Prep to Road Trip with Your Dog
The pre-trip planning (or lack thereof) can sometimes make or break a vacation. For instance, the first trip I ever went on by myself was a long weekend trip to Cape Cod when I was 18 years old. In my head, it was all set to be a great trip. I had a room at a cute little B&B and I had successfully planned my departure drive to not hit any traffic.
That was where the planning stopped though. I hadn’t looked at what to do or places to go before leaving because it was off season so I thought I wasn’t in jeopardy of everything being booked. What I didn’t consider was that nothing was even open yet.
When preparing to road trip with a dog, it’s even more important to have your plan mapped out. A solid strategy can keep you safe and your travels hassle-free while preventing the dreaded monkey wrench in your trip.
Based on my pre-trip research and experience traveling with Loki, I created a list of the top 6 To-Dos before leaving on a road trip with your dog.
1. Proper Training
First and foremost, which I cannot stress enough, is that you want to have proper training for your dog. In particular, your dog needs to be good at sit, come, and heal. Those are the essentials to traveling with your dog.
Sit is vital because your dog needs to sit (stay) in the car at times when you have doors open and it’s important that they listen. You may be on the side of the highway with a flat rummaging in your car for items and they can’t jump out.
Come is similar. If a dog is getting aggressive in a dog park, or a mountain biker is coming down a trail and your dog’s off leash, your dog will need to respond to your command immediately so they don’t get injured or injure someone else.
Lastly, heal is on the list because they need to be under control on the leash. If they are out of control in a crowd someone can get tripped up by their leash, or they can pull away from you.
Your dog may be great at some of these already which is a good start, but these three are what I consider to be the foundation and made traveling with Loki a lot more fun while also giving me peace of mind.
2. Mini Trips
When you have a good handle on training, it’s time to take a few car rides or trial runs if your dog hasn’t done a long trip before. It can be a weekend trip to visit family or a mini vacation to a hiking area. Any tricks you can think of to get them used to riding in a car and sleeping in new and different places.
This is also a great time to work kinks out of traveling with a dog. If you find your dog is nervous in the car, starting out with short trips while giving them treats may help them to get used to the trips and even like car rides. Or if you find your dog is skittish in new places, then it can be a good trial to see if there are ways your dog can become more comfortable with staying in new places.
Loki was afraid of being in new places. For him, he thought new places meant me leaving him. I learned this on a mini trip to go visit my family that lived 3 hours away. He loved the car ride but as soon as we got there he started freaking out thinking I was going to abandon him.
Based on how he acted there I adjusted my plans for when we went into or left hotels. I would bring in all the bags leaving him in the safe space of the car and bring him in last and did the reverse when leaving. It made the trip way more fun for both of us and each day he was excited to start our new adventure.
3. Vet Visits
The next to-do that is an important pre-trip step is a vet visit. I made sure that Loki was up to date on all his vaccines, had him checked to make sure he wasn’t sick, didn’t have fleas, or anything else that could pop up while we were traveling.
As an added bonus, when you’re there ask your vet to provide you with your dog’s most recent vaccine records and a copy of your dog’s rabies certificate. If you can, have them emailed as PDFs or printed hard copies so that if find you need them along the way you are prepared. You never know what you’ll find on your drive.
When I was in Sacramento, I was amazed to find there was a dog swimming pool that was essentially a dog pool party with toys and lots of splashing. They even had doggie ice cream for sale! All you needed was the vaccine records and $10 for hours of doggie fun. If I didn’t have my records on my phone Loki wouldn’t have ever had the fun of playing in a giant dog pool.
4. Update ID Tag
Along with the updated rabies tag you’d likely get from the vet you’ll want to update your dog’s regular ID tag, if that also needs to be updated.
It would be great if training was all you needed but sometimes unexpected events happen and your dog runs off. In these rare cases, it’s good to have a collar with an up to date ID tag. In addition to this, many states require you to have a current rabies tag on your dog at all times.
If you happen to be like me and hate the sound of metal on metal you can get the rubber ID tag guard to create a buffer or carry the rabies tag in your car so you have access to it in your travels.
As a secondary measure, it’s a good idea to have a Microchip as a backup plan in case training falls through and your dog loses his collar. It’s also a great way to prevent your dog from being stolen. I got Loki HomeAgain through Banfield Pet Hospital. If your dog isn’t easily startled it may not be as necessary but for skittish dogs who bolt it can be a lifesaver.
Loki is a bolter when startled even by insignificant noises but luckily he always runs home to the front door so I don’t have to worry about it when I’m taking him out for a quick walk. When traveling across the country through I wanted to make sure that if he was spooked, slipped his collar and bolted that he could be found with the added security of HomeAgain.
6. Tune up
Last but not least, you want to get your car it’s full-service tune-up. Even after getting my tune-up, I had to get my tires checked and my oil changed when I arrived and ideally, should have gotten my oil changed part way through my trip but was stubborn and didn’t make time for it.
Don’t just get a 4 point check, get the full car assessment and replace what needs to be replaced and if the trip is longer then talk to your mechanic about how many miles you’ll be driving and if there will be anything else that should be replaced before leaving.
The other option would be to stop on the way but if you’re traveling with a loaded trunk it may expose you to having items stolen. In addition, you’ll likely have a dog in tow (unless you’re visiting family or friends) making it much more difficult to get around while waiting for the car. As an added difficulty, many car service stations don’t allow dogs in the waiting area. Plan accordingly for what you’re willing to do.
As always, there are other pre-trip items and plans you should make but these are the top, most important items. They are big items because planning a road trip with your dog is not as simple as hopping in your car with your dog and driving away. It takes some understanding of where you’re going, what you need and being prepared for the worst.
These 6 pre-trip tasks will help you to have fun with your dog no matter where you go or what incidents happen along the way. The worse thing in my mind for a trip is to not be prepared and be spending time cleaning up messes rather than having fun and this list will keep the good times rolling while you’re roving with rover.