Traveling with dogs

If you’re among those traveling this holiday season, did you bring your dog? If not, why not? Personally, we’d rather not go anywhere without our dogs. They’re all great travelers and get excited when they see travel bags come out. But we know that not everyone, or every dog, travels well.

Pros and Cons

Reasons to bring your dog:

  • You love them and want to be with them.
  • Less stress for the dog.
  • Less expensive than boarding/hiring a dog sitter
  • Boarding/dog sitters are hard to come by these days
  • No one cares for your dog like you do
  • You don’t have to worry about your dog

Reasons to leave your dog behind:

  • Your dog hates the car/travel
  • Someone you’re visiting is afraid/allergic to dogs
  • The place you’re going doesn’t allow pets 
  • Your dog is more comfortable at home with a pet sitter
  • Your dog gets travel sickness
  • You need a break from responsibility

No judgment

It’s not anyone’s place to question your reasons for making whatever decision is right for you and your family. Traveling with dogs requires planning and isn’t for everyone. The dogs’ “baggage” may be even heftier than the humans’!

But if the choice you’re making is because your dog isn’t a good traveler, you can turn that around before your next planned getaway. Dogs can become acclimated to riding in the car. It just takes a little time and patience, just like any other dog training.

Seen from the dog’s perspective, the car may represent going scary places. If the only place your dog’s been in the car is the veterinarian’s office, the car is to “blame” for the frightening place.

Photo of two dogs travelling in a car
Booker and Tango ready to hit the road with Fran.

First steps

If you want to make inroads into your dog’s car discomfort, try just sitting in the car with your dog. Don’t even turn the car on. Just sit there, in the back seat, and pet your dog. Bring some of your dog’s favorite treats. If the dog will take treats in the car, that’s a good sign. Dogs who are fear-stricken will rarely accept a tidbit. 

If the dog is really terrified, put a comfy bed or blanket in the car when you go to sit there. Familiar, comfortable soft things will help teach there’s nothing to be scared of. If she has a favorite toy, bring that, too. Try to get her to play in the car. Or gnaw on a favorite chew toy. 

After five or so minutes, go back inside. Tell your dog how wonderful she is, even if all she did was shake for the whole time. Let her know that going in the car isn’t a punishment. The goal is getting your dog to understand that the car is just a big, noisy, smelly couch. 

Take your time

When your dog seems calmer, the next steps are to sit with the car running, then drive around the block, then longer drives, then going someplace non-threatening like a stroll in a park or forest preserve. If you see your dog becoming stressed, you can always go back to the last phase where he was still comfortable.

Car safety should be part of the familiarization. If your dog won’t accept a crate in the car, get her accustomed to being restrained. The harness seatbelt is an option. Even just sitting in the car, hook her up. As she gets used to the restricted movement, it’ll be less of a big deal when you’re actually in motion. And everyone will be safer.

Travel how you want

If you choose not to take your dog along when you travel, that’s fine. As long as it’s your option and not determined by your dog’s reluctance, or inability, to travel with you. If you need some help acclimating your dog to the car, check out our dog training tip and/or drop us a note. We’re happy to share what we know.

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