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16 Things Not to Do When Traveling With Dogs

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Summer is synonymous with vacation, and that includes getaways for the entire family, both two- and four-legged. More families are opting to travel with their dogs, and the travel industry has responded with an increasing number of dog-friendly venues.

Unfortunately, certain mistakes—whether innocent or intentional—can put the future of pet travel at risk. Just one bad incident can cause a location to rethink its pet policy entirely.

To make sure the number of dog-friendly venues continues to grow, and to ensure that the memories that you bring back from your vacation are good ones, here are the top things to avoid doing on your next road trip with your dog:

Don’t Sneak Your Dog into Venues that Aren’t Pet Friendly

Don't sneak into venues

While a growing number of locations permit pets, you’ll still find many venues that don’t, including many museums, fine dining establishments (and indoor restaurants), stores, theme parks, protected areas such as caverns, and more. If the venue isn’t dog-friendly, adjust your plans and don’t attempt to sneak in your dog.

Don’t Leave Your Dog in the Car

Don't leave your dog in the car

Never plan to leave your pet alone in the car while you enjoy a stop at a site that’s not dog friendly—it’s a recipe for disaster. Think you’ll leave the air-conditioner running? If the engine fails, your dog can easily overheat in a short period of time, which can be life-threatening. And don’t forget about thieves who might target your car or your dog.

Don’t Go Off-Leash When It’s Not Allowed

Don't go off leash

Allowing your dog to be off-leash in areas where it is not allowed not only puts your dog at risk to oncoming cars, bikers and pedestrians, but it also makes leashed dogs uncomfortable when a dog who’s not on dog leash greets them.

Don’t Choose Activities that Make Your Dog Uncomfortable

Is your dog socialized and happy around strangers and in strange situations? If not, plan your trip accordingly and consider a state park getaway rather than a crowded downtown excursion.

Don’t Travel Before Talking with Your Vet

Don't forget to take dog to vet

Ask your vet if you need to make any special preparations in terms of immunizations or preventatives. Even if your trip will be close to home, you’ll want to ask for an extra copy of your dog’s vaccination records to take along in your car. If your dog is on any medications, ask for special instructions for storing the medications safely while you travel.

If you are planning a trip out of state, either by car or by plane, you’ll want to obtain a certificate of veterinary inspection for your dog, and if your travels will take you out of the country, you’ll want to begin these veterinary preparations far in advance since vaccinations and preventatives often must follow a specific timeline.

Don’t Travel Without Proper Identification

Dog wearing collar

While at your vet’s office, check your dog’s microchip. If he’s already chipped, ask your vet to scan him and confirm the chip placement. Along with the microchip, ID your pet with at least one tag that includes your name and the number of the cell phone you’ll be using on the trip.

Even if your dog doesn’t normally wear a collar with identification at home, make sure he wears one throughout your trip, even inside the car. If your dog is crated for the journey, shop for non-dangling tags that slide onto the collar to avoid the risk of snagging on the crate.

Don’t Let Your Dog Fall Overboard

Dog on boat

Planning a boat trip? It’s great to have a life jacket for your pet in case they fall off the boat, says Pamela Douglas Webster, who sails full-time with her Golden Retriever, Honey, and blogs at Something Wagging This Way Comes. She adds that, rather than mounting a rescue after a dog goes overboard, it’s best to make sure your dog stays onboard.

“Know that when you’re distracted by important maneuvers (docking, weighing anchor, trying to get off a shoal) is the most likely time for your pet to disappear. Make it a standard operating procedure to contain your pet first. We routinely put Honey below in the cabin during rough weather. And tether her to the cockpit when we come into a dock.”

Don’t Travel Without Taking Breaks

Don't travel without taking breaks

Just as if you were traveling with small children, traveling with pets means slowing down and enjoying the journey. You’ll need to plan for more frequent stops along the way—and remember to be flexible in your itinerary.

Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone in the Hotel Room

Dog in hotel room

Many hotels have rules that dogs can’t be left alone in the room while others require that dogs be crated if alone. Ask for your hotel’s rules before booking. Dogs left alone in a hotel room are more prone to barking and stress.

Don’t Travel Without Securing Your Four-Legged Passengers

Dog in safety restraint

Just as you buckle up all your human passengers in the car, it’s important both to your human and pet passengers that you safely restrain your dog in the car. Not only will your dog be safer in the event of an accident or sudden stop, but you’ll be less distracted while you’re driving.

Don’t Assume All Hotel Green Spaces Are for Dogs

Hotel courtyard

Many hotels designate particular areas to serve as potty stops. Follow the hotel policies for bathroom breaks so that you and your dog will be welcome back.

Don’t Let Your Dog Hang His Head Out the Window

Dog out the car window

Dogs whose heads hang out of car windows are at serious risk for a number of accidents, including eye injury from flying debris. Crack the window to permit outside air and scents into the car, but for his safety, keep your dog’s head inside the car where it belongs.

Don’t Abuse Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Laws

Dog in airport

Yes, you’ve seen photos on social media of dogs sitting on an airplane seat or in the laps of their pet parents. Although many dogs travel as legitimate service animals, sadly some travelers claim emotional-support status for the sake of avoiding airline fees and gaining entry into many non-dog-friendly locations. Fake ESA dogs put at risk the rights of people with a genuine need for ESA dogs and service dogs.

Don’t Use a Retractable Leash in Airports

Dog on retractable leash

“Too often, I see pet owners at airports with their dogs on Flexi leashes,” says Mary-Alice Pomputius, author of “Bone Voyage: Travel With Your Pet” and blogger at DogJaunt.com. “It’s too easy for the thin line to run away from a distracted owner, and I have seen travelers nearly tripped by a long, taut leash inside an airport, and an excited pet nearly crushed by airport traffic while her oblivious owner was loading luggage into a car.”

Don’t Remove Your Dog from the Carrier in the Airport

Dog in crate

It’s safest to keep your traveling pet in his or her airline dog carrier while you’re inside an airport, and on a short (six foot), non-extendible leash outside, Pomputius adds.

Don’t Forget to Scoop the Poop

Picking up dog poo

However and wherever you travel with your dog, be sure to carry twice as many dog poop bags as you think you’ll need and use them every single time.

Traveling with your dog makes a trip not only more fun but more memorable. Just like following the rules of the road, following the rules of dog travel helps keep more venues dog friendly and keeps all of us traveling safely with our four-legged family members.


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Authors of 30+ travel guidebooks, Paris Permenter and John Bigley write about tips for dog-loving travelers.