The pandemic introduced families around the world to remote schooling, face masks, and—in many cases—pets.
In the U.S. alone, half a million dogs were adopted from shelters in 2020, according to data company PetPoint. Pooches have given people a dose of joy and companionship in strange, lonely times.
But with the world opening up again, now we have to figure out what to do with dogs when we want to do things like…leave the house. Are you a first-time dog owner who’s wondering how to take them on vacation? We tapped some experts to give you the 101.
Is This Even a Good Idea?
The first question to ask is whether your pet should come along on your adventure at all.
Dr. Brian Borquin, the Cornell-educated founder of the Boston Veterinary Clinic, says it’s not always the best idea—dogs are creatures of habit, most comfortable in familiar environments.
That’s especially true in the first few months of ownership, when Borquin recommends staying home. “That is such a vital stage of adjusting for both of you,” he said. “Continuity is so important for training and reducing anxiety.”
To help with the decision, get an honest opinion from someone who knows your dog (but isn’t you), like your vet, trainer, or a family member who has cared for your dog. “Ask them to give you an honest assessment of how your dog may travel,” he said, “or how they’ve been when you’ve left them under their watch.”
It’s also ok to leave your pet at home for the sake of convenience. If you’re visiting a city, it might be hard to give a high-energy dog enough exercise. On an active trip, like skiing, you’ll likely be leaving your pet alone in a new environment for hours at a time.
Better to leave them with a friend or relative, Borquin said. “They can stay in their comfort zone and you can enjoy a stress-free vacation.”
Do a Test Ride
Don’t start with an extended road trip—not least because dogs are pretty prone to motion sickness, Borquin said. (Medicine is available if yours falls into that category.)
Take a couple of quick jaunts before embarking on any journey longer than two hours. And before you leave, plan ahead to include pit stops at safe, grassy areas. Apps such as Bring Fido can help you scout out dog-friendly parks, hotels, and other spots when planning a trip.
“When you need to stop and stretch your legs, they do too,” Borquin said.
Another important factor to consider for a car trip is safety. “Just like people, pets can be thrown from a car in an accident,” he said. Work with your vet to identify a doggy seatbelt or other option that works for your breed and family.
What about accidents on the road? You’ll want to bring the same basic cleaning essentials as for kids—paper towels, cleansing wipes—and possibly a pet deodorizer to minimize odor. If you have a younger dog, pee pads are a good idea too, Borquin said.
Find Pet-Friendly Lodging
One of the biggest challenges for travelers with furry friends is finding lodging where everyone is welcome. Just a third of Airbnbs are pet-friendly, says the Washington Post. Many hotels and resorts—understandably—ban pets, who can make noise, damage furniture, stain rugs, scatter fur, trigger allergies and more.
But many big-companies do welcome dogs. Marriott says it has 1,500 pet-friendly hotels in the U.S. My lab, Molly, and I have found Kimpton to be super welcoming, offering beds, treats, and even dog-walking services (on request). Nick Gregory, senior vice president of operations at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, said every property in the portfolio is open to animals, from hedgehogs to penguins. “If it fits through the front door, it’s welcome,” he said
Kimpton doesn’t charge for pet stays, but other hotels do—as much as $100 per day. When booking, mention your dog on the reservation and ask for the hotel’s rules and pet policies: you don’t want to be surprised by fees or size restrictions. The information should be on the hotel’s website, but it doesn’t hurt to call if you have specific questions.
Vacation rentals can be a little easier; they often provide more space, and in some cases, yards. But read the fine print. Some only allow pets of certain sizes or breeds, and may charge outsized fees.
There’s also a difference between “pet-friendly” and pet-safe, Borquin said. Older dogs may have trouble with stairs. Open pools, unfenced yards, and busy streets can put pooches at risk, as well as kids.
Flying with Dogs
This is a tricky one, and some experts say flying with your dog should be a last resort. Not all airlines allow pets, and those that do all have different rules regarding size, breed, paperwork, and whether they’re allowed in the main cabin or must fly in the hold.
Borquin warns against the last option. “Think of the condition of your luggage and how it comes out in baggage claim; no pet should ever experience that kind of treatment,” he said. Flying in a cargo hold can be traumatizing for an animal, and trigger anxiety, anger, and noise phobias.
Explore what’s available, but if it’s too complicated or hazardous, leave your fur baby at home. “A real vacation doesn’t always include the family pet” said the vet.
Bring All the Gear
Don’t forget the pet essentials, including food, water, any medicine they may be on, a toy, and (if possible) a bed. Pack a leash—and maybe an extra in case you lose or break one.
Borquin recommends bringing something familiar for your pet, such as a blanket or some bedding. While you can buy supplies on the road, he start with a few days’ worth of your own items—and remember that your usual pet food brand may not be available.
The vet provides clients with a travel first aid kit that includes tick tweezers, bandage material, a thermometer, and alcohol towelettes. You can buy or create your own kit—just stock it with pet-specific products like Vet Wrap, a bandage that won’t stick to fur.
You carry your driver’s license or passport when traveling, and you should bring your pet’s documents, too. “Always have your pet’s rabies certificate on hand while traveling both interstate and internationally,” Borquin said. In an emergency, you may need to board your pet or use daycare, so keep a list of vaccinations and their medical file on hand.
Owning a dog can feel like having another kid—and that goes double on the road. But it is possible to plan a safe, fun trip for everyone in the family. Your pet may even come to love traveling as much as you do.