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Get Out and Go: Tips for Traveling With Dogs of All Ages

It's important to consider your dog’s life stage when you travel -- our tips cover puppies to senior dogs!

Audrey Pavia  |  Sep 4th 2015


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our June/July issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Dogs love to get out of the house. And not just for walks. They like to go places, see things, and have new experiences. If mom and dad are along, that makes the outing even better.

“Dogs are social creatures who bond with humans and, for the most part, enjoy traveling with their human companions,” said Jill Goldman, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Laguna Beach, California. “These days, it’s easy to find pet-friendly hotels. You can bring a well-mannered dog almost anywhere, even the Ritz-Carlton.”

Puppy in suitcase by Shutterstock.

Puppy in suitcase by Shutterstock.

The best way to travel with your dog is by car. Many dogs enjoy road trips, and spend time looking out the window and napping. Airplane rides are a different story — they are stressful for your dog. If your dog is small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you, it’s better. But if the only way your dog can travel on the plane is in the cargo hold, he is better off staying behind with a pet sitter.

No matter how you plan to get there, consider your dog’s life stage when you travel. Going on a trip with a puppy is much different from traveling with a full-grown dog.

Puppy

I knew I wanted to do a lot of traveling with my Corgi, Nigel, so I was anxious to start showing him the ropes when he was young. Puppies under the age of 17 weeks don’t yet have immunity to a number of potentially fatal diseases, so taking him places before then was out of the question. But, as soon as he hit that magic age, the fun began!

My husband and I started small with day trips because Nigel wasn’t reliably housetrained yet. The last thing we wanted was an accident in a hotel room. Also, he tired very easily when he was a puppy and only had the energy to go for a few hours at a time. Even though Nigel couldn’t do much because he was young, it was still important to take him on these trips.

“The more a dog sees, hears, and smells when he’s young, the more likely he’ll be comfortable around those sights, sounds, and odors when he’s older,” Goldman said. “If you want a well-behaved dog in public, you need to bring him out of the house as early and as often as you can.”

Here are some things to consider when traveling with a puppy:

Maturity: Nigel started puppy kindergarten classes when he was 14 weeks old, so he already knew basic commands and had been socialized at his classes. So by the time he started traveling, he was able to follow basic commands and look to us as his leaders. On the other hand, he was still having accidents in the house, so he had to stay in his crate when we roomed in a motel.

Before you take your puppy on a trip, decide what kind of outing he’s mature enough to handle. For most young puppies, two or three hours of being outdoors at a park, the beach, or another fun place is all they can manage without becoming completely overwhelmed and exhausted. Start with short trips and work your way up to longer ones.

Weather: Extreme weather is no time to take an outdoor trip with a puppy. If it’s hot, your puppy could easily get heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Cold is less of an issue unless it’s really frigid, or your dog’s breed or mix is less tolerant of cold temps — and then you won’t want to be out in it either.

Immunity: Puppies are at risk for catching a number of illnesses, even if they have been vaccinated. If your puppy hasn’t yet had his final set of shots, postpone taking him on a trip until he’s fully immunized. Puppies can easily pick up a parasite called giardia from drinking contaminated water. If you’re planning to take your pup out where he might come in contact with untreated water, talk to your vet about a giardia vaccine. The gastrointestinal upset that giardia can wreak on a puppy can be life-threatening.

Almost grown

My friend, Michelle, got her Corgi, Bandit, when he was 5 months old. By the time he was 9 months old, she was taking him on camping trips with her boyfriend. Bandit loved to travel up to the mountains. Michelle said he would run around the campgrounds chasing bugs and having a grand old time, and then crash in her sleeping bag once the lights went out.

Dogs between 6 and 18 months are at a ripe age for travel. They are young and full of energy and anxious to have new adventures. If you want to travel with your dog, this is a great age to start. Get her used to the routine of travel so by the time she’s full grown, she has a handle on it.

