Ask Dr Wan: How to Travel with Your Dog

Dr. Wan, certified applied animal behaviorist, tells readers what they need to know before traveling with a dog this summer.

Q:  I have an eight-year-old Bichon named Sunny, whom I've had for three very wonderful years.  I would like to travel with him this summer.  I see there are many motels and hotels that welcome pets.  For a first-time traveler with a dog, what do I need to look for in choosing a place to stay?  What things do I need to know to make our travels successful for everyone involved?  - Carol H.

Traveling with your dog can be a very rewarding experience.  Who doesn't love the image of a dog in a convertible, riding shotgun with his hair blowing in the wind?  But before you pack your bags for your next road trip, it is important to do some research and advance planning. 

Before making hotel reservations, call to confirm that pets are allowed, and inquire about any special pet policies, fees, or required documentation (e.g. proof of vaccinations).  Consider the hotel’s location.  Is the hotel located in a safe, pleasant area where you can take your dog outside for late-night potty walks?  Be aware that most hotels do not allow owners to leave dogs unattended, since our four-legged friends can become stressed, damage property, or even injure themselves when left alone in a new location.  Are there restaurants near the hotel that offer take-out or delivery so that you can grab a bite without having to leave Fido by himself?  Are there convenience stores nearby?

In addition to hotels, research the pet policies of other sites that you plan to visit.  Don’t assume that dogs are allowed at all parks and outdoor attractions. Call ahead to confirm, so you are not disappointed during your trip, and be sure to follow leash laws.  

Most importantly, consider your dog’s health, behavior, personality, and past experiences when making travel plans:

  • Is your dog in good physical health?  If in doubt, check with your vet, and if s/he clears your pet for travel, be sure to bring along prescribed medications and supplements, along with his usual food.
  • Is your dog in good behavioral health?  Does he enjoy new experiences and new locations?  Some dogs are homebodies and need the comfort of their daily routines to be happy.  These dogs may be better off left at home with a dog-sitter.  Dogs who do not enjoy meeting new people and dogs are also not good candidates for travel.
  • How active is your dog?  While some dogs might love a busy, on-the-go schedule with long walks, swims, and other active pursuits, others are the equivalent of canine beach bums, preferring more leisurely vacations.
  • Is your dog a city or country dog?   If your dog is inexperienced with big cities, a trip to urban areas might be overwhelming for him.  On the other hand, if you’ve noticed that he loves hiking, a trip to a more rural area might be right up his alley.
  • Is your dog relaxed and comfortable when riding in the car?  If he suffers from carsickness, talk to your vet about remedies, and see how he does on short local trips before taking him on a long trip.  If your dog appears stressed or overly excited in the car (e.g. pants, paces, never lies down), you may need to spend several weeks or even months gradually getting your dog accustomed to being in the car before going on a road trip.  Your dog should also be safely restrained with a seatbelt or crate while you are driving.  If your dog already has a crate or bed at home that he regularly uses, bring that along on the trip, along with chews, food-stuffed Kongs, or other toys to keep him busy during long drives.  Remember not to leave your dog alone in the car, where he can easily overheat.
  • How are your dog's manners and basic training?  Refresh his skills before your trip: Reward him for polite greeting behavior with new people and dogs, and practice coming when called, especially if you intend on taking your pal off-leash.  Just because he comes when called in your backyard does not mean that he will come when called in a new and exciting location. 


Best wishes for a fun and safe trip!


Dr. Wan, a certified applied animal behaviorist, provides dog behavior consultations and puppy classes to Fairfield County dog owners.   She earned her doctorate and researched dog-human communication at Columbia University.

Have a dog training or behavior question?  Post your questions to Dr. Wan below, or e-mail them to AskDrWan@westportdogs.com.  Please read before submitting your question.   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

KerriAnn Hofer June 07, 2012 at 12:11 PM
thanks for the helpful travel tips! with the right preparation, your dog can be a great travel buddy :)
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB June 07, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I love the photo of your dog on the beach!
Glenn Wolff, LCSW June 15, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Thanks Michele for the helpful tips. I'll keep them in mind the next time we take our dog on a trip.
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