How to Travel With a Dog: Hit the Road with Your Canine Companion

How to Travel with a Dog Hit the Road with Your Canine Companion

Traveling with a dog comes with its own challenges, for both you and your canine companion. While some owners never leave home without their furry friend, there are those who rarely travel with their pet, except to the vet. Regardless of the frequency that your dog tags along, how you prepare them for that travel, the mode and length of travel, and where you land for the night once you arrive all require forethought and planning.

So, let’s take a look at how to minimize your stress and ease you into traveling with your dog, be it to the beach, the mountains, or a faraway country.

Before You Leave

It’s wise to consult with your veterinarian about any extended or long-distance trip. Make sure that all your dog’s shots are up to date and that nothing special is required for your destination. It’s also wise to get a health certificate to have with you. (Required for flights, along with rabies and vaccination certificate.)

If you are flying, your vet may want to prescribe a sedative for a particularly anxious dog, but know that this type of medication can create respiratory problems at increased altitudes and are generally not recommended.

Having identification for your dog is essential, especially when traveling. If Fido isn’t already sporting a dog tag, now is the time to invest. Make sure that it includes your name, home address, and cell phone number (since you will be on the road). It’s also wise to go one step further and invest in a microchip implant. It’s not uncommon for an anxious dog in an unfamiliar place to try and escape. While a collar dog tag is good, a chip is even better. Should their collar come off during their escapades, there is backup contact info to return him safely to you. It’s relatively inexpensive ($25-50), and your vet or local Humane Society/SPCA can perform this quick and easy task.

If you are planning a car trip and your dog is unfamiliar with or anxious about this mode of travel, start taking him on short trips a month or two before departure. Increase the duration of the car ride each time. If you are using an airline where your dog will be crated for a long period, get him used to the crate and being in it. Start out slowly and gradually increase their time in the crate.

Packing for Your Dog

Two weeks before departure, start making a list of all the things that you use on a daily basis for your dog. This will help you as you pack up your dog’s to-go kit. In general, you will need the following:

  • Leash/poop bags
  • Food/treats
  • Water
  • Food/water bowls
  • Bedding/blanket
  • Medication
  • Toothbrush/brush
  • Toys/Balls
  • Kennel/crate

Because traveling is stressful for a dog, having familiar items will help keep him settled. Try to use his regular bed or blanket, bring his favorite toy, and don’t forget some treats and maybe a chew toy to keep him occupied!

Bringing a Dog on a Plane

There are two ways to travel on an airplane with your animal: onboard with you or in the hold in a kennel. The choice will depend on the size of the dog and the airline you are traveling on.

Typically, if an airline allows animals aboard, they have a limit to the number on a single flight, so plan well in advance, and know that there will be a fee. The dog will need to be crated, often in a specific type of carrier, and within a certain weight/size limit. Make sure you confirm all details when booking the reservation. During the flight, the animal will need to remain in the crate, under the seat in front of you. (Meaning that you won’t be able to sit in the first row, a bulkhead, or an exit row.)

If you have a larger pet, then they will be required to fly in the cargo hold, and there will be a charge. Know that cargo holds can have significant fluctuations in temperature, poor ventilation and that the ride is not as smooth as those of the passengers above. That being said, if you choose this route, your dog must be placed in a regulation hard-sided kennel. The kennel needs to be clearly marked with the dog’s name, the owner’s name/address/cell phone, and “Live Animal.” Make sure that your pet is comfortable in the kennel, and include a favorite blanket, dog bed, toy, or another familiar item to help them feel safe.

Note: Because airlines differ widely in their pet policies and fees, it is wise to check their online site and make reservations via phone or in person.

Travel by Train with a Dog

Amtrak, the national train operator, does allow dogs—in Coach Class only— on most of their routes. You have to book via phone reservation or at an Amtrak ticket counter, and the fee will be $25. Pets must be in a carrier, weigh less than 20 pounds, and remain under your seat at all times. (Note: Trips with pets cannot exceed 7 hours in length.) Unfortunately, larger dogs cannot travel by rail, as Amtrak does not allow kennels/crates as checked luggage.

In the U.S., regional trains all have their own rules regarding dogs. It’s wise to check their websites or call their head office to inquire about their policies.

When traveling in the U.K and Europe, you probably won’t have too much of a problem with train travel. All U.K. trains permit dogs on leash at no charge. France allows dogs on their trains, for a fee, as does the Netherlands. Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Small dogs in carriers are allowed on trains in Spain.

Driving With a Dog in the Car

No doubt your dog has some experience traveling in a car, for at least short distances. But long hauls are a different thing indeed. Dogs should always ride in the backseat, preferably in a crate that has been anchored to the seat with the seatbelt. Alternately they can ride in the bed of a truck, with a kennel that is securely strapped in. Dogs really shouldn’t roam about the car and should never be in the front seat where they can distract the driver.

Try and provide fresh air for your pet during the trip by keeping the window down a bit or the fan on in the rear of the car. It’s also wise to make frequent stops for your pet to stretch their legs, run around, and go potty.

Dog-Friendly Accommodations

Hotels that accept pets aren’t as hard to find as you might imagine. Many major brands offer rooms, and some even offer special benefits, like dog beds and feeding bowls. You can also find many independent operators who will allow pets at their smaller motels and B&Bs. Additionally, has a special Pets Allowed amenity that you can check for when searching their site. (Often a home-based environment is more soothing to a pet.)

Choice-brand hotels are by far the largest chain to allow pets, with more than 2,500 locations nationwide. Their hotels include Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, EconoLodge, Rodeway Inn, and more. Other large chains that have pet-friendly policies are; Americas Best Value Inn, La Quinta Inns & Suites, Motel 6, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, Homestead Studio Suites, Novotel, and Fairfield Inn by Marriott.

On the higher end of the comfort scale, the Ascend Hotel Collection of boutique hotels has multiple pet-friendly places to stay, as does Kimpton Hotels, InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, and Lexington Hotels & Suites.

For a full list of all pet-friendly hotels and chains, check out this list.

Note: Not all properties within a hotel brand are pet-friendly. Some, like La Quinta Inns, do allow pets at every property, but others will vary from property to property.

Finally, as traveling can put stress on an animal, it is good if you can stick to your routine as much as possible. If you walk your dog in the morning and at night, try to continue that trend while vacationing. If you feed them three times a day, don’t knock it down to two. If you know they have a bowel movement two hours after every meal, do your best to make sure they aren’t cooped up during that time.

Happy Trails!