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Now that it’s summer (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), a lot of people are planning road trips and vacations. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic happening, it still may be possible to go on a vacation – such as a camping trip to a state park or renting a house at a nearby beach for the week. Are you planning on traveling with your dog? There are many places in the U.S. that are very dog-friendly and make it easy for you to bring them along. Planning a vacation with a high-energy dog, like a vizsla, takes some extra considerations to make sure that everyone has a good time. We’ve taken multiple road trips with Zara and Colombo and have learned some lessons along the way.
Traveling with a dog requires you to make a more detailed itinerary than if you were just traveling as a family or with friends. First off, you need to make sure that the town or city you are planning to go to is indeed dog-friendly. You want to find a place that has dog-friendly accommodations, restaurants with outdoor patios that allow dogs, and walking trails or parks that you can take your dog. With a dog like a vizsla, you’ll definitely need a place for your dog to run. This could include dog parks, hiking trails, or dog-friendly beaches. Check the leash laws where you are going. Beaches tend to have posted rules about which times of year and which hours dogs are allowed on the beach and whether or not they can be under voice command.
In August 2017, my husband and I took Zara and Colombo (who was only four months old at the time) on an 11-day road trip from North Carolina to Maine. When planning out this trip, I knew I needed to find places for Zara to run off-leash. I made sure that she would have at least one opportunity to run around per day. We stayed at friends’ houses for a few nights, so I knew I could have her off-leash in their yards. We also went to several dog-friendly beaches and an off-leash friendly hiking area in Acadia National Park. We went to two campgrounds, and I made sure that both of those had dog parks. Although we don’t typically go to dog parks (not a good idea with an intact male and a middle-aged female who likes to snap at puppies), you can usually find a time at little private parks when they’re completely empty.
Another trick I use is to locate unfenced dog parks/runs in new cities. In general, I’ve found that the dogs we encounter at unfenced dog parks are MUCH better behaved than the ones at regular dog parks. If you’re going to have your dog off-leash at a park that’s next to a road (which many of them are), you better be sure your dog is well-trained. The owners also tend to be keeping watch better than the typical dog park crowd.
Places to Stay
In regards to accommodations, all Kimpton hotels allow dogs and do not charge a fee or have any weight restrictions. La Quinta hotels used to be the same way, but after being bought by Wyndham, they have started to implement fees and restrictions at some locations. But for the most part, they are another one of the most dog-friendly hotel chains and their prices are usually quite reasonable. Other hotel chains may allow dogs, but make sure you review the weight limits and fees. Some Airbnb houses allow dogs – just check the “Pets Allowed” filter when you are searching. We’ve stayed in several Airbnb places with both dogs. In Charleston, South Carolina, the house we rented even had a pool that the dogs were allowed to go in! And campgrounds are often great places, too.
Zara and Colombo enjoy the La Quinta hotel in Richmond, VA.
In Charleston, South Carolina, we stayed in a dog-friendly Airbnb house that had its own pool!
Depending on your dog and where you are staying, you may or may not want to leave them alone at some point in the day. If leaving them alone is not an option, then you’ll need to find other dog-friendly attractions that you can bring them to. This might be the case if you are tent camping – you can’t leave your dog in a flimsy tent and expect them to stay there for several hours. Is there a shopping strip with dog-friendly stores? If you want to take a boat tour, can they go along? Can they visit the local arboretum or nature center?
When we took our road trip to Maine, one of the towns we stayed in was Kennebunkport. The town had a trolley museum with old streetcars and trolleys from cities all over the U.S. The inside of the museum was dog-friendly, and dogs could even ride on the streetcars that drove around the property on a track! Many places have unique places like this that you can visit with your dog – it just takes a little detective work to find them.
Of course, in order to be able to take your dog to places like this, you need to make sure they are well-socialized and friendly with strangers, dogs, and new sights and sounds. You may want to do a short road trip and stay overnight in a hotel or similar place in preparation for a longer trip to make sure they will handle the change well. Taking your high-energy dog to dog-friendly attractions is a good way to have them tired out by the end of the day, but you probably want to run them beforehand so that they are not amped up when they need to be calmly walking on a leash beside a bunch of strangers.
Zara and baby Colombo at the dog-friendly streetcar museum in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Items to Pack
As you get ready to leave on your trip, there are several items that you may want to consider bringing for your dog. Obviously you will need the essentials such as a collar with ID, a leash, food, treats, a portable water bowl, bedding/travel crate, any prescription medicines, and a few toys or chews.
A Blanket or Mat
When sitting outside at restaurants with your dog, it can be helpful to bring a mat, towel, or blanket for your dog to lay on. My dogs (Zara especially) do not like hard surfaces, plus it gives them a defined area as their “place.” I’ve found it’s also a good idea to bring a pig ear, bully stick, or other chew toy/treat. Whenever we eat out at a restaurant, I bring a treat like this along for my dogs, which they get soon after we sit down. Although the treat doesn’t typically last more than 15 minutes, I find that it gives them something to do and quickly settles them down.
