As anyone who has ever attempted to travel with children can attest, it is never as you imagine it in your head. It is much the same with dogs. You want everyone to have a good time, you envision their faces full of curiosity as they gaze upon sights unfamiliar to them. You envision family harmony and good times, smiling faces and lots of wonderful photos to look back on after the trip is over.
Reality is often far less idyllic.
It is entirely probable that when you finally get on the road, there will be whining, barking and some unpleasant smells. There will likely be more stops; to check on your dog, to clean up messes and to allow them to stretch their legs and go potty. If you are traveling with a young pup, as we are this time around, remember that they need to potty (especially pee) more frequently than adult dogs. Feeding while on the road can be tricky, so to head off any nervous tummy upset or surprise diarrhea, we refrain from feeding before hitting the road. We will normally wait until we have been on the road for a bit and we are ready to stop for a meal ourselves. Since we leave out very early, the dogs normally wouldn’t have access to food and water at that time anyway, so really, it’s ok to withhold it until your first stop.
Dogs are creatures of habit. If you start them out riding in the car when they are young, and do it often (not just when going to the vet or groomer), you will have a dog that is comfortable riding in the car and less likely to experience stress while traveling. Stress can cause loose stools, vomiting, excessive drooling and excessive shedding. It’s always good to be prepared when traveling with your dog, and even more so when you will be camping and hiking. Lower your expectations the first time out. If there’s vomiting in the car, diarrhea in the car, whining the entire time or five times the normal potty breaks, relax. If you begin to stress, your dog will as well. The calmer you remain, the better the chance of having a good trip.
If you haven’t trained your dog to ride in a crate in the car, another option is a seatbelt harness (see photo above). Your dog can see you, you can see them, and they are strapped in. In some cases, however, this option might cause your dog to be more anxious, constantly trying to get into your lap and interfering with your driving. This can be dangerous. While we love our pets, they (and everyone else) are safest when they are properly restrained and not a distraction to the driver. Bringing along a few chew toys can help to distract your dog and keep him/her busy. I normally buy brand new ones for these occasions, as new toys are far more interesting to them than the same old toys they have at home.
My van is normally stocked with crates, paper towels, disinfecting cleaners, air fresheners, trash bags, poop bags, chew toys, extra leads, blankets and water. When you camp and/or hike with your dog, you obviously cannot carry all of these things on you. You have to scale everything down. A small pack of wipes, a reusable rag, small piece of tyvek (for your dog to lie on), etc. You can usually find a smaller, more portable alternative for most necessary items. Depending on what type of outing you will be enjoying, tailor your items to fit.
You may envision snuggling with your dog in your tent or hