You love your dog—this is an irrefutable fact. But you also love holidays, and hiring a pet sitter isn't always possible. And what if you need to move to the other side of the country with your family in tow? Your fur baby will require some prep and accommodations to ensure the long-distance journey isn't as stressful as it could be for everyone involved.
Your vet knows your dog's medical history and is an expert resource for optimal methods to keep it calm, whether that's via natural products or an OTC medication. Tried and tested sprays with pheromones smell like a nursing dog mama and could work for your lil' buddy's anxiety. Swaddling ThunderShirts are another option for stress relief. Don't forget to ask your vet for motion sickness meds, just in case.
Unlike young kids, your dog can't yell, 'are we there yet?' every fifteen minutes. But they get restless, too, and need activity packs of their own while music, podcasts, and audiobooks keep you going. Puzzle toys provide enrichment, and chew toys can keep dogs occupied for ages.
Before the journey, show your dog that a crate is a safe space for a few weeks. Feed them meals inside the crate with the door open before transitioning to a closed door. Gradually increase the time your dog spends in the crate, and don't go over three hours without releasing it to go potty or play.
Depending on your mode of transport, you'll need to get your dog used to unusual stimuli, for example, being around strangers or more people than they often see. They might also need to acclimate to the loud sounds of a dog-friendly RV park, an airplane, or a storm. Desensitization involves exposing your dog to the triggers at low volumes and slowly increasing the volume over multiple sessions.
Airlines differ in their policies and consider various factors such as age, breed, health, and size of dogs. Dogs and cats generally have to be at least two months old, and they need a vet certificate to get the green light. Flat-faced animals are more likely to die if flying checked or in cargo. So, they're allowed in the cabin in carriers that count as your carry-on luggage for a fee. Your canine bestie should be able to comfortably stand and turn around in its portable box as it's not allowed on your lap. And if your dog's a large breed, you may be out of luck even if they're crate trained for the hold. There are also absorbent padding requirements and rules about what you can place in the kennel.
Dogs can't go potty on a plane, so you'll need to limit how much you feed your pup before the flight and steer clear of food two hours before boarding. Hydration is essential for flights longer than four hours, and you'll have to fasten the water bowl to the crate securely. Airports usually have areas for animals to relieve themselves, so enquire about the location beforehand to prevent a mad rush on the day.
It might seem like an easy solution to the stress of traveling, but airlines will turn your dog away if it's tranquilized. Animals in the hold experience turbulence, for example, and can get injured if they're not awake and balancing themselves. Sedation also ups the risk for heart and respiratory issues.
First things first—does your dog enjoy being in the car and driving around with you? If the answer is yes, yay! Your precious pooch is welcome at the likes of Black Canyon National Park, which isn't the case with all national parks. Get a floor and seat protector, a cheap dog bed, something soft and padded for your dog to lay on outside the vehicle, and a 20-foot leash for exploration. Pack towels, toys, poop scoops, a first aid kit, food and water, and home comforts. Map out places along your route for your dog to stretch its legs, and aim for a pause every two hours. Some camper van companies allow pets to join the fun, so do your research.
For the safety of all passengers and vehicles, keep your dog restrained. It should be in a carrier or strapped in with a doggy seatbelt on the back seat. Dogs that stick their heads out windows can be injured, and confined dogs prevent crash-causing distractions. Feed your dog at stops, not while you're on the move, and never leave it alone in a parked vehicle, even for a short trip inside a grocery store.
Lastly, breathe. Every year, two million animals fly across the country. Fido will be fine whether you need to put him on a plane or in a camper van, and you'll be fine too if you give yourself enough time to create a checklist and work your way down it.
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