Treats and Chews
Treats or chews can also be useful to have in the car, especially if you have a long drive or are traveling with a puppy. Depending if your dog is crated or in the backseat, you could practice tricks and obedience on a long car trip if someone else is driving. Commands like sit, down, shake, high-five, leave it, and speak are all possible in the confines of a car. During our long road trip from North Carolina to Maine, I filled a good hour slowly doling out treats to four-month-old Colombo after he started to get antsy in the backseat.
A dog-specific first-aid kit is a good idea no matter where you are going. You never know this might come in handy, especially with hard-running bird dogs, who are prone to crashing through briars and acquiring paw and ear injuries. Benadryl is a good medicine to include in your first aid kit for insect stings. The standard dosage is 1mg per pound of body weight. Typically Benadryl comes in 25 mg tablets, so you would need two tablets for a 50-lb dog.
Sometimes dogs get an upset stomach or diarrhea when traveling due to the change in routine or other factors. Slippery elm bark is an herb that can be used to help stop diarrhea. It can be purchased in powder form in stores like Whole Foods or online. The dosage is a quarter teaspoon per 10 lbs of body weight mixed into cold water.
Lastly, after doing several road trips with two dogs, I’ve found it very helpful to have an easily accessible “dog bag” that contains all their items. I actually purchased a small duffel bag to serve this purpose. It opens at the top and the main compartment is split into two by a divider. There are zippered side pockets for smaller items, and a two mesh pockets which are great for poop bags. The bag I have is made by Overland Dog Gear.
You should plan to take along copies of their vaccination records on your vacation. Take a look at the area you are going and see if you need to vaccinate them for anything additional. For example, Lyme disease and Leptospirosis are more common in some areas than others. If you are planning on driving to Canada or Mexico, take a look at the requirements these countries have. On our vacation in 2017, we were originally planning on driving to Montreal, Canada from Maine with both dogs. However, Colombo was only four months old and had just received his rabies vaccine right before we left. He would have been fine to enter Canada, but he would not have been able to reenter the United States unless he had had his rabies vaccine for a minimum of 30 days. Needless to say, we did not travel to Montreal. I’m glad we looked up that information before we went!
Raw Food Considerations
Since I feed my dogs a raw diet, I’m including this section because traveling with raw food requires a little more planning than throwing a bag of kibble in the car. It is definitely still possible to take a road trip with your dogs and feed raw. For trips where we are driving to a single destination and staying there, I will either prep and pack all their meals ahead of time in a cooler and bring it along. Once we get to the destination, I’ll put it in the refridgerator/freezer. Since I have two dogs, this only works for a week or less. Another option I have done is buy premade raw frozen patties (such as Stella & Chewy’s or Steve’s Real Food) from a local pet store when I get to the destination. If I go this route, I always call ahead of time and have them reserve the food for me.
Sometimes we stay at hotels that have tiny fridges in the rooms and will not fit all of the dogs’ food. If that is the case, I ask the front desk employee if we can store the food in the hotel’s refridgerator and/or freezer. I have done this at multiple Kimpton hotels in the DC area and the staff has been very accommodating. One time, they actually sent an additional mini-fridge up to our room!
Camping with raw food is a little trickier. For a two or three-day camping trip, freezing the food ahead of time and putting it in a well-packed cooler with ice should be sufficient. For longer periods, freeze-dried or dehydrated raw is an option.
Colombo poses with the dog travel bag.
Traveling in the Car
When your dog is riding in the car, it is safest for them to be crated. Even if you don’t get in an accident, a crate prevents your dog from distracting the driver. There are multiple companies that make solid crates for travel: Dakota283, Gunner, Ruffland, and Variocage are several to check out. Some of these are more affordable than others. However, even a wire or plastic crate is better than having your dog loose.
Depending on the size and configuration of your vehicle, crating your dog may not be possible. In that case, a crash-tested dog harness attached to the seatbelt is the next best thing. Sleepypod and Ruffwear make harnesses that fit this criteria.
In my Honda Fit, I currently have two crates: a medium-sized Dakota283 for Zara and an extra-large Petmate plastic crate for Colombo. When we travel in Chris’ Jeep, I put Colombo’s crate in his car and Zara wears her Ruffwear car harness. I bought a Sleepypod harness for Colombo a while ago, but he never seemed comfortable wearing it. He was also very anxious in the car – he would never sit or lay down for long periods. Now he is always crated on long trips and he is much more comfortable.
Zara wears a Ruffwear Load Up harness on road trips when she is not crated.
Colombo is much more comfortable riding in a crate in the car.
Traveling with your dog can be very enjoyable and is sometimes easier than leaving them at home with a pet sitter. Doing some research ahead of time will make your vacation go a lot smoother.
I hope these tips are useful when you go on a trip with your high-energy dog. Are you planning a trip in the near future? Let me know in the comments.