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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Dog Friendly Vacation

Are you dreaming of traveling with your pup this summer? Taking your pup along on a road trip or a weekend away can be a wonderful experience, but it’s important to take some things into consideration. We worked with Lyz Knight from Rover Rehab ​​to compile all of our best tips for planning a dog friendly trip with your best friend. Enjoy!

First Things First: To Travel, or Not to Travel, With Your Dog? 

While a well planned trip with your dog can be tons of fun, there are a lot of reasons that you might consider NOT bringing your dog along. A vacation can quickly go south if there’s a mismatch between what your dog needs and what your goals are for the trip! 

Think about your own goals and priorities. Why are you taking this trip? What are your planned activities? Are you traveling with friends and family who may have their own agendas? Will you plan to spend most of the day out and about, or are you okay to keep things more low key? Traveling can be stressful and tiring, and likely more so for your dog, who doesn’t know the what, where, and why of the trip. Many dogs do not enjoy being left alone in unfamiliar environments, and many lodging facilities don’t allow pets to be left unattended. Leaving your pup behind for the day, or even for a few hours, while you explore may not be an option. 

Consider your dog’s age, health status, temperament, and any behavioral concerns that may make traveling difficult for your pup. What is the weather typically like at your destination while you’ll be traveling? Is your dog sensitive to heat? Does your dog have mobility issues or arthritis? Is your dog reactive or noise sensitive? How comfortable is your dog in the car, and what is your dog's history with car travel? Does your dog tend to adapt well to new places, or is environmental change stressful for them? 

Just like people, while some dogs love nothing more than car rides and exploring new places, others need more support to help make travel less stressful. Still other dogs may never be well suited to traveling, and would much prefer to stay home with a trusted sitter. The bottom line: if you’re set on traveling with your dog, it’s best to plan a dog-centric trip that meets your dog’s unique needs (even if those needs don’t involve going out in public!). It will be a lot more fun and less stressful for both of you! Otherwise, it’s probably best to leave your dog at home with a trusted caretaker, if you can.

Finding Dog Friendly Lodging

You’ve considered all the variables, and have decided to bring your dog along with you on your next trip. Great! First, you’ll want to research dog friendly lodging at your destination. Luckily, there are a lot of great resources online for this! 

Bring Fido is a comprehensive online resource for pet friendly lodging, dining, and activity options. You can browse by category or region. 

AirBnB, VRBO, and Vacasa all allow you to filter for pet friendly lodging. Tip: Message the owner or property manager prior to your arrival. If they live locally, they may be able to give you advice on dog friendly activities, hikes, etc around your destination!

HipCamp has a pet friendly filter. It is mostly private campground and "glamping" listings, but some cabins, yurt, and other unconventional lodging options can be found.

Facebook groups and Instagram accounts for dog friendly travel can be a great resource! Search “Dog Friendly + your destination” on Facebook, or #dogfriendlyyourdestination on Instagram, and see what pops up. Then, search the posts or threads for inspiration!

Google: a simple google search for “Dog Friendly + your destination” may pull up travel blogs or other publications with tips for finding pet friendly lodging. Many regions have dog friendly travel websites. For example, in California, Dog Trekker is a great site for dog friendly travel that also has an email newsletter. Local Chambers of Commerce may have good tips as well. 

Tips from Lyz: What to Keep in Mind When Booking Lodging

If booking a hotel, motel, lodge, or similar, choose a room that is on the first floor, at the end of the building or hallway, and farthest from the main road when possible. This will reduce the likelihood of running into people in narrow stairwells or hallways, and may help reduce road noise and sound from neighboring rooms. Once you’re there, leave up the "do not disturb" sign to reduce the odds of someone knocking on the door - unexpected knocks can be startling for both us and our dogs!

Look for lodging with some kind of green space nearby for potty breaks or sniffy walks - ideally open green areas with good visibility, that also provide trees and shrubs for her dogs to sniff and investigate.You can try using satellite imagery, or inquire with the manager or owner about nearby green space.

