This entry is a part of a series. Check out the rest of the Road Trip Survival Guide for more valuable information.
You can’t find a better travel companion than a dog. I know not every dog is built for road trips. Every breed and every dog is a little different. But I could not have done better than with Remy. She kept me company and staved off loneliness. Her excitement and enthusiasm for all the new things she experienced was a constant source of joy. She never talked back, whined, or demanded potty breaks every 50 miles like some of my human passengers do. She was a cuddle buddy, and we bonded – really tight – in a way that we hadn’t before.
But as awesome as dogs are, they bring a unique set of responsibilities and challenges when you bring them on the road with you. So let’s discuss some ways to keep our fuzzy companions safe, healthy, and comfortable. But before we continue, please review the scopes and perspectives that I’ll be addressing each of the questions presented in the Road Trip Survival Guide.
Man’s Best Friend, Indeed!
We’ve all been told some pretty big lies growing up. Santa Claus is real. Marijuana is dangerous. You have to go to college. Dogs are man’s best friend.
I mean, you would think so, wouldn’t you? Dogs are lovable, loyal, and cute. What’s not to love? But when you become the owner of a dog, you quickly realize that your dog isn’t welcome anywhere. They’re not allowed on trains, they’re not allowed on planes. They’re not allowed in stores or salesroom floors. Most parks prohibit them and those that permit them throw dozens of regulations on you to discourage their use.
All right, maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic. But there is a lot of truth to this. How often are we forced to leave our canine friends at home because we’re going somewhere they’re not allowed to go? The truth is, a lot of people regard dogs as filthy scoundrels. And a great many more feel that way about any dog that isn’t their dog. And while many people love dogs and can’t get enough of them, rules and laws are in place to appease the miserable cynophobes.
This can present some very serious obstacles on the road because you don’t have a heated or air conditioned home to leave your four-legged friend in. If you are forced to leave them behind, that may mean leaving them behind in a vehicle, tethered outside, or alone at a campsite.
Service & Support Dogs
Anytime I complain that dogs are not allowed anywhere, I get the same response: “turn her into a service or support dog.” Interestingly, I always seem to get this advice from people who do not have service animals of their own. Methinks they don’t know what they’re talking about. But in their defense, neither do I.
I object to this idea. I’m not going to con a doctor to manufacture some bullshit excuse for why I need a service or support dog. Nor am I willing to put Remy through the training necessary to turn her into such a dog. Remy has – at 3 years old – grown into a perfect dog for me. I don’t want to ruin that by changing the dynamics of our relationship. Besides, it’s not her job to serve me. It’s my job to take care of her.
So I’ve never bothered to look up the requirements to turn a pet into a service or support animal. As a matter of principle, I’m not interested in going down that route. Nor am I willing to bother with the research for purposes of this entry. People who actually need service or support dogs can get much better information elsewhere. Despite my ignorance of the process, I’m pretty sure it’s much more involved and difficult than my friends would like me to think it is. One friend claimed it only cost $5 and two hours of training. I might not know that she’s wrong, but I’m pretty confident she is.
The simplest way to care for a dog on the road is to have more than one human in the car. Having two or more people doesn’t solve all of your problems. However, it’s much easier to run errands, shop for provisions, and check out attractions if one person can stay behind with the dog. They can give the dog exercise or – at least – take it out of a hot vehicle.
Leaving Dogs in Cars
If it’s just you and the pooch, then there will be times on the road when you have to leave them behind in the vehicle. If the weather is mild enough, then you really have nothing to worry about. Just keep in mind that vehicles act as greenhouses and become much warmer than the ambient temperature if the sun is out. So here are some tips when leaving animals alone in vehicles.
- Park in a shady spot.
- Crack open a window. Even in mild weather, you should leave at least an inch gap open so that any heat generated by the sun can escape and be replaced by cooler air. If there’s a good breeze, crack open windows on either side of the car to improve circulation.
- In cooler weather, have blankets for your dog to curl up in.
- Keep your visits brief. The length of time you can leave your dog unattended in a vehicle will depend on weather. But in general, try to keep your excursions away from your dog to less than 15 or 30 minutes.
- Always leave water in a dish for them to drink.
Cooped Up in Small Spaces
One of the reasons I bought a conversion van was to give Remy a little more room to move around during our long days on the road. When the van died on day #2, I was deeply concerned that we would be too crammed in my pickup truck. In fact, even with the conversion van, I was still a little worried.
But we had both been training for the North American Road Trip. Throughout 2016, I subjected her and I both to longer and longer trips. I used to be paranoid that her tiny bladder could only last a couple hours. But she had to be kept indoors for longer periods of time out of necessity, and I learned that she actually has great control. In fact, she hated going potty in Motel 6 parking lots, so there was a period of over 36 hours during which I know she didn’t go at all. And as she has grown older, her puppy energy has given way to more and more hours of sleep. Our last trip back to Ottawa was the final test before the North American Road Trip. It was a long weekend trip, and Remy handled it like a champ. That’s how I knew we were going to be okay out west.
