San Francisco dog owner Ben Lowenstein loves to travel – and he never leaves his dog, Javi, behind.
Together, the pair has taken road trips to Chicago, Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles. They have hiked the trails of New Mexico, explored Utah's national parks, and gallivanted through Colorado snow banks.
The best part of traveling with Javi, says Lowenstein, is that his best friend is always with him.
But road tripping with a dog can be challenging for both the dog and owner. Tips for helping your four-legged pal succeed on the road:
Teach them to love the car. Long before your road trip, give your dog positive associations with the car.
“Practice makes better,” says Erdem Tuncsiper, who runs P.A.C.K. Leaders Dog Training in Chicago. “Don't make your big trip their first trip.”
Take them on as many local drives as possible, and give them treats and toys to make the car fun. Drive them to exciting places so they don't see the car as a direct-to-vet delivery mobile.
If a dog is apprehensive, pet parents “can encourage further engagement with the car by rewarding all interaction directed toward the vehicle — such as looking at, sniffing, moving toward or stepping into — and proceeding with baby steps from there,” says Darris Cooper, national dog training manager at Petco.
Bring along items like bowls and blankets that your dog is not only used to, but finds comforting, says Tuncsiper.
“This includes anything for sleeping, eating or drinking,” he says.
Keep your dog as comfortable as possible. “Make sure your dog is not stressed by the sights, sounds or movement of the vehicle,” says Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at Chicago's VCA Blum Animal Hospital. “There are lots of additions that can help reduce stress, like playing classical music, spraying pheromones to help relaxation..., appropriate restraint device training, favorite treats, and not feeding at least two hours before the start of travel to help avoid nausea.”
Dogs also overheat easily, so provide good ventilation (and never leave them alone in a parked car). “If your dog pants a lot, he is hotter than you are and needs air,” Tuncsiper said.
Excessive panting can also be a sign of anxiety. If your dog just can't seem to get comfortable, speak to your vet about anti-anxiety medications, as well as over-the-counter chews and drops.
Expect the trip to take longer. Dogs need regular stops to run around, relieve themselves and explore all the new, exciting smells.
Pack your pup's suitcase responsibly. Marks says the checklist should include medications, vaccination records, a canine first-aid kit, an extra leash and collar, their ID tag, a crate and collapsible bowls. Bring at least two days' worth of extra food and water.