AirBnb or Other Private Rental: 

A stand alone unit with a fully fenced yard is ideal, of course! If that’s not possible, try to find a location in a quiet neighborhood near a grassy area, dog friendly trail, or other quiet location for daily sniff and potty walks. Stay away from busy roads for noise reduction, privacy, and safety. If your dog is a window barker, look for a location with windows that don’t face the street. You can of course you can cover windows, but it’s nice to be able to look outside when you’re on vacation!

You may also consider private messaging the owner of the property to inquire about neighboring dogs, wildlife, other potential safety issues around the property. The owner may even be able to give you tips on nearby green spaces or trails, and other dog friendly activities at your destination. 

Other Considerations: 

Think about environmental noise, especially around holiday weekends. If you are near public parks or close to town, what holiday or seasonal events might be happening (fireworks, parades, or other public events)? If you’re near train tracks, when will the trains be running? 

Consider the wildlife you may encounter, especially if you're renting a private home. For example, in New Jersey, where Lyz lives, she regularly sees bear, deer, fox, and groundhogs in her yard! In California, rattlesnakes and mountain lions are present. If your dog has a strong prey drive or is obsessed with critters, this could be an important safety consideration. 

Look into local environmental conditions. For example, in California and many other places, foxtails are a huge safety hazard during summertime. Other environmental hazards could include toxic algae or other water borne pathogens, toxic plants, ticks, or other parasites. 

Tip from Lyz: Depending on where you are traveling and what type of dog you have, we recommend looking at breed restrictions. It is an unfortunate reality that some cities and towns in the U.S. have discriminatory regulations in place regarding breeds that look a certain way. As the guardian of a pitbull-type dog, Lyz always checks into where she will be traveling to as well as where she will be traveling through to make sure her dog will be safe when out in public.

What To Bring

You’ve secured your lodging - congrats! Now it’s time to pack, and to make sure you’re prepared for any dog-related emergency. Here’s what we recommend you do to prepare to travel with your pup. 

Before leaving, you’ll want to make sure that your dog is: 

-Microchipped

-Fitted with a flat collar with up to date ID tags and a well fitting, non restrictive harness

-Up to date on all vaccinations 

-Up to date on flea/tick preventatives 

-Up to date on pet insurance 

-Free of major health issues or injuries

You’ll want to refill any needed medications, and, depending on your dog’s age and health status, you may want to check in with your vet about other considerations to keep in mind for your trip. 

Pup Packing List

-Food: bring a full supply of your dog’s regular food, in case you can’t find it locally. The last thing you want is for your pet to have tummy troubles from not eating their regular food! Store in an airtight container or a zip loc inside a cooler to keep it fresh. 

-Treats: We recommend bringing a variety of treats that will last for the trip, stored the same way as your food. You’ll also want to have some treats on hand in the car or for walks and potty breaks en route. Lyz likes to keep treats handy for mid-travel situations where her dogs may need extra support, like rest stops or driving through tolls or park entrances. Your regular treat pouch, a tupperware, or  reusable silicone zip pouches like Stasher Bags can work well for travel treats. 

-Any medications or supplements your dog takes. These can go in the cooler as well. This may include extra meds for traveling such as anti-nasea meds or Benadryl in your first aid kit case of an allergic reaction. 

-Plenty of water and a water bowl. Collapsible silicone travel bowls are handy. Dog walker tip: Liz uses silicone bread pans, which collapse down easily in your backpack and are economical. On road trips, we recommend carrying a minimum of a full gallon of water in your car per day, and more during hot weather. 

-Portable food bowl. If your dog uses an elevated food bowl at home, consider a travel version (Dexas makes a nice one). 

