How to Travel with Your Dog (An Ultimate Guide)
Traveling with your dog is not something you should take lightly (there's plenty that can go wrong and tons of stuff to remember), but sometimes you just want to take a trip with your best furry friend. That’s why we’re creating the ultimate guide to traveling with your dog – so you’ll know exactly what you need!
Quick Guide: Dog Travel Infographic
Things to Pack
Just as you have a list of essential items to pack when you leave town, Fido does too. With these things, success is all but guaranteed. Without them – well, let’s just say it’s better not to forget them. Fido certainly won’t let you live it down. Here’s a list to start with:
- Medical records, including health certificates and proof of rabies vaccination
- Any medications your dogs takes regularly
- Contact info for your regular veterinarian
- Comb or brush and flea control products
- Pet wipes and other grooming products
- Pet stain/odor remover and rag or paper towels
- Dog food and dog treats for the entire trip
- Bottled water (to help settle an upset stomach)
- Food and water dishes
- Leash, pooper scooper and waste bags
- Spare collar with an ID tag
- Your dog's favorite toy and blanket
- A list of dog-friendly attractions, accommodations and restaurants
- A second ID tag that includes the address and phone number of where you'll be staying
- A first aid kit for your dog
Staying Frugal with Tips from Paris Permenter of DogTipper.com
I'm going to hand this section to one of the real experts, Paris Permenter of DogTipper.com. I've followed her blog for a long time, and, in addition to being an excellent, fun source of doggy goodness, it's full of good tips on traveling with your dog frugally.
I emailed Paris to see if she could share some inside information, and she was kind enough to give us these awesome tips.
One of the best ways to save money on pet travel is to book a stay during off-peak times. For leisure destinations, that means a weekday stay will be less expensive; for business destinations, like cities, weekends can be less costly. You can also take advantage of shoulder season, the period just before and after peak season when the weather's good but demand--and prices--are lower. Some properties are also more flexible with their pet policies during shoulder and off-season periods, so they might accept larger dogs (or more than one dog per room) during this quieter season. For beach getaways, shoulder season is comprised of the weeks after spring break but before summer.
To save money, it's important to check pet fees. If a hotel charges a pet deposit, make sure that it's refundable; some properties charge what is essentially a pet fee but call it a non-refundable deposit. Also, note if the fee is per night, per stay, or per pet.
Paris Permenter is the publisher of DogTipper.com and author of 30+ pet and travel guidebooks. She's and her husband, John, are some of my favorite dog bloggers, so check them out!
Traveling by Plane
Traveling by plane is quick and easy for humans, so it's natural to assume it works well for pets too. The truth is that air travel is not safe for pets, according to the Humane Society. They recommend that you only transport a pet by air as a last resort or if it's necessary.
Air travel is especially dangerous for animals with "pushed in" faces such as bulldogs or pugs. Their short nasal passages leave them more vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.
"Air travel is especially dangerous for dogs with 'pushed in faces,' like pugs and bulldogs."
If you do decide to take your dog on a plane with you, you must become familiar with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations regarding pet travel. All airlines must abide by these rules, and some impose even more restrictions. Here’s some advice, followed by what the USDA requires:
Call the airline directly to make your reservation if you want to bring your dog. Confirm there is space available for your furry friend before you book your seat – some airlines only allow a couple of pets per flight.
It also doesn't hurt to call the airline again a day or two before departure to reconfirm you are bringing a pet.
Prepare your dog for his trip by putting him in his carrier as often as possible for trips around town – this will lessen the stress on your pet on the big travel day.
The Day of Your Flight
The USDA requires that your dog has been offered food and water within four hours before you check in. Aim for right at four hours so he doesn’t end up with an uncomfortably full stomach during the flight.
Do give him water up to travel time and leave food and water dishes in the crate if you are checking your dog.
Exercise your pooch before you go to the airport and carry a leash so you can walk him while you wait for flights. Don’t arrive too early – you can’t check your dog in more than four hours before your flight.
Most pet carriers are made of hard plastic with holes for ventilation. The carrier must be large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. Make sure the carrier has a solid, leak-proof floor covered with some sort of absorbent lining.
Carriers should be well ventilated, include a handle and contain empty food and water dishes so airline employees can feed your dog if necessary.
Mark the carrier with your pet’s name and an identification tag with your home address and phone number and the number of someone who can be reached at your destination.
You should also mark “Live Animal” on the top and sides of the carrier, with arrows showing the right direction to orient the cake.
Kennels are allowed to contain one adult dog or two weaned puppies. The USDA requires that your pet be at least eight weeks old, fully weaned and in good health before traveling.