Here are some considerations for traveling with an almost-grown dog:

Good manners: Dogs in this age group can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a handful if they aren’t trained. Before you take your young dog on an overnight trip, invest in training. A basic obedience class is the best way to go. He will learn to sit, stay, come, lie down, and walk nicely on a leash. These are mandatory behaviors for any dog you want to take out in public.

Housetraining: Your young dog is probably housetrained by now, but before you take him to a motel or a friend’s house overnight, be sure he’s reliable. Even if he is perfect about going to the bathroom outside when he’s home, he may have a relapse when you take him on a trip. Give him lots of bathroom breaks to avoid having an accident indoors.

Fully grown

If your dog is full grown, she’s at the best age for going on trips. If you have socialized her well and given her some training, she will make a great traveling buddy. My friend, Lisa, takes her Rat Terrier, Olivia, on weekend trips to a cabin in the mountains, and Olivia loves it. They hike, play in the snow, and lounge around watching movies at night. It’s great for Olivia to get out of the house and hit the mountain trails, where she can keep an eye out for chipmunks and chase after butterflies.

When traveling with your adult dog, keep these pointers in mind:

Diet: You can change your dog’s environment when you travel, but don’t change his food. If you do, you might have to add dealing with diarrhea to your adventures. My parents once took their Pomeranian, Minette, with them on a weekend trip to visit me. They forgot to bring Minette’s food and just gave her the kibble I had in the cabinet for my dog. The result was a Pomeranian with intestinal upset and two unhappy owners.

Preferences: You might be the one planning the trip, but your dog has opinions about what you’ll be doing. Think about your dog when you are making your itinerary. If your dog likes water, try to carve out time on your trip for a romp at the beach or a swim in a lake. If he loves to walk, work in a hike or a foot tour around the city. If he likes to hang out in restaurants, scope out some dog-friendly eateries. Many have menus just for dogs!

Old but not out

Traveling with a senior dog can be just as rewarding as going on a trip with a younger canine — assuming your older dog is up for the adventure. If your dog is in good health, feel free to take him along on vacations or weekend trips. When Nigel was in his senior years, he was still as excited about travel as ever. We took him to the California coastal town of Carmel during the summer of his 11th year, and he had a blast. He chased a ball on the beach, walked happily through town, and slept soundly on the comfy dog guest bed in our pet-friendly hotel room.

Senior Great Dane by Shutterstock.

Senior Great Dane by Shutterstock.

To make sure your older dog enjoys his outings, consider these factors:

Pace: Older dogs don’t usually have the same amount of stamina as they did when they were young. While your senior may still want to go on a hike, he may not be able to go as fast and as far as he once did. He will also be less likely to tolerate heat and humidity.

Joints: Many senior dogs suffer from arthritis, but that doesn’t mean they can’t travel. If your dog is arthritic, your veterinarian can give him medication to help with the pain. Movement is good for arthritic joints, and an easy trip with plenty of chances to rest can be great for an older dog. Bring along an orthopedic dog bed to help with his stiff joints.

Potty breaks: Some older dogs can’t hold it as long as they did when they were young. Your senior dog will need frequent potty breaks to avoid having an accident in a motel room or at a friend’s home.

Traveling with your dog is a fantastic way to deepen the bond between you. Your dog will appreciate the change of pace, and you’ll discover that having a dog along makes a great trip even better.

Read more on traveling with your dog: 

About the author: An award-winning professional writer and editor, Audrey Pavia is a former managing editor of DOG FANCY magazine, former interim editor of Dog World magazine, and former senior editor of the AKC Gazette. A member of the Dog Writers’ Association of America, she has authored seven books on dogs, including Having Fun with Your Dog (ASPCA Kids) and The Labrador Retriever Handbook, 2nd Edition. Audrey has also written extensively on horses, as well as other pets. She shares her home in Norco, California, with a rescue dog named Candy.