-Walking equipment: At a minimum, you’ll want your dog’s flat collar with ID tags, a well-fitted harness, a 6 foot leash (many areas require dogs to be on a 6 foot leash), a 10-15 foot long line for hikes or decompression walks (see our guide to long line sizing here), treat pouch, and a supply of poop bags. You may also want to invest in a Safety Strap and a Waist to Leash Strap for extra security when walking in new locations, especially if your dog is nervous, fearful, reactive, or sound sensitive. Lyz (and many of our customers) opt for our Sport Leashes with autolocking carabiner hardware for travel since it helps her feel extra securely attached to her dogs.

-Any other safety equipment or gear you may need for your dog, eg life jacket, OutFox (for preventing foxtail entry), muzzle, jacket, booties, sun protective clothing, etc. 

-Grooming wipes or baby wipes, old towels, and extra water for wiping fur or paws down after a swim or hike.

-Comfy dog bed and blanket. Use these to make car travel more comfortable and give a familiar sleeping option in new places. 

-Emergency pet first aid kit. Keep in the car at all times along with your other emergency supplies. We provide some basic first aid/preparedness tips in our blog “Top Five Trail Tips for Hiking With Your Dog” and this site provides a list for a good basic first aid kit for your dog. At an absolute minimum, you’ll want to bring some gauze or vet wrap, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds, benadryl for allergic reactions, a device for removing ticks, and an emergency muzzle. 

-Safety restraint for the car: you’ll want either a crash tested harness or a crate for the car. See the section on Car Safety below for more on this. 

-If your dog is a senior or otherwise has trouble getting in and out of the car, consider a car ramp. Some portable car ramps can also be used for accessing furniture or the bed in your lodging. You’ll want to spend some time getting your dog comfortable using a ramp before leaving, if they don’t already use one. The exact ramp you'll need will depend on what kind of car you have. If you aren’t sure how to introduce a ramp, reach out to a force-free trainer like Lyz for help before you embark on your travels.

Other (this will vary based on your dog’s needs and preferences): 

-Puzzle toys, snuffle mat, or slow feeders

-Kong, Toppl, lickimat, or other enrichment items

-Your dog’s favorite stuffy or tug toy

Packing Tips from Lyz:

-Bring a baby gate or an xpen, if you have room. It will give you the option to safely block off stairways, doorways, or other areas if needed. You can also use the gate to create a small vestibule inside the doorway as a backup safety measure. 

-Besides your dog’s regular bed and a blanket, bring a supply of sheets, towels, or old blankets that you don't mind getting dirty. They can be used to wipe your dog down after a swim or a muddy hike, reduce dog dirt and hair, and add comfort in the car. Lyz recently started packing a spare fitted sheet to cover couches in AirBnBs - this can protect against both hair and scratches in leather furniture. Even if your lodging is pet friendly, it’s a great way to be respectful of other’s space and belongings! 

Emergency Preparedness

While traveling, it’s important to be prepared for contingencies.

-Have an emergency plan for your dog. If something happens to you, you’ll want to make sure your pup will be taken care of. If you’re traveling solo, find an emergency contact who will agree to take care of your pup in case of an emergency. Make sure your emergency contact is available to help out during the dates that you’re traveling! It's good practice to have a note listing your emergency contact along with your dog's needed medications or other health/medical concerns in your wallet. 

-Have an emergency plan in case of accident, illness, injury, or loss of your dog. Program into your phone the numbers of emergency vets in the places you’ll be visiting. Think about local conditions and what emergencies may occur. If you’re traveling to an area where rattlesnakes are present and you’ll be doing a lot of hiking, you may want to determine whether there is a vet in the region who carries antivenom. 

-While traveling, be conservative, and don’t take unnecessary risks. 

Car Travel 

Prior to Departing

It’s important to meet your dog’s needs before a long car trip. At a minimum, you’ll want to give your dog a walk, some play or enrichment, a meal, and a potty break before departing. During the drive, plan to stop for potty/stretch/water break every 2-3 hours, keeping an eye on your dog's comfort level. Quieter rest stops with grassy areas, quiet trails, or even an empty office park can be a nice quiet place to take a break from driving. Check out our post about 20 locations to take an enrichment outing with your dog - many can be great options for a decompression or sniff/potty walk while traveling. 

