Recently, Erin Glock and her husband moved from upstate New York to Salt Lake City, Utah with their two golden retrievers, Sammy and Charlie. “That meant a 32-hour drive, and we were determined to drive about 10 hours a day,” she says. They decided to take two cars, with one dog per vehicle. “Even though the dogs were used to car trips, I think they got cabin fever after a while,” she says. The trip went well overall, she adds, but as she can attest, traveling cross-country with your dog is hardly an easy task.
For one thing, the choices in modes of transportation is limited for many dog owners. If you have to start a new job across the country, flying may seem optimal, but if your dog has severe anxiety, your vet may suggest a road trip instead. “If you’ve got more time to make the transition, driving could be a great option, as it’ll probably be less stressful on your pet than flying,” says Alexis Tiacoh, Expedia’s public relations manager and owner of two dogs.
Amtrak, meanwhile, only allows small dogs (up to 20 pounds), at a cost of $26 for up to seven hours on most routes, and bus companies like Greyhound only permit service animals. As such, many dog owners are left with a long car trip as the only option. Whichever way you and your dog are planning to hit the road, there are some guidelines that might make it a smoother journey. Here, Tiacoh and other experts share their tips on how to successfully go cross-country with your dog.
Make a vet appointment in advance
Tiacoh says that no matter how you plan to transport your dog cross-country, it’s important for them to get a check-up beforehand. “Your vet can make sure that your dog is up-to-date on all their vaccinations and can also prescribe anxiety medicine for pets who have a fear of travel,” she explains.
Plus, depending on where you’re going, it might be a good idea to apply a flea and tick treatment, she adds. And, if your dog will be flying, many airlines require a vet authorization, so make sure to get that in advance of your trip.
Try out short trips first
If your dog has not done a long car trip before, take them on some shorter rides first to test out how they react, recommends Tim Wall, dog specialist and category manager at Pet Supplies Plus, a pet supply chain.
You can gauge a lot from your dog’s body language, whether they’re frightened (they might shake), anxious (they'll sit low to ground with their ears back), or relaxed (in a more neutral position), he says.
Research dog-friendly housing
As far as finding pet-friendly accommodations, from hotels to vacation rentals, Tiacoh says it’s best to start searching far in advance. “Most major hotels allow pets, but the cost and size requirements vary,” she explains.
Depending on where you're traveling, there should be a good number of options. A quick search for “San Diego” on the dog-friendly travel site BringFido.com for dates next week, for instance, results in 579 choices, including Airbnb rooms for as low as $39, plus a pet fee (which is disclosed when you book).
Keep travel regulations — and weather — in mind
If you're considering air travel with your dog, go to airlines’ websites to see what regulations they each have, says Tiacoh. “These include the size of your pet, the dimension of the carrier, and even the type of breeds that are allowed on board,” she explains. Most airlines allow small pets to travel in the cabin under your seat for a fee that averages about $125 each way, but the prices vary.
If you plan to have your dog travel in the plane's cargo area, Tiacoh recommends booking direct flights in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler during the summer, and, in the winter, booking direct flights midday when temperatures are warmer. “Some cargo areas are not heated or air conditioned efficiently — and it can get mighty cold or hot waiting for hours during holding, loading, and taxiing,” she says. She adds that although every animal handles temperature changes differently, planning your trip to avoid extreme weather can help your dog avoid issues like heat stroke or hypothermia.
And whenever possible, take a direct flight. “It’s also only one round of takeoff and landing as opposed to two; this part of the flight is super noisy and stressful for pets,” says Tiacoh.
Ensure your dog's car safety
If you’re going to drive cross-country, Wall advises purchasing pet seat belts. He notes that some states require pet owners to have their animals safely restrained in vehicles, and you can look into getting your dog a harness, travel crate, or booster seat, as well. Getting a seat cover and blanket to keep your pet comfortable during the trip can also be good ideas, and they'll help keep your car clean.
Additionally, since your dog may become anxious from traveling and could run off, be sure they have a collar with a name tag, your current contact number, and the number where you’re staying, says Tiacoh, adding that "microchipping is the most foolproof way of making sure you never lose your pet."
Bring familiar items for your dog
Tiacoh suggests taking some of your dog’s favorite toys along for the ride, along with must-haves like a first-aid kid and their medications and medical records. Don’t forget your dog’s food and snacks, too.
“I made the pups’ on-the-road feeding time easier by prepacking their food in individual Ziploc bags for each meal,” says Glock. “I’d also advise having extras of everything, especially treats.”
Factor in extra time
“Preparation is the key to successful travel with dogs,” says Stephanie Seger, founder of the blog BigDogMom.com. She has two Mastiffs, Junior and Sulley, and has traveled extensively with them, including on numerous cross-country trips. “Planning ahead — and factoring in extra time to feed, potty, and exercise your dog — will allow you to enjoy the journey with your family/friends and your pet,” she notes. “Also, allow ample space for everyone in the car. Dogs get cranky when they don’t have room to move or lay comfortably.”
Glock, too, found that stopping often while on the road with her dogs helped make the trip a success. “Be prepared to let your dog(s) stretch and have a break from the car as much as possible,” she advises. “Fresh air is good for everybody — pets and people alike.”
“Taking breaks during a road trip is just as important for your dog as it is for you," echoes Wall. "But don’t forget to put a leash, collar, and/or harness on your dog."