendly, many are not, and they tend to have stricter policies that are applied across the entire chain. Local hotels or regional chains are sometimes more open to bending the rules (or creating new ones on the spot).
Show and tell. Because not everyone’s a dog-lover, it often helps to share a bit about your dog. Our standard spiel goes something along the lines of, “She’s well-behaved, trained, does not bark and will not go to the bathroom inside.” If the staff is still unsure, we introduce them to Sora and have her do a few of her tricks to demonstrate that she listens and obeys commands. Many have never seen a well-trained dog, and this usually helps assuage fears they may have about accepting a dog as a guest.
Provide references. Before leaving a hotel, ask a member of the staff to write a short review about your stay on company letterhead. Show this whenever you need to do a bit more persuading. Having a reference from another hotel is a great way to establish your credibility and prove that your pup does not cause problems.
Dog hair, do care! Sora tends to leave behind piles of hair wherever we go. This can be a major put-off for hotels, which have to deal with it after you leave. We travel with a pet brush and give Sora a thorough brushing before our stay, reducing the amount she leaves behind and making cleaning easier for the staff.
Slumber party. At home, Sora never slept with us on our bed, but we’ve relaxed the rules since we’ve been traveling. Now, there’s no keeping her off! Since her hair sticks to comforters and bedspreads like a magnet, we always bring her bed inside with us, and place it on top of the bed. Another option is to ask the staff for an extra sheet and put it on top of the regular bedding. Bonus points if you bring your own from home.
Make some noise. If outside noise like voices or footsteps send your dog into protective barking mode while you’re away, try to drown out sounds by turning the TV on low volume or using a white-noise machine, either via an app on your phone or bringing one from home.
Enter armed and ready. Whether we’ve been gone for five minutes or several hours, Sora welcomes us back with high-pitched barks, which can disturb others. So, we come in armed and ready with treats to distract her. We get right to business by asking her to perform a series of tricks, keeping her focus on the reward rather than the excitement of our return. When all else fails, we leash her and take her outside. Know what motivates your pup and use it to avoid behaviors that may affect the hotel staff or other guests’ comfort.
Here’s the most important advice of all: be honest about your dog. If your dog barks constantly when you’re gone, is prone to accidents inside or is destructive, then he or she may not be the best candidate for proving that dogs can be well-behaved guests. A poor experience with a single dog can put a hotel off the whole idea, ruining the option for other pups. If hotels are not the best option for your pup, look into cabins or apartment stays that minimize disturbance to others.
Dog's Life: Travel
February 23 2017
From the moment my partner, Dave Hoch, and I decided to embark on a world cycling tour in 2015, our Australian Shepherd, Sora, was a crucial member of the team. Leaving her behind wasn’t an option. Sora is part of our pack: if we go, she goes. After years of work and training, Sora—whom Dave had adopted in 2008 as a “last chance,” three-year-old project dog—had become a well-behaved adventure companion. However, she never seemed to shake her mistrust of new people and need to challenge other dogs, and we came to accept that this was just part of who she was. So, imagine my surprise when I walked out of our hotel in a Chilean Altiplano village earlier this year and saw Sora standing between two preteenagers, being vigorously petted. They said that their own Australian Shepherd had recently passed away, and Sora reminded them of their pup.
Why was I surprised? Sora is not exactly kid-friendly. Their uncontrolled movements and loud noises terrify her, and she tends to react by growling and lunging. Yet, these two young people got in her face, crowded her and petted her like she was the dog they once had. And she seemed to revel in the attention.
Who is this dog?
The answer to that question begins with what turned out to be an experiment in trust. Determined to have Sora with us on our trek, we focused on providing her with opportunities to associate strangers with positive experiences. The program relied on our understanding of Sora’s needs, explicit communication and treats—lots of treats.
From the beginning of our tour, which started in Norway, we allowed frequent, short interactions with inquisitive strangers on the street or in the homes of hosts along our route. We overcame language barriers by demonstrating how to meet Sora while avoiding direct eye contact with her; how to stand next to, not over, her; and where to pet her (under her chin). Slowly, Sora began to form positive associations with strangers. She began wagging her tail at initial greetings, and would sidle up to people and solicit their attention. As her confidence grew, so did our confidence in her.
Once we hit the Balkans, we no longer feared her reaction to humans. Dogs, however, were another matter. There, dogs roam the streets, and when a new tail comes to town, everyone wants to get in on the greetings. To assuage our anxieties , we developed a routine that worked for Sora.
We never allowed head-on meetings. Instead, other dogs got their sniff on from behind as we petted and praised her. We observed her body language: was she stiff and ready to fight, or was she wagging her tail and grunting, which signified her intent to play? As we made it possible for Sora to engage with dogs gradually and on her terms, she became more relaxed and far less combative.
In more than 15 months of travel through 20 countries, we accomplished a feat we previously thought impossible. Taking Sora out of our home environment, where encounters with new people and dogs occurred only occasionally, the series of micro-introductions while traveling transformed her into a more social, confident dog. While she still has moments of distrust, her behavior has evolved from a handicap to an occasional slip.
We have walked Sora through the streets of busy cities like Istanbul, Turkey, and Santiago, Chile, where dogs sprinted toward us in droves, and stayed in the homes of complete strangers with both children and dogs. This was made possible by exposure, being clear with others about what she needs and taking it day-by-day.
Sora sleeps at our feet each night and snuggles between us each morning. She’s a constant reminder to play, and helps us meet new friends. As we zoom by, kids squeal and adults grin. Having her with us amplifies the adventure.For more on Jen, Dave and Sora’s big adventure, go to longhaultrekkers.com
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