Every airline has different policies about transporting dogs. Some allow dogs in the cabin as part of your carry-on luggage while others only allow dogs in the cargo era. Some have no fees, and some charge more than $500. Here are links to several individual airline policies on this topic:
Guidelines for Popular US Airlines
A few more recommendations can make flying with your dog safer:
- Do not give you dog a sedative or tranquilizer; this can affect their natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium
- Make sure your dog's nails have been clipped to keep them from getting caught anywhere.
- Book direct flights if possible; you'll reduce your risk of mishaps and make the experience less stressful for your pup overall.
- When you board, notify the captain and a flight attendant than you have a pet in the cabin or the cargo area. They'll sometimes take special precautions.
- Most airlines will also not let your dog travel in the cargo area if outdoor temperatures are too high or too low. If you're traveling during extreme temperatures, minimize risk by choosing early morning or late evening flights during the summer and afternoon flights during the winter.
- Try not to fly with your dog during busy travel times, such as the holidays; flights are much more likely to be rough and bumpy with airline staff are hurried.
- When you arrive at your destination, open your carrier as soon as possible to examine your pet. If anything seems wrong, contact a veterinarian immediately.
Don’t be afraid to speak up if you see your dog (or someone else’s) being mistreated by an airline employee. Ask to speak to a manager and report the incident both verbally and in writing.
Traveling by Car
Traveling with your canine companion by car instead of a plane offers much more flexibility over shorter distances, but you must also be aware of several concerns as well. There are many details to think through as you prepare.
Prepare For the Trip
Consider microchipping your dog before you leave home. During this painless process, a veterinarian inserts a chip containing all identification information under your dog’s skin. Also make sure your dog collar includes an ID tag with your cell phone number.
Pack a spill-proof water bowl, your dog’s normal food and any medications she takes. Don’t forget her favorite toys to play with, and think about long-lasting edible chews and good chew toys for the car ride. Check out hollow toys that you can stuff with your pooch’s favorite food – these can be lifesavers!
Have your vet do a checkup on your dog before you head out of town. Take a copy of a certificate verifying that the dog is healthy, able to travel and up-to-date on all vaccinations.
Make sure your dog is securely confined or fastened during a car trip. An unrestrained dog that can travel freely around the car could easily cause an accident by distracting you or even by getting tangled in the pedals.
"According to the AAA, unrestrained dogs in the front seat like this cause about 30,000 accidents in the United States each year."
Never put your pooch in the front seat – if the airbags deploy, they could seriously injure your friend. Seat belts alone may restrain your dog, but they have never been reliably shown to protect your dog if you should have an accident.
The safest and best method of transport is to place your dog in a roomy carrier which you can secure with a seat belt or some other means.
Don’t ever leave your dog alone in the car, even if you think it’s just for a quick stop. When the outside temperature is 85 degrees, the temperature inside your car can reach 102 in just 10 minutes. If you get held up during your stop, your dog could get seriously hurt in that kind of heat.
As tempting as it may be, don’t let your dog stick his or her head out the window. A few owners have reported that their dogs have been injured by debris or have gotten sick from the cold air forced down their lungs.
In addition, never transport your dog in the back of an open pickup. The risk is just too great. Also never open your car window or door when your dog is unrestrained. Many dogs have been lost at rest stops this way.
Stop frequently to allow your dog to exercise and go to the bathroom. Keep him on a leash at all times. If your dog does not eliminate on command, take some time before you leave to teach him to respond to a verbal cue to eliminate.
Dogs Who Don’t Like Car Rides
Whether your dog just plain doesn’t like being in the car, gets too excited at the thought of a car ride or can’t keep from getting sick at the motion of the car, a few strategies can help. Take advantage of these ideas; it’s no fun to have a barking, shaking, vomiting dog in the backseat during your “relaxing” vacation!
When you take your pup to the vet for a pre-trip checkup, ask about carsickness. Even if your dog doesn’t vomit, he may feel nauseated. Trembling, drooling or a hunched-over posture can be signs of this. Ask your vet about medications that can help relieve carsickness.
As precaution to prevent sickness, feed your dog early so she doesn’t eat in the few hours just before you leave. Make sure to exercise your dog early too, so she isn’t hot and thirsty in the car.
If your dog is afraid of car rides, start with small doses a few weeks ahead of time. Feed your dog one meal a day in the car, with the car turned off. Gradually work up to short rides. Try ending your ride at a fun spot for dogs, like a dog park or a trail where they can run.
If your pooch gets too excited and barks or whines incessantly in the car, try a chew toy or some sort of snack. Also think about crate training your dog so she can rest comfortably in her crate, which will reduce the whining and barking.
