April 24, 2016

Traveling with Dogs: 10 Tips

Growing up, we didn't go on family "vacations" per se (I've literally gone on more family vacations as an adult), though we usually went camping at least once or twice every summer as well as visiting family out of town. This isn't terribly surprising when you're talking about the salary of a public school teacher in a podunk southern Arkansas "town" who's married to a self-employed appliance man who loses money on service calls more often than not due to a big heart.

The point is, while we've always had dogs, our pups didn't typically travel with us so my recent road trip to Asheville was my first real experience at traveling with dogs. I also have to brag on Kafka because he doesn't have a lot of experience being in public places--and he's extremely high energy. Fayetteville, Arkansas is certainly one of the most progressive places in the state but there still aren't a lot of different options for taking your pets out and about. (Granted, now that I've had a taste of taking my boy with me, I plan to explore/take advantage of the available options more... perhaps a post in the future?)

Luckily, we knew we wanted our trip to be dog friendly so we specifically chose a final destination based on that: Asheville, where everyone is pro-dog. Ironically, the one place we didn't think to check
(as you read in my last post) was the Smokies... I had previously noticed a couple of main trails that said pets weren't allowed, like the famous Clingman's Dome, but not that they were literally allowed on two short paved trails (and that's all, folks).

So without further ado, I'd like to share a few tips with you on roadtripping with your dogs by explaining things I did utilize as well as things I would do differently now that I've learned better...

1. Make sure your dog has space, especially if he's a big boy. Cricket is tiny and napped on my friend's lap almost the entire way there, so that was no problem. Our dogs are both very good about holding their bladders so we didn't need to stop very often--but Kafka is 83 lbs and I dedicated the majority of the backseat to him so he could stretch out. We had a lot of gear (camping and otherwise) and luckily my Prius has a decent storage space in the back, but I still had to fill up the backseat legroom with the dog food bin, suitcases, etc. I took his dog bed and put this on top of all of this so he could still be comfortable, as well as tossed in a few items for him to nom on (seeing him try to get my friend to play fetch with him in the car was just about the cutest thing). I also recommend laying down a beach towel under everything first for easy cleanup.

2. Bring plenty of water (and extra food, too). This is a no brainer but you'll want to think about how you want to accomplish this. Cricket had something very similar to this bottle which worked perfectly for him, but my dude can gulp and spill that much in one lap. I definitely used it a couple of times when it was the easiest thing to do, but I planned campsites/hikes by rivers/streams and kept a couple of gallon water jugs with a big bowl in the back of the car. I'm also a big fan of collapsible bowls for food or water.

3. Let your dog help lighten the load if he's big enough. Many dogs like working! Kafka is very proud to wear his backpack, which is really nice because it has inner zipped pockets as well, which is where I kept his loose food (half on each side...these things topple easily if not balanced). Cricket's food was kept in vacuum sealed bags which worked pretty well, but I highly recommend doing this in pre-portioned meals or it doesn't do you much good. Unfortunately, he was too tiny to wear much of anything to help carry his load.
hiking Butterfield Trail at Devil's Den about a year ago...that sleeping bag did not work out.

4. Head collars are the best if your dog pulls whatsoever; choke chains and body harnesses are out. Kafka pulls a ton and is a lot stronger than me--to the point that he can drag me around if I just try using a leash alone, which is an unwanted arm workout. Head collars are much gentler than other options because it's more of an annoyance to the dog--instead of hurting them/squeezing their neck, it tugs on their head when they try to pull you around. I admit to taking this off when going uphill with a heavy backpack--I let him pull me up all he wanted!

5. Dog booties can also be great (used the hell out of them when Kafka was a puppy and scratched things up due to his separation anxiety), but we didn't go anywhere rugged enough to really need them. Certain brands are also not great at staying on paws if you've got a smartie who tries to take them off. However, be sure to make a first aid kit nonetheless, with at least some self-adherent wrap tape and something to clean a wound should an accident occur.  

6. Find dog parks. Google them ahead of time or take advantage of your smartphone when you're there. It is really important that dogs get some off-leash exercise, especially when they're being cooped up in the car for hours everyday. Kafka is so used to getting daily yard time at the least and he really missed that--highlight of the trip for him was our fetch sessions, I guarantee it.

7. Use websites like Bring Fido--a saving grace, though don't depend on them to be 100% correct all of the time. Make sure you always ask shop owners if it's okay because they could have always changed their policy, or maybe they only allow small dogs (ruff to dog discrimination), etc. Still, they're pretty accurate and a great tool for finding pet friendly lodging, attractions, restaurants, and more. If you happen to be in a small town with nothing listed, most restaurants with outdoor seating (so long as you don't have to go through the indoors to get to it) are a safe bet--otherwise, you may have to stick with a drive thru if all else fails. (I just know one day we'll be as dog friendly as Europe!)

8. Don't feel guilty about getting some dog free time. It's your vacation and your pup is so happy to have joined you for the majority of it. Find a doggy day care with good reviews to get a few hours away (so you can visit that non-pet-friendly attraction you're dying to see) or an overnight to experience some shenanigans your first evening in a new city. A lot of places even have security cameras you can access online--I've always wondered what my mutt gets up to when I'm not around...

I always feel like...somebody's watching me...

9. With that said, make sure your vaccinations are up to date and bring them with you. I suppose this is where I show my southern self because I'm sure many of you already know this, but having never kenneled a dog before, I'm glad I did my research ahead of time--because April is always when we get his shots renewed anyways. Some doggy daycares also require them to be on a flea/tick preventative.

10. Make sure fido enjoys his/her vacation, too! I'm assuming you already feel this way if you elect to bring your dog with you instead of leaving them with a friend at home. Make sure to do things for your pet just as you would for a kiddo--i.e. you take your children to do things geared for kids, why not do the same for your dog? Make sure you stick to routines as much as possible and if they're anxious, chamomile and Valerian root are great natural calming supplements without drugging them out on medications. Bring treats, toys, and things that smell like home. Go for plenty of walks and maybe even visit a pet store or two--reward good behavior. Have fun on your adventure together.

Feel free to comment with any other dog tips!

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