It’s natural to want to spend as much time as possible with your furry best friend, which is really difficult when you also love traveling. This is why more and more people are choosing to take their dogs on vacation with them. But is traveling with your dog always a good idea? And what are some ways to make the journey enjoyable for both you and your dog?
Consider your destination
If you’re thinking about traveling with your dog, you have to think about whether your dog will enjoy the destination as much as you will. Spending your vacation in a buzzing concrete jungle like New York or London might sound really exciting to you, but your pup might be bored or worse, overwhelmed. Not all cities that are considered “dog-friendly” because they allow dogs everywhere would actually be fun for an animal. It’s probably a better idea to take your dog on a trip that will be enjoyable for both of you like a road trip to a nature preserve.
Consider transportation options
Different means of transport vary in difficulty and hassle when it comes to transporting your pup. The easiest option is to drive. This way, your dog is free to move around, you don’t have to deal with other people, and you can stop whenever you want in case your dog is feeling car sick. Public ground transportation is probably the next best thing. Trains and buses that allow dogs aren’t as restrictive as airlines when it comes to carrier requirements, so you’ll probably be able to sit when your dog on your lap or in a bag, though they may be required to wear a muzzle.
Flying is probably the most daunting option for you and especially for your dog. In addition to having to be constrained in a carrier, elements like changes in air pressure and altitude may be nauseating and terrifying for pets. Before flying with your dog, you should think about their well-being, whether they are small enough to travel in the cabin or they’d have to fly cargo, and whether the physical and psychological stress is worth the trip. As a general rule, I wouldn’t put a dog in cargo unless I was permanently relocating. This could be deadly or at the very least traumatizing for your dog.
Consider how you’ll get around in your destination
Getting to your destination is only half the battle. Just because you wrangled your dog into a travel carrier for a three-hour flight doesn’t mean he’s going to be welcome on local buses, trams, trains, or ferries. Unless you’re planning to rent a car for your vacation, you’ll have to research how to move you and your dog around locally starting with how you’re going to get from the airport or train station to your hotel – do cabs accept dogs? Are there size restrictions on public transportation? Do you have to buy a special ticket? Are they required to be muzzled or in a carrier?
Think about how long you’ll have to leave them alone in your accommodation
This comes down to both the destination and your travel style. If you’re a big museum-hopper, your pup will probably have to sit out a lot of trip activities which may be difficult for the animal. A dog left alone in an unfamiliar place could become distressed or destructive, especially if he’s prone to separation anxiety. Coming back to ripped up furniture in your hotel room is probably not the kind of vacation anyone wants.
Likewise, even if you’re not expecting to take too many excursions without your dog, you may be visiting a particular place that isn’t very dog-friendly. This means you would have to leave them behind every time you go out to eat, which could be extremely inconvenient as well as stressful for the pup.
Get them used to the travel carrier
Dogs don’t love to be enclosed in tight unfamiliar spaces. It may take some time for your dog to feel comfortable going inside a travel carrier and even longer to stay in it calmly when it’s closed and you’re carrying it around. So your dog should be fully trained to be in a travel carrier before you attempt to take her anywhere. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the experience will be traumatizing and maybe even harmful if the dog hurts herself trying to escape. A good way to desensitize them is to reward them with treats for going in the carrier and letting them get used to it as a safe space before even attempting to close them inside.
Weigh the additional costs
Traveling when you have a pet is more expensive whether they’re coming along on your trip or not. You either have to pay for a pet sitter or dog hotel or you’ll have to find pet-friendly accommodations and potentially book special transport. For instance, flying your dog with you may double the cost of your ticket. It’s helpful not just to consider the financial cost, but the overall value of taking your dog on vacation. For example, if you have to settle for more expensive and less desirable accommodations or pay several hundred dollars to fly your dog to a place where he’s likely to be fussy and miserable, then you’re better off leaving him back home – even if the cost of a sitter is more expensive, there may be greater value in that.
Start somewhere nearby
Suffice it to say, you probably don’t want to take your dog on a 16-hour transatlantic flight the first time you take them on vacation. Even if you think you know them inside and out, your dog may feel disoriented or uncomfortable outside of his home-base environment. Is he going to spend all night in a hotel barking at sounds in the hall? Is she going to stop eating? To find out how they’ll do while traveling, you should start with something easy and nearby.
