As the end of the year draws closer, you might be counting down the days until your big holiday vacation. If you’re traveling with a dog, though, he cannot possibly anticipate the adventure that awaits him. Long car rides, bustling airports and strange hotel rooms can cause a lot of stress for pets, making it tough for them to enjoy the holidays.
For a stress-free trip, consult these tips long before you begin packing your luggage.
Before the Trip
Get your dog prepared for pet travel by going through a controlled trial run of some of the trip procedures.
“Your dog may have never been to an airport, a train station or a rest stop on the highway. You may want to take your dog to an unfamiliar area with a lot of people and do a walk-through,” says Dr. Michel Selmer, aka The Caring Vet. “Pre-expose them to a place that looks, feels, smells or may sound scary to your dog. A dog who has learned to trust you and who can respond to your commands in learning situations is easier to manage through the unexpected, for which you couldn’t have known to train in advance.”
Your dog should know basic commands like sit, stay, come and off. You should also train your dog to relax in their crate or carrier. Purchase a dog crate well in advance of the trip and keep it in your home with the door open, furnished with blankets, treats and toys to encourage your dog to hang out inside. Their crate will become a positive, safe space for your dog that smells like home.
“Make sure your dog is wearing a collar at all times with your contact info, such as cell phone number and address that is up to date in case the dog gets lost,” says Sally Morgan, PT CST, a holistic physical therapist for people and pets. The Platinum Pets Pawsitively Safe Pet Finder Tag for Dogs is one of the quickest and most reliable way to find a lost four-legged companion. “Also consider getting the dog microchipped before the trip,” says Morgan.
Traveling With a Dog in the Car
Even a dog that normally loves car rides may become anxious during a long journey, in which case a behavioral supplement may be helpful to keep your pup calm. You can give your dog Happy Traveler Calming Chews 30 minutes before you start your trip so they’ll start kicking in even before you pull out of your driveway. You can also fit your pup in a ThunderShirt during the car ride to ensure he stays relaxed throughout the trip. The vest uses a gentle hugging pressure to create a dramatic calming effect that works on most dogs.
Dogs under 15 pounds should be in a carrier or crate, while larger dogs should be in a seatbelt harness. Car restraint products from Sleepypod are crash-tested, and will also keep your dog from roaming around the vehicle, which can distract the driver.
“Make sure that the dog is in an area with a comfy temperature, as many people put them in the far back, and the sun beating down on the crate is extremely hot,” says Morgan.
Flying With A Dog
If you’ll be flying to your holiday destination, it may be more comfortable for your pet to fly on a pet-friendly airline. These flights typically allow your dog to fly in the cabin under your seat in an Airline approved carrier. Dogs that are too large to fit under the seat usually have to fly in cargo, though some airlines have flights that allow larger pets to fly in-cabin, too. Call your airline in advance to get size and weight limits and to find out if you need to make a pet reservation in advance.
Staying the Night
Call ahead of time to find out if your destination allows pets. There are plenty of pet-friendly hotels that offer ground-floor rooms to pet owners so it will be easy for you to take your dog outside for walks. Make sure you understand their pet policy; most will not allow you to leave your dog unattended in the room for any amount of time.
Even if they’re house-trained, your dog is more likely to have an accident in a new place. “Be aware that a dog may want to urinate inside the holiday house, even if this is not something he has ever done in his usual place, just to get it smelling like him,” says Morgan. “Keep a close eye for the first few days.” Show your dog around and take them outside more frequently than usual until they re-establish their potty routine. You may want to travel with some puppy pads as backup.
When traveling with pets, it is best to bring your dog’s usual food and treats, as a sudden change in diet could cause digestive upset. If you’ll be using a travel bowl, allow your dog to try it out before the trip so it won’t be unfamiliar to them.
The key to helping your dog get comfortable when staying at a hotel is by sticking to routines and creating a familiar environment. “Familiar smells help keep the dog calm,” says Morgan, “I like to use a light smell, like lavender in a spritz, in a place the dog likes in the old house for about a month, and then spritz that smell in the new place so it will seem familiar.”
Lindsay Pevny is on a mission to gather science-based information on pet care, training and products, and to use her writing to help other dog parents make informed decisions for their four-legged family members. As a pet copywriter, she works with passionate pet business owners to spread the word about their innovative pet products and services. Get to know her doggy muses, Matilda and Cow, on her personal blog, Little Dog Tips.