We have just returned from a little more than two weeks on the road with our dogs. Three of us and three dogs packed into a van with luggage and accessories necessary for our dogs and dog agility. We drove more than 1500 kilometers from Victoria, BC Canada down to Santa Rosa, CA in the USA and back again. Our travels sometimes required more than 7 hours driving in a single day. Although I am grateful for all of the training and work with did with our dogs prior to leaving on this trip, being on the road provides its challenges and opportunities.
Weather, road conditions, destinations, and schedules will all present various challenges when travelling with our dogs. And that is to say nothing of the unanticipated things that might crop up. Perhaps the most important thing for us to consider on a trip like this is that our dogs will need some help understanding what is going on. They don’t understand where we are going, how long we are going for, what we are supposed to be doing, or when (if?) things might get back to normal at home.
I wish I could tell you that it is simply enough to let your dogs out for a few walks each day and to give them enough food and water. The truth of it is that doing just the bare minimum might get you through a trip but it certainly won’t make it easy or fun for the dogs. Dogs are creatures of habit and they prefer their usual routine. By taking them on the road, we significantly change their schedule and their locations.
Home away from home
There is one place our dogs spent much of their time while we were on the road. Each night we would end our activities by settling into a hotel room with them. We were careful to choose hotels that were dog-friendly, meaning our pets were both expected and welcome. Such hotels often have amenities to make your stay with your dog easier. Designated areas for dogs to relieve themselves, easy access to bags for doggie waste, dog cookies at the registration desk, and other perks make being away from home that much easier. But there are still some things to consider about hotels and your dogs.
We have large breed dogs and so we prefer to have our rooms on the ground floor if possible. Our dogs are quite comfortable riding in elevators but that is no guarantee that the other hotel guests are willing to share their space with large, black, wolf-like dogs! In the event we cannot get ground floor rooms, we will often elect to use stairwells instead of elevators to avoid unwanted attention. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone has the best manners around dogs. While people may have the best of intentions, touching or trying to kiss a strange dog without asking can create a very stressful situation for the dog. So we try to manage the situations and run interference for our dogs to make sure that they are always at ease.
Hotels are sometimes busy places. Timing can be important when entering or leaving common spaces in hotels. Be sure to keep your dog on leash and held close to you. This is not so much to control the dog but to protect them from unwanted contact when moving through crowds. Hotels can also be loud even when you are in your room. The air conditioning or heating fan can be great for masking voices or footsteps in the hallway, reducing the need for dogs to bark out a warning of possible intruders.
Travelling involves getting to your destination and getting home again. During those drives, we generally keep the temperature of our vehicle comfortable for ourselves and our dogs. But there will be times when the family needs to stop and we cannot bring the dogs with us. Planning those stops is important. In summer, it can be important to make sure that shaded parking can be found or that you have brought appropriate sun-shading to protect the dogs from getting over heated. We also like to plan the timing of our stops so that our dogs are never left alone in the van too long without someone checking up on them or even staying with them.
Vehicles can be deadly for dogs, especially in hot weather. The interior temperature of a vehicle, even with windows partially open for ventilation, can quickly reach over 65C degrees (150F)! Even short exposure to such temperatures can cause a dog’s body temperature to rise. It only requires an increase of 5 to 7 degrees in the dogs body temperature to cause permanent damage or death. Providing water helps but dogs that carry heavier coats, dogs that have shorter snouts like pugs or boxers, and dogs who are even slightly overweight are at much greater risk of quickly suffering adverse effects from overheating.
Making sure our dogs are comfortable and safe is our first priority while we are on the road. Sometimes that means taking turns going in to use washrooms or parking a few blocks away in order to find shaded parking. Another alternative we frequently use is to find ways to take our dogs with us on rest stops. Parks or restaurants that offer take out food make great stops where we can take care of our human needs and the needs of our dogs at the same time.
Dog time is important too
Not all of our trips are for dog related activities. But even those trips that are for our own human fun need to have some planning for our dogs to get their fun in too. When we plan our days, we are always careful to include activities for our dogs. This could be a walk at the beach, a visit to a local school field for a game of ball, or even a stroll around the local town to see the sights. Keeping our dogs’ minds active and engaged is important to us.
Planning activities with our dogs gives us a chance to practice all of the great training we did at home. Meeting and greeting strangers, reacting appropriately to new or strange sights and sounds, and practicing well known behaviours in the presence of new distractions are all part of the plan while we are out with our dogs. All of this activity not only provides great stimulation for the dogs and great training opportunities, it also makes it easier for them to relax and rest when we get back to the hotel!
Tools for the trip
It can be easy to take the things we use to manage our dogs for granted until we are on the road and find that we have left them behind. For that reason, we always keep a special “Road Kit” packed and ready for our trips. Spare collars, ID tags for the dogs with mobile phone numbers where we can be reached, extra leashes, crates, pens, long lines, food bowls, water bowls and water jugs, and a first aid kit are all among the first things packed when we get ready to go. Perhaps most important are any medicines and health documentation for our dogs. We never want to have a health problem with our dogs on the road but we need to be prepared to help out the veterinarian with as much information as we can should that need arise.
Be sure to bring along favorite toys too. Balls, stuffed toys, and chew toys can provide a relief from stress for your dogs on the road. Their favorite games should be part of your routing on your trip. Chewing is an important stress reliever for many dogs so having tasty chew bones is a must for us. We also bring cool coats and shade cloth with us in summer and warm coats in the winter to make sure our dogs are comfortable. Having the tools you need to manage your dogs while on the road can take some of the stress out of the trip.
Managing the journey
Each year dogs find themselves bored and neglected while their human families were busy attending to their vacation plans, sometimes with deadly consequences. We take great care to involve our dogs in our travel plans. We make stops if we think our dogs need it. We plan activities with them in mind. We seek out hotels and travel routes that will allow us to accommodate their needs as well as our own.
All of the preparation and training that we do at home comes in handy to manage our dogs in the new and different places we take them. But that would all be for naught if we didn’t attend to the details of managing their health and comfort while we are away from home. Like human toddlers, our dogs are not able to take care of many of their basic needs. They depend on us. They are well worth the extra effort to include in our travel plans and we should be making their welfare a priority while on the road.
Until next time, have fun with your dogs!
[Note: My thanks to trainer Carol Namur for the link to the Tufts information included above.]
The first Canine Nation ebooks are now available –
“Dogs: As They Are” & “Teaching Dogs: Effective Learning”
Photo credits –