Still, five weeks is a long time to spend pent up in a vehicle. It is important to give dogs ample opportunity to exercise when you can. Since we spent the majority of our nights at highway rest areas and national forests, it was pretty easy to let her out at night before bed and again in the morning before we hit the road. She quickly earned my trust to be off-leash, and was able to run and stretch the way dogs ought to, even in the absence of a fence.
Dog parks are an excellent place for dogs to socialize with other dogs and get a lot of exercise. A proper dog park will be completely fenced-in with a double-door entry system to prevent dogs from slipping out. Some parks are little more than wide open spaces. My favorite park here at home is heavily wooded. Some parks have small lakes or creeks where dogs can do a little swimming. Other parks have pumps for drinking water or even a quick bath.
Most parks charge fees. There’s usually a cheap rate for a day pass, or – if you’re going to become a frequent visitor – a discounted annual rate. Unfortunately, I have yet to discover a reliable national dog park directory or cell phone app. The few I’ve found have been tragically out-of-date, incomplete, and full of errors. Your best bet is to roll into town and do an independent Google search for local dog parks. Most decent sized cities will have a few.
Leashes & Tie-Outs
Even if your dog is reliable and dependable off-leash, it’s still a good idea to have leashed and tie-outs with you. Especially in high traffic or populated areas.
Tie-outs tend to get tangled up pretty easily. For travel, I created a wooden spool out of a small chunk of 2×4, and a couple of longer lengths of furring strips. I assembled the wooden pieces together with screws, then drove two eye-hooks into the wood. I hook one end of the tie-out to one eye-hook, coil up the rest of the leash, and then hook the other end to the other eye-hook. It’s a simple and inexpensive build – less than $2 worth of materials and less than 5 minutes to assemble.
Food and Water
My dog happens to be a snacker. She doesn’t eat her whole bowl of food all at once. Instead, she nibbles throughout the day. When we pull over for breaks, I let Remy out and put her food and water dishes down on the ground for her. That’s her preferred way to eat. But since we routinely spent 8… 10… or 12 hours a day on the road, I also have to make her food accessible all day.
I bring the passenger seat as far forward as I can. I place her food and water dishes on the floor mat behind the passenger seat. The bowls themselves are deep dishes. I don’t have to worry too much about food flying out of the dish. Depending on how quickly I stop or turn, water can still splash and spill. So I keep the water level shallow – at about a half an inch. I have to refill it more often, but the water stays in the bowl (for the most part).
Medication & Vet Records
If your dog requires any medication, I recommend bringing a little extra than what you think you’ll need. For example, my dog takes a once-a-month prevention pill for heartworm. If I’m going to be gone for 4 months, I bring 5 pills – just in case something delays our return home.
You should also bring a copy of your dog’s vet records or vaccination certificates. You’ll need these if you ever decide to board your dog with a kennel or if you cross international borders. I’ve found it painless to cross in and out of Canada with Remy. Check the specific requirements for whichever country you’re entering. But typically, you’ll just need a certificate proving that your dog is vaccinated against rabies.
BringFido & Motel 6
If you decide that you need to spend the night in a hotel, motel, b&b, hostel, or any other sort of traditional lodging, you’ll need to find one that permits dogs. BringFido.com is an excellent website for finding dog-friendly accommodations. They only have a dedicated app for iOS, but the mobile version of their website works just fine on Android devices.
I’ve discovered that Motel 6 is a pretty reliable franchise. Policies vary slightly from motel to motel. But their rooms are inexpensive and virtually all (if not all) of them allow you to bring dogs.
Every crust punk dog has to have a bandanna. Except we’re all about non-conformity here, right? So your dog doesn’t have to have a bandanna. But really… your dog should have a bandanna. It’s tradition!
I gave Remy her bandanna early on in the trip – night #4, I think – when we reached Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado. We had a wide open space for her to run around in, and not another soul for miles. I gave her a bright orange bandanna so I could more easily keep an eye on her. She has worn it every day ever since.
I think Remy’s bandanna gives her a little distinction. It helps me spot her fast in any large group of dogs, especially in the presence of other black labs. And since they’re a crust punk tradition, bandannas are a good way to identify yourself and your puppy as drifters.
I also like to believe that dogs – with their heightened sense of smell – can pick up the particulates that cling to their bandannas while they travel. Maybe this helps trigger memories, long after the trip is over. Maybe it doesn’t. But I like to believe it does. I never wash her bandanna. She may get a new one before we go on our next big road trip. I haven’t decided yet.
If you’re worried about your dog taking off while you’re on the road, you can look at GPS-enabled tracking collars. I don’t know much about these, except that I know they exist. And they all seem to require a monthly or annual subscription fee. I don’t quite understand this, since I own a Garmin device that doesn’t require a subscription to work. Although I don’t think the Garmin can transmit its location to my cell phone. So maybe that’s the added feature you’re paying for – I don’t know. I haven’t found it necessary to tag my dog with one of these collars yet.
Have I missed anything? What tricks have you learned to keep your dog safe and happy? Do you have questions? Do none of these solutions work for you because of specific circumstances that I haven’t considered? Whatever you’re thinking – I would love your feedback! Help me make this Road Trip Survival Guide the best it can be.