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Whether you're spending a night in a hotel, taking long road trips, camping, or moving your family to a new city - traveling with your dog can be a fun and exciting event.
But pet travel can also be stressful and even dangerous if you don’t prepare properly.
I’ve camped with my dogs, stayed in pet-friendly hotels and Airbnbs, and just recently relocated from California to Colorado with my pets. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way to help you prepare for all of your dog travel adventures.
I encourage you to follow along whether you have a trip planned for next week or next year. There is no such thing as preparing too much when your pets are involved!
Your "must pack" list
Depending on where you're going, and for how long, your “must pack” list will help you prepare and remove stress. I consider traveling with dogs to be a lot like traveling with small children; better to be over-prepared, especially if it's your first time.
If you know you will be near stores where you can easily access items you may forget or not have room for then you may not need to be so strict, but if you are planning to camp in the wilderness be sure you are well prepared.
Packing for your dog
This list is not all inclusive, but here are some things you will likely need no matter where you are headed - add to it depending on your circumstances. Just having an organized checklist is a stress-reliever!
1) Dog food, pack extra
Pack plenty of your dog's regular food, and if you plan to be exercising your pup more than usual (hiking, mountain climbing, or swimming), consider increasing your dog's caloric intake or adding extra fat and protein. If you plan to be a bit more sedentary, maybe cut back a little!
2) Travel bowls
Collapsible bowls take up less space in luggage or backpacks! And it's always a good idea to have a travel bowl in your car at all times whether for a long trip or just around town.
There are many good options available in dog-healthy materials: here's a favorite collapsible travel dog bowl set.
3) Dog first-aid kit
Having first-aid handy for your dog is especially important for outdoor adventures. I always have one in the car and on hand for any sort of outdoor excursion and the health risks that can come with them. This is a great first aid kit for pets.
4) Medications / supplements
Of course, you'll want to bring along an easy-to-access bag of your dog's medications and supplements.
If your dog has a tendency to feel anxious in the car or get car sick due to motion sickness, you might want to try natural calming aids (like soft calming chews, natural essences, or CBD) on short trips first before any long trip to see what works for your anxious dog. And consult your veterinarian if motion sickness meds might be warranted (available OTC but check with your vet on proper use and dosages etc for your individual dog).
You can see below under "life skills" for how to help anxious dogs feel comfortable with car travel using the classic training technique conditioning. (It's how I did it with my dog Rodger.)
5) Clean/Fresh Water
Dogs can become dehydrated more quickly in the car and on activities you might be doing with your dog like hiking. It's important to keep your dog well hydrated so packing fresh water is essential.
6) Extra poop bags
Something pet owners should never leave home without!
7) Wipes / towels / cleaning supplies
Packing your own not only ensures whatever you need for inevitable messes is handy but also allows you to have the cleaning products - including dog shampoo - you normally use that are dog friendly (natural, no chemicals for overall health and no allergy-triggering).
8) Dog bed / mat
Even when staying in a hotel or Airbnb it helps to have something comfortable and familiar. Your dog will feel more at home with a favorite bed, mat, or throw.
Some pet policies also ask that you keep your dogs off of furniture. If this isn’t possible, you can pack some old sheets to cover furniture to keep hair off to prevent an extra pet fee for cleaning. Or you might want to try an attractive, surprisingly waterproof throw that can do triple duty - home, car, hotel/airbnb.
On the subject of hotels and airbnbs, you obviously want to plan your stops and book your overnight stays in advance so you can be sure to stop at a place that welcomes dogs. Also good to be clear on any fine print in advance like pet fees, any limits on pets allowed such as small vs larger dogs. (Service dogs are an exception, of course, and usually allowed everywhere, but you still want to have confirmed reservations.)
9) Vet records, vaccination certificates
Any relevant health certificate or records are important in case of emergencies or in the event you need to board your dog for a day or overnight while you have a non-dog-friendly adventure.
10) Treats/chews/ toys
It's important to be able to reward your dog for good behavior. Remember even the most well-trained dog will be a bit unsure in a new environment and may display behaviors such as barking, pulling on leash, chewing unknown items or more.
Additionally, unknown wildlife may cause unpredictable behavior such as unreliable recall or chasing. If you are prepared with toys and chews, this will help keep your dog busy and treats will help you tell your dog when you like what he or she is doing.
11) Leashes, collar, harness, car seat belt - and extra back-ups!