Tips from Lyz: What if my Dog is Anxious or Excitable in the Car?

In general I like to work on building comfort and confidence in the car before traveling. Short training sessions focused on relaxing activities like enjoying a chew or a snuffle mat in the car, playing pattern games, or relaxing on a mat. Then we'll work on very short trips, just down the street at first! I definitely recommend talking to your veterinarian to see if medication might be a good fit for your dog for travel. Some dogs are anxious in the car, some get carsick, and meds can help with that if your dog needs to travel with you.

Tips from Lyz: Car Safety

We always want our dogs to be safe in the car, and that means some kind of restraint or containment. Two common options are a crash-tested car harness connected to a seatbelt, or a crate for your dog to ride in. I don't recommend attaching a dog seat belt to a collar because in the event of a crash the impact will hit their neck, which isn't safe. Along with it being a good safety choice, some states require your dog to be restrained in some way versus moving loose around the car. For example, in New Jersey it is a violation of animal cruelty laws to have your dog unrestrained in a vehicle.

A final note: Try to never leave your dog unattended in the car while traveling. In addition to the fact that being locked in a car can quickly lead to heatstroke, you don’t want to run the risk of dog theft. 

After You Arrive

Once you’ve arrived and unpacked, you’ll want to investigate your lodging and the surrounding areas. If the yard is fenced, check the perimeter. Are there any points where your dog could get out? Any obvious hazards? Inside, let your dog sniff and investigate at their own pace, with plenty of reinforcement and praise from you. Lyz suggests using a snuffle mat or a food puzzle in a new place, especially a puzzle that your dog really loves, to bring an added positive experience to this new place. Consider taking a decompression walk once you’re settled in, to help your dog do the same. 

The Fun Part - Vacationing With Your Pup!

Okay, so you’ve arrived and settled into your lodging. Vacation has begun! Let’s talk about how to plan your schedule and activities to help keep things fun and stress free. Here are our top tips: 

Tips from Lyz: Daily Routines

If your dog appreciates predictability (most dogs do!), then keeping your normal routines can help them feel more comfortable. If you usually go for walks or feed your dog around a certain time of day, or as part of a particular routine (ex: wake up in the morning, potty break, breakfast, then longer sniffy walk), maintaining that while you travel can bring extra predictability for your pup.

Decompression Walks

While traveling, we recommend finding some time each day to take a "decompression walk" with your dog. A phrase coined by Sarah Stremming, a decompression walk is essentially a walk on a long, loose leash, preferably in a quiet environment free from triggers,  where your dog can sniff, explore, and move their body freely. It can lower your dog’s stress levels, provide enrichment, and help your dog to settle into their new environment. It may also help you to decompress! Learn more about decompression walks here, here, and here, and read our blog post about the importance of letting your dog sniff.

Here are some ideas for where to take a decompression walk while traveling: 

-SniffSpots: A great resource for finding privately owned properties to take your dog. A great option for nervous, fearful, or reactive dogs. 

-Check out Google Maps or Google Satellite near your lodging or destination for large public green spaces, fields, or woods where you may be able to take your dog. 

-Check out our blog post on “20 Ideas for Locations for an Enrichment Outing with Your Dog” for ideas for low stress decompression walks around where you’ll be traveling. 

Tips from Lyz: Taking Your Dog Out and About

If you plan to take your dog to local cafes or other public settings, here are some tips: 

-Understand your dog’s comfort level in different settings. Visiting a cafe or a brewery in a new town may feel very different to your dog than your local spots! Always keep an eye on your dog’s body language, and understand when they're telling you they feel uncomfortable. A great resource for this is Lili Chin's book "Doggie Language."