Dogs and Car Rentals
If you need to rent a car to travel to your destination with your dog (or if you flew there and need transportation while you’re visiting), most major car rental companies do allow pets. Their policies usually say the vehicles must be returned clean and free of pet hair. Excessive pet hair or any soiling caused by your dog will result in an extra cleaning fee, so make sure you clean the car well before taking it back to the rental agency. You can find a list of major car rental company’s pet policies here.
Just for Fun...
Finding Dog-Friendly Hotels
The number of lodgings accepting companion animals in the United States is growing as hotels realize just how much many dogs mean to their owners.
There are many great resources to help you find pet-friendly hotels where you will be traveling, although you’ll have to do your research ahead of time. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the night looking for a hotel that will finally take your furry friend.
Some hotels just allow dogs to stay, while others really roll out the red carpet as they welcome furry guests. Again, do your research to find out what kind of experience your pooch will have at the hotel you’re considering.
A greater number of hotels are going to a no-extra-charge for pets approach, and most of these hotels include dogs in that policy.
Many hotels, however, still do charge. These fees can vary widely depending on number of pets, size, weight limit and more, so call ahead to find out exactly what you’ll be expected to pay.
Fees range from a nominal daily charge to large damage deposits to flat fees. Once you have a figure, it never hurts to double check before you leave on your trip.
Where to Stay
Kimpton Hotels. 12 of their properties have a Director of Pet Relations (a canine ambassador). No fees or weight limits. Includes gourmet room and service and doga (doggy yoga). More info here.
Loews Hotels. A welcome package and special pet services are included. They have partnered with a vet service to offer free exams. Pets cost $25 per stay, no weight limit. More info here.
Ritz Carlton. The traditional luxury hotel isn't just for humans anymore. Pet pampering includes Burberry raincoats, certified canine massage therapists and canine room service. Not all hotels accept pets, but those that do charge between $125 and $250. (Dogs should be between 10 and 25 pounds.) More info here (as one example).
Four Seasons. Not all of their hotels accept pets, but those that do usually don’t charge while offering a luxury experience, including doggie beds. Concierges will help you out as well. More info here.
Hotel Indigo. All hotels are pet-friendly. Fees and weight limits vary, but expect amenities like treats and water bowls. More info here.
Best Western. More than 1,600 hotels accommodate pets. They allow two dogs in each room. Maximum charge of $20 per day, with a maximum weekly charge of $100. More info here.
Red Roof Inn. 360 pet-friendly hotels, with no nightly fee or deposit. There’s no fancy room service, but they will welcome you with open arms. More info here.
General Hotel and Safety Tips
Check the hotel’s surroundings before you book. Many chain hotels are located in busy areas with lots of streets and concrete around and not much green space for your dog to stretch his legs.
Call the hotel's front desk to ask if your dog will have room to roam. Also, ask about the safety and the noise level of the area.
Ask about extra pet services, especially if you're likely to leave your dog in the hotel during some of your excursions. Some hotels offer special beds and treats, dog-sitting, and even a doggie spa. Ask around before you decide where to stay.
Ask for a ground-floor room. This makes potty breaks easier, especially in the middle of the night. Also beware of so-called “pet rooms.” These are often just smoking rooms or older, run-down rooms. Make sure to ask about this when you book your room.
All-suite hotels are great options for dog owners, especially if you’ll be there for longer than a couple of days. The extra space will make it feel that much more like home, especially for Fido.
Put your dog in a crate or carrier if you have to leave her in the room alone. This is for her safety as well as the safety of the hotel employees. If you cannot use a carrier, hang the Do Not Disturb sign on your doorknob to discourage anyone from entering. Some hotels may not let you leave your dog alone even in a crate.
Make sure you have down time built into your dog’s schedule. Too much contact with people could make him agitated and stressed. Keep contact with others to a minimum.
Deal immediately with any damage your dog causes. Call the manager right away to explain what happened – don’t wait until checkout.
If your dog is prone to barking at unfamiliar sounds, consider bringing a noise machine to provide a white noise background so your dog doesn’t hear (and bark at) every sound all night long.
Where to Find Pooch-Friendly Hotels
Plenty of options exist to find the best dog-friendly hotels in the area where you’ll be traveling. Below are a few of the easiest to use:
Bringfido.com. Info on dog-friendly lodging, restaurants, events and more. You can speak with a pet-friendly travel expert.
Fidofriendly.com. Includes a nationwide database of hotels, bed and breakfasts, rentals, inns, daycare, boutiques, pet sitters and more.
Petfriendlytravel.com. Includes pet-friendly vacation rentals, hotels, beaches, campgrounds, restaurants and bars, airports, shopping malls, dog parks and more.
OfficialPetHotels.com. Search more than 10,000 hotels in 35 cities.
PetsWelcome.com. Search by larger dog-friendly hotels, or by route. Includes international options.
DogFriendly.com. Includes lists to help you plan, including the best off-leash parks.