This way, you can get to know how they respond to traveling long distances before subjecting them to a much longer travel time, and you can see how they behave when you’re out exploring a new place. You might find that your little dog can’t keep up with your 10-mile-per-day travel itinerary. And you’re probably better off finding that out on an inexpensive weekend trip than when you’ve taken your doggie halfway around the world.
Get your dog used to the kinds of activities you do on vacation
If your dog never leaves your house or your yard, you’re going to have a hard time when you try to take him out to a restaurant three times a day. If he’s not used to being in certain settings, he may become restless, frustrated, and misbehave. You can’t expect a dog to sit quietly under the table his first time at a restaurant; he’ll probably get bored, beg for food, bother other diners, or bark at passersby. As an alternative to dining out with your dog, you can always stay at an accommodation with a kitchen so you can cook at home.
When it comes to crowds, it’s especially useful to practice beforehand because dogs can become easily overwhelmed when they’re surrounded by strangers. Your vacation shouldn’t be the first time your dog rides the subway or attends a street fair with live music. He’ll need to adjust to that kind of activity, and the only way for him to do that is if you practice before taking him on a trip.
Consider how weather will affect your pup
Summer can be a great time to be outside and discover new places. But depending on your dog, summer temperatures could be dangerous. Breeds with thick coats may not be able to easily withstand extremely hot temperatures, especially if you’re expecting them to be outside all day. Not to mention that asphalt baking in the hot sun can burn their paws, so it may not be an ideal time to travel with your dog. Conversely, small dogs and dogs with short coats may need additional protection if the weather is extremely cold.
Rain can also cause unexpected problems on your trip. If your dog refuses to go outside when it’s storming, you may end up losing a whole day of sightseeing to stay in with him or leaving behind a stressed dog. You should probably decide in advance if that’s something you’re willing to do.
Make sure you have the proper documentation
When you’re traveling with your dog, you also have to consider legal and health requirements, which are especially complex if you’re crossing international borders. Depending on the airline or the destination country, you’ll need the dog’s medical record, a working microchip, and an up-to-date health certificate issued by a vet certifying that the dog is fit to fly and not showing signs of disease.
In some areas, like the EU, this process is simplified through the use of a pet passport (or alternatively, a health declaration form for non-EU travelers) which contains an animal’s medical history. Some countries require special vaccinations – for example, the UK requires dogs to get a tapeworm vaccine less than 5 days before traveling. Requirements are even more stringent (and may include quarantine) if you’re traveling to or from a country with a high risk for rabies.
In short, traveling with a dog is not unlike traveling during Covid – airlines will not hesitate to deny you boarding if you don’t bring your dog’s required documentation and he’s not up to date on his shots. So triple check all the requirements at your destination country, and all the requirements of your country for re-entry.
Keep your dog comfortable while traveling
When you’re transporting a dog, especially when flying, you’ll have to think about their health and comfort. Because they may be required to go many hours without relieving themselves and because the motion may make them nauseous, it’s recommended they travel on an empty stomach and have very little water throughout the journey. If your itinerary includes a connecting flight or train, you should try to take your dog out or take them to a pet relief area in the airport if available.
If you already know your dog is prone to motion sickness, your vet may prescribe something to alleviate their discomfort. You may be tempted to sedate your dog so they don’t feel anxious or distressed, but this can increase the chance of heart or respiratory issues. Always consult your vet before giving your dog any medication, especially medications intended for humans.
Not unlike traveling with a baby, traveling with a dog requires that you pack all the things they’ll need on the trip. This includes any medications they have to take regularly (like human medication, these should always be in your carry-on), food, treats, portable water and food bowls, and toys or blankets they find comforting. Your pet’s preferred kibble may not be available at your destination, so you should bring enough of the food and treats they’re used to. Like us, they may have digestive issues when traveling if you suddenly change their diet.
Allow your dog to rest
No matter how energetic your dog is, dogs need an average of 11 hours of sleep per day, especially after activities that are particularly tiring or stimulating. So your standard travel day that keeps you on your feet from sunrise to sunset may not be possible for your dog. If you’re traveling across time zones, your dog may suffer from jet lag just like you. If they’re feeling extremely lethargic or not eating, they may be experiencing jet lag and may need a day or two to adjust.
Once you’ve accounted for all these things, you and your doggo will be ready to go on a travel adventure.