-Bring water, treats, and a familiar blanket or mat for your dog to rest on. You can even bring a small snuffle mat or a chew for them to enjoy while you are there.

-Seat yourselves out of the way, where your dog can safely observe their surroundings but they’re away from heavy foot traffic. 

-Go in with the intention of a short stop at a café or other pet-friendly location. If your dog is really comfortable and you're able to stay longer, great! If not, you can end with a short visit and not feel disappointed because your expectation was already to keep things short and sweet.

Hikes, Beach Trips, and Other Outdoor Adventures

One of the best parts of a dog-centric vacation is being able to explore new beaches, trails, and other outdoor settings with your pup. The first thing you’ll want to do is look up local dog and leash laws for the park, open space, or beach you’re planning to visit. Many locations have restrictions on where you can take your dog, where your dog can be off leash (if at all), or require your dog to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Most national parks only allow dogs on certain paved trails and developed areas. 

Depending on your dog’s needs, you may want to “scope out” the local trails or beaches first before heading out with your dog, or just chat with some dog savvy locals. They may be able to tell you where to go (a great, quiet off leash trail) or where to avoid (a trail popular with horseback riders or mountain bikers). 

What to take with you on a hike or outing 

In addition to having your dog wear a flat collar with ID tags, a well fitted harness (preferably one with a back clip), and a 6 foot leash, we recommend bringing the following: 

-A 10-15 foot long line. Long lines are a fantastic tool for giving your dog the freedom to explore in a new or unfamiliar environment, while also keeping them safe. In unfamiliar environments or areas with wildlife, we always recommend a long line. It will be much easier to get a hold of them if you encounter wildlife, horseback riders, or any other unforeseen triggers or scary things! If you're planning to hold the line, you'll want to get one with a standard loop handle. If you're using the line primarily as a "drag line" while your dog is off leash, we offer the option, when customizing your leash, to choose a line with no handle. 

-You may also consider a leash to collar Safety Strap as a double back up, and/or a Waist to Leash Strap as a back up to make sure the leash stays connected to you. 

-A variety of treats and a treat pouch

-Plenty of water, a collapsible water bowl, or a combo water bottle/bowl or PupFlask

-Basic first aid kit to keep in the car, or on your person if you’ll be hiking far. 

-Poop bags

After a Day Out and About

Travel is tiring! Your dog may need even more rest than usual after a few hours of activity. Make sure to give your dog ample time to rest and recuperate, and make sure that they have a quiet, comfy place to retreat to as needed. 

Tips from Lyz: If You Need to Leave Your Dog Alone

There may be circumstances where you’ll need to leave your dog alone in your lodging while you're traveling. If your dog experiences separation anxiety, this won't be an option, but if your dog is typically okay with separation, here are some tips for making it stress free. 

If your lodging allows dogs to be left alone, make sure you know what they expect that to look like. Does your dog need to be crated inside a hotel room if left alone, and is that something your dog will be comfortable with? If you do need to leave your dog alone, do what you can to make them as comfortable as possible. This might mean calming music, "Doggy TV," pheromone sprays like Adaptil, and closing curtains or window shades to reduce seeing people or dogs out the window. Lyz likes to bring a few inexpensive Wyze cameras with me when she travels with her dogs. They connect to an app on her phone so that she can keep an eye on her dogs if they need to be left alone.

Tips from Lyz: After You Get Home:

You’ve arrived home and unpacked after a great trip! What’s next? Your dog may need decompression after the trip! Plan a few days of quiet after you return from traveling. Your dog might need some extra sleep and prefer decompressing activities for a while, so give them that. Avoid planning exciting events like parties at your house or big outings with your dog right after you return from traveling. Instead focus on rest, decompression walks, and calming enrichment opportunities.

That's it! Questions or comments? Feel free to reply here or contact us. Click here to book a training consultation with Lyz, or visit Rover Rehab. Happy dog friendly trip planning!

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