Just as if you were traveling with a very young child, traveling with your dog requires a bit of advance planning.
Make Plans Then Check and Doublecheck
First, you need to do your research and see which lodging establishments at your vacation destination allow dogs—because this trend, while growing, has not caught on everywhere. You’ll find a list of resources for online searches specifically for dog-friendly properties here.
When you find a property of interest that says it accepts pets, always confirm this with the hotel itself before heading off on your trip. After 20 years of writing travel guidebooks, we can tell you there’s one truth that applies to hotels everywhere: changes will happen. Whether it’s a new ownership, new branding, or just new rules, hotels change and change frequently. And hotels may still accept pets…but might have added restrictions on the breed or size of dog they’ll welcome.
Once you’ve set your travel itinerary, take a few minutes to look up the address and phone number of animal hospitals along the trip route. Print out the information or add it to your smartphone for easy access. Find out their opening hours, and also ask how they handle after hours emergencies. They may have a vet available on call, or they may refer you to a nearby emergency hospital. It’s harder to find this information when you’re in a strange place and in a panic. Download our free veterinary hospital info sheet (PDF) to jot down information on veterinarians and kennels on your route and at your destination.
Also, include information on a dog kennel or dog sitter at your destination in case of an emergency. What if you should become hospitalized on your trip? It will only take a moment to search for a dog kennel and read some reviews but it will buy you peace of mind.
Visit Your Vet
On the topic of veterinarians, you should also bring along a record from your home vet confirming that your dog has had all the necessary shots. Hotels and other lodging establishments may require showing proof of vaccinations at check-in.
If your travel with your dog will take you across a state line–and certainly if you’ll be crossing an international border, you’ll also want to obtain a health certificate from your veterinarian. A health certificate–also known as a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (or CVI…or eCVI in the case of an electronic Certificate of Veterinary Inspection). These are required by some states and not others. Many states will require proof of current rabies vaccination. You’ll find links to the each state’s Department of Agriculture requirements on the USDA website.
When you go by get your proof of immunizations, also ask your local vet if your destination has any special veterinary health concerns, such as Lyme disease.
This is also an excellent time to get your dog microchipped if he is not already. A tiny microchip implanted between your dog’s shoulder blades (a quick procedure much like getting a immunization) can help a lost dog be returned to you when that chip is scanned by animal control or a veterinarian’s office.
When you get your dog microchipped, be sure to register that number with a service such as HomeAgain. If your dog should be lost, you’ll just report it to HomeAgain and they’ll send out an alert to veterinary offices, shelters, and animal control within a radius of the area in which your dog was lost.
Speaking of identification, make sure your dog’s ID tag has your current cell phone number on it, not just your home number. If the tag is damaged or hard to read, replace it.
Getting Your Dog Ready to Roam
If your pet is a young dog or a puppy and has not had many travel experiences, begin with some shorter trips or day trips before you venture out on a long one. Let your dog get acclimated to the unusual feeling, sounds and smells of being in the car. This may also prevent your dog from having motion sickness and an “accident” in the car. Train your dog in automobile etiquette, waiting until you have the leash secured before jumping out the door.
Socialization of your dog is extra important if you intend for him to be a frequent traveler with you. Get started with this process months before you have to leave. Take him to the dog park, take him inside the pet supply store with you—any place where he has the chance to be around other people. You’ll have more fun on your trip if your dog is well socialized.
Some people don’t mind spending 6 or 8 hours straight in a car without stopping, but dogs need to get up and stretch their legs and have the opportunity to relieve themselves. As you plan your trip, work in stops along the way for your dog—at least every three hours. Taking a break from driving, getting out and stretching will do you some good, too, and prevent driving fatigue or loss of alertness.
Before you leave, you should consider teaching your dog cues or commands to show him it is time to “do his business.” If you let your dog out before bedtime at night, accompany him outside and teach him a simple command like, “Go Potty,” and praise him when he does. This will save you a lot of wandering around waiting for him to relieve himself, when you are on the road. He should also know:
- Give it
- Leave it