Travel Tips: Prep for a Joyful Road Trip with Your Dog

Summer is here – 7 Tips for Safer Travel

With summer here, you may be thinking about taking your dog on some new adventures out of town. You could have an unforgettable experience – but hopefully not for the wrong reasons! Here are some easy things you can do to make road trips with your dog a success.

Black tri-color dog posing on a small rock in front of El Capitan.

Joy in front of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.

My dog Joy loves to travel because I’ve helped her love it, all her life. Even when she was a puppy, we went many places to have fun, make friends, and train together with lots of play and rewards. Recently, I made a plan to go on an extended trip in my trailer and even though I knew Joy had a great history with travel, I wanted her to feel completely comfortable and set her up to be as safe as possible. Here are 7 things I did to help her get ready for our cross-country adventure. Much of what you’ll see here applies to having a great and safe trip with your dog, whether you travel in an RV or a car and whether you are going a short distance or a long way.

  1. Vet Consultation. I took Joy to our favorite vet who was happy to ensure she was up to date on all her vaccinations. I asked about diseases and parasites that we don’t see much of in Oregon, like Lyme and Heartworm. Together we worked out a plan to prevent Joy from catching these and other potential diseases and parasites as we travel to other states. While we were there, I had them scan her microchip and was horrified to discover that I’d forgotten to update the information! I remedied that immediately. I also had a senior dog bloodwork panel done, just to be sure she’s healthy enough for the rigors of the trip. Other than the microchip blunder on my part, all was well.
  2. Truck Safety. I used a familiar and sturdy airline crate that Joy has traveled in previously. We did some reminder sessions for her “Crate” cue, and practiced her having a long-lasting chew inside the crate with the door closed. I secured the crate inside my truck’s crew cab so that her ride is not wobbly and that should we have to stop quickly, she won’t slide around. We also refreshed waiting at her crate door and the truck door before she’s allowed to exit.

    Joy waiting at the trailer door.

    An automatic “Wait” at camper and car doors helps keep your dog safe!

  3. Trailer Training. Before we moved into the trailer full-time, Joy and I did some day-time practice sessions, hanging out together in the trailer while I worked and she enjoyed a food puzzle or packed Kong. We practiced a cue for her to ascend or descend the steps. We practiced a default wait at the door – don’t come out unless you are called – all things that we have been able to translate from good manners at home. If your dog doesn’t already have these skills, work on them yourself or with a pro trainer. Be sure it’s fun for both you and the dog. There should not be any punishment during the practice, so that your dog enjoys the process and maintains her positive associations with your vehicle and you.
  4. Practice Separation. Since Joy and I spend so much time together already, I thought it would be good for her to go through a gradual process of learning to be alone in the trailer. We started after our day-training hang out sessions with me getting up, going to the door, going outside, closing it and immediately opening it again to come back inside. We gradually lengthened the time. Small steps are best for this; some dogs are really stressed by being in an unfamiliar place without their people… which is why the next step can also really help.
  5. Driveway Camping. You may find that your dog appreciates a couple practice sessions sleeping in a new place. This is better done in the driveway, in case you learn your pet needs their favorite toy in the middle of the night, or just a quick trip to the familiar backyard before settling in for the night. For Joy, after several nights in the trailer, she started seeing it as a comfortable and familiar place to settle in quickly. I was happy to see her relax!
  6. Practice Driving. Once your pet is really comfortable with your vehicle and their crate or restraint, it’s time to hit the road. Joy is a well-seasoned traveler, so once again, I didn’t worry too much about the motion. However, for some pets, simply starting the engine and immediately turning it off is enough for the first session. For animals with a good car-travel history, the process can go much more quickly; try taking a trip around the block and then letting them out for a fun play session when you arrive home again. Gradually increase short rides and always check that your pet is enjoying the experience. If they are not, start over.

    Catherine and Joy smiling together

    Catherine & Joy; Happy Campers!

  7. Shake-down Trip. It’s a good idea to take a weekend adventure, close to home, before you set out on a long road trip. RV’ers call this a “shake-down cruise” and it’s great to find out what else you need, what’s likely to break, what you forgot to check and to practicing towing and parking. It’s also wonderful for your pet. Our shake-down trip was over the fourth of July weekend and served a double purpose; Joy’s terrified of fireworks and I wanted to get her far from town. We ended up camping at a few Harvest Host vineyards and had a lovely, quiet adventure together. It was during that trip I knew we’d love going out for long adventures together on the road.

And I was right! Joy is a pleasure to travel with, and because of the training and prep work we’ve done, I know she’s safe and happy to keep going. May these tips serve you well in all your upcoming travel adventures with your dog. Have a great summer!

2 Responses to Travel Tips: Prep for a Joyful Road Trip with Your Dog

  1. Amelia Hansen says:

    In my country, summer has just begun, so I was planning a trip with my dog, but didn’t know how to start. After reading your blog, I have many ideas for trips for my dog. Thank you! I really appreciate your efforts.

    • Catherine Comden says:

      Hi Amelia, We’re so glad to help – sorry for our delay in responding… hope you have had happy travels!

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