12) Long line leash
Dogs are required to be on leash in many areas, a long leash can help your dog get the exercise your pup needs while still remaining safe.
Some places you stay may require your dog to be in a crate when left alone. If you are camping, a crate can be a safe place for your dog while you set up or while you are otherwise busy. Be sure your dog is comfortable in his or her crate before asking your dog to stay for any extended period of time!
14) Enrichment toys
Depending on the length of your trip and amount of time in the car or hotel, enrichment toys can be a crucial part of helping your dog expend mental and physical energy as well as decompress and reduce stress. See my guide on enrichment for ideas!
15) Check/update microchip information & ID tags
While this isn’t packing, making sure your dog's microchip information is up to date before you hit the road is one safety measure you can’t overlook! Also be sure your dog is wearing an ID tag during your car travel or any kind of travel.
Think about your individual dog and your next trip and add anything to your checklist that will make life smoother and safer for your pup - and give you peace of mind!
What life skills should your dog know before road tripping?
Training your dog is a lifelong journey - especially if you plan to take adventures! Using reward-based, force-free methods we can teach your dog to safely enjoy life by your side.
Here are the skills I believe all dogs should know well before heading out on any trip...
Riding comfortably in the car
This may seem obvious, but it's a big one that can be overlooked. My dog Rodger used to suffer from some car frustration and anxiety, and I worked on it for about six months before we relocated to Colorado from California. The last thing I wanted to deal with on a three-day road trip was an anxious, barking, whining dog in the car for 10 hours a day from take-off to our final destination.
How to use classical conditioning
First, using classical conditioning (learning by emotional association), Rodger learned that good things happened when he was in the car. He would get small bits of tasty treats just for being in the car.
Then in time I began to teach him that good things happened when he behaved a certain way in the car (operant learning). This meant lying down or sitting calmly for just short periods of time while we drove. Seconds at first. Then minutes, then eventually the food came less and less frequently - but this took place every single time we were in the car for six months. Several times a week. The work paid off!
Thanks to our consistency with pre-work, our trip to Colorado was a breeze for Rodger! He was calm, cool, collected, and has shown none of his former car-related behaviors during the road trip or since we arrived in Colorado.
While "come when called" is always something we should be working on, if you plan to take your dogs to a new place and even consider letting them off leash, their recall should be close to perfect. Dogs need time to gain reliability in new places, even the most well-trained dog may decide that the smell of a new animal is distracting and reinforcing enough to chase after in a new setting.
I recommend practicing recall on a long line before allowing off-leash access in any new environment that is uncontrolled (not fenced in).
Here are my top tips for teaching a reliable recall:
- Start in a low distraction environment, call your dog from just a few feet away and reward - slowly work your way up to longer distances as your dog remains reliable.
- Always use the same recall word (Come / Here ) paired with your dog's name, every time.
- If your dog doesn’t come - don’t repeat yourself. Make it easier. Less distraction. Less distance. Higher value reward (better treat).
- Always. Reward. Recall. Every time! And reward well - real meat, cheese, deli meats, pizza crust etc… this is such a valuable behavior that your dog needs to know it is always worth it to come to you.
- Don't punish. Recall should always be reinforcing. If your dog fails, it was too challenging. Manage the environment until your dog is reliable and set up training so he or she can succeed more than fail.
For more on establishing a reliable recall with your dog, check out my complete guide and video dedicated to recall here.
Loose leash walking
When walking in new places, many dogs forget their previous training skills for a bit - this can be especially true for walking on leash. If you are in a new busy town, on a trail or trying to walk to a hotel room it will be extremely helpful if your dog has a solid base of walking nicely on a leash.
Need help with this skill? See more guidance in the Walking Channel.
Hand target / touch
I believe this is one of the most useful behaviors any dog can learn. It is the foundation for many other skills and can help in so many situations! How does it relate to travel?
- Gaining attention when there is a strange noise outside of the tent
- Refocusing your dog when he/she catches a strange scent or spots other dogs
- Encouraging recall in another way in the hotel room when someone walks by and the dogs bark
- Confidence-building in new places (including when you're close to home, for example, if you venture to the local dog park)
Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly
Travel safely and enjoy every moment of adventure with your dog! For more on training and life skills that make life better for you and your dog, be sure to check out other guides in the Manners Channel.
If you have any questions, ask them in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel. Or, I can help you with more personalized help.