General Travel Safety Tips
Safety while traveling with your dog has been a theme throughout this article, but it can never be emphasized too much. You want to be as aware and safe as possible while you travel so that you all end up at home healthy and happy. Below are a few more safety tips as you travel with your dog.
Be aware of how your dog reacts to strangers. It’s okay if she growls or acts nervous – she’s out of her normal environment and needs reassurance that everything will be okay. Be calm and assertive and remember that exercise is a great way to relax your dog.
We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating – a pre-vacation trip to the vet is a great precaution to take. Tell your vet you’re about to travel with your dog and let him or her give you any advice and check your dog for anything that needs to be take care of before you leave.
If you’re staying at a hotel, check your hotel room for anything that might pose a danger to your dog. Hide away any loose wires, ensure all windows and doors are closed and locked, and make sure everything is in its place. It’s a good idea to make your dog sit by the door while you check all these things and move around the room. Leaving your scent all over the room will help your dog settle in more quickly.
If your dog becomes anxious when you travel, think about buying a Thundershirt to calm him down. This snug-fitting shirt puts pressure on various points on the dog’s body, which helps him relax. A calm dog is a safe dog. Many dog owners like this option because it’s drug-free.
One tip if you’re traveling internationally: research the culture of the country you will be visiting. Learn how they view dogs, where your dog will be welcome and resources if your dog needs help.
Alternatives: Shelters, Sitters & Doggy Hotels
Before you decide to take your dog on a trip with you, think about whether or not it's the best option. Will your furry friend stay with you most of the time or will he mostly stay in a crate in a hotel room while you’re out seeing the sights? If so, you may want to leave him home.
Or, if your dog is prone to motion sickness or gets emotionally or mentally upset when her routine is changed, she might be better off to stay home. If your dog is sick, injured or pregnant, the decision is even more obvious – leave your dog at home.
If you decide to leave her home, she obviously can’t stay by herself. Here’s a look at a few alternatives:
You may be able to find a temporary boarding situation for your dog while you are gone. These shelters range from basic accommodations to upscale luxury suites for your dog.
Do your research, get recommendations from friends and make preliminary visits to any options you find. Trust your senses when you’re there and make sure the areas where your dog will be are secure and well-kept.
"Your local vet can often board your dog if you ask. If not, their office will likely have a recommendation where you can go."
The pet store PetSmart also offers boarding options with their PetsHotel program. Just visit their website to find a facility near you and determine the level of care you desire for your dog.
Dog Sitters offer a great alternative for dog care that is likely cheaper than boarding your dog. If a trusted neighbor, friend or relative is willing to come to your house to check on your dog each day, provide fresh food and water, and take him for a walk, it can offer a nice peace of mind.
If a sitter would rather keep your dog at their home, make sure you’re comfortable with the situation and take your pooch for a few visits before dropping him off while you’re gone.
If you like the idea of a dog sitter, but don’t have any good options, try dogvacay.com. This professional service will locate a pre-screened sitter near you. You're guaranteed personal attention, no cages, and daily photo updates.
If you want nothing but the best for your canine companion while you’re away – and you can pay for it – consider a luxury dog spa or dog hotel. Again, your vet may be able to direct you to any options like this in your area.
Facebook and Google can also provide you with area recommendations. If you happen to live near any of these luxury pet resorts, you’re in luck and your pets will thank you forever.
Here are a few more miscellaneous things to remember as you bring your furry friend along on your next family vacation.
Keep a Routine
Dogs thrive when they are settled in a comfortable routine. This is difficult when traveling, but try to give your dog regular walks and playtime. Make sure he always has fresh water and food. Try to keep the food the same as he gets at home – if you have to change it, do so gradually. Don’t forget to wash his bowls daily.
It’s a good idea to look ahead of time for emergency animal clinics close to wherever you’ll be during your trip. If an incident does occur, you’ll be a step closer (and quicker) to getting your dog the help she needs if you already have an idea where to go.
Yes, towels. If your dog likes activity and will be outdoors quite a bit, bring plenty of towels. Dogs usually need some help wiping their feet off, and the ability to keep them from tracking mud and dirt into your hotel room or rental car could save you a hefty cleaning fee.
If you're going on an outdoorsy adventure, here's a great guide for minimizing your environmental impact and being respectful of the place you're staying.
For many Americans, their dog is a vital part of their family and they cannot imagine leaving their canine companion at home during a fun, relaxing family vacation. While it might require a little extra preparation and work, it’s entirely possible to bring your dog along to join in on the fun. Many hotels and businesses have intentionally made their facilities pet-friendly to provide great customer service, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of their offers. Your dog will appreciate the effort you make, and you’ll enjoy having one of your favorite friends along.