Road Trip!

In the 18 months since adopting Kona from a shelter, we’ve traveled from Dallas to San Diego (twice) and made dozens of trips throughout the Lone Star State and even a few jaunts to Oklahoma and Arizona.

Kona has yet to turn three, but I’m estimating she has already logged more than 11,000 miles inside my SUV with me without a single whimper, potty accident or tummy upset “prize” for me to clean up.

This terrier mix has our travel routine down: she jumps in the back seat cushioned with a thick rug, plops into a sit while I connect the strap clicked inside the seat belt to the D ring on her harness, does her “duty” every three or four hours during our pit stops and tolerates my off-key singing to 80s music from the radio. When we reach our destination for the day, she shows off her polite doggy manners to hotel staff member checking us in.

What’s my secret to canine traveling success? It starts with my attitude. Dogs are savvy at reading our emotions, so I do my best to maintain an upbeat attitude, practice patience around irritating drivers, and happily call out her name periodically to let her know she matters.

I’ve also learned from my mistakes with my previous four-legged travel mate: Chipper, a Husky-Golden Retriever mix. She rode in the middle bench seat of my SUV until the day she panicked from the noise of the trucker blaring a horn and hurled herself into the front seat, shifting my gears from Drive to Neutral at 60 miles per hour with her front paws.

For safety, I shifted my suitcases from the cargo area of my SUV and converted it into a comfy area for Chipper. A floor-to-ceiling metal gate prevented her from accessing the middle or front seats.

Here are some tips to maintain your sanity and keep your dog safe on your next road trip:

Build up your dog’s mileage endurance

For puppies or newly adopted dogs, set them up for success by taking short trips initially of less than 10 minutes. Gradually work up the miles.

Pack with your dog’s nutritional needs – and wants – in mind

To minimize any chance of diarrhea or stomach upset in your dog, pack bottled water from home and offer water at each stop. Stick with your dog’s normal food and favorite healthy dog treats.

Bring a comfort item your dog likes

Kona has a rollup bed that I place on the hotel bed for her to circle and then curl up to sleep for the night. It contains her smells, adding to her sense of comfort and security. I also pack her favorite chew toy.

Keep your dog’s safety paramount

Make it a habit to clip your dog’s leash to the D ring in the harness, gripping the leash before detaching the clip from the safety harness attached to the seat belt. You do not want your dog dashing out the door. Keep your dog on a short leash no more than six feet so you can maintain control of her movements. Do a complete 360-degree survey of your surroundings before taking your leashed dog out of the car for a potty break. Resist “meet and greets” with other traveling dogs whose temperaments you do not know.

Pay attention to hot temperatures

When traveling solo with Kona and my cat, Casey, through Texas en route to San Diego, I only took bathroom breaks at state rest stops and never left my pets in a parked car to use the bathroom at a gas station. I also put portable, mesh window shades on the back windows to block the sun’s rays. I packed healthy snacks or used fast food drive-through windows so I never left my pets unattended.

Keep items on this checklist handy:

extra leash, extra collar, vaccination records, identification tags with your cell phone number, pet first aid kit, disposable poop bags, pet food/treats and travel bowls, doggy bed, a muzzle (in case your dog is injured and you need to safely restrain him), photo of you and your dog to verify ownership, cleaning items (paper towels, moist towelettes, enzymatic stain/odor removers), flashlight and grooming tools.

Practice hotel etiquette

Once inside the hotel room, shut the closet door and put down the toilet lid. Hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door knob to prevent unexpected visits by the housekeeping staff and paw it forward for the next traveler with a pet by keeping the room clean and leaving a generous tip.

Finally, don’t overlook the advantages of traveling with your dog rather than your spouse, family member or friend. Your dog will never ask you repeatedly, “Are we almost there, yet?” nor be a nagging backseat driver. So, hit the road with your canine companion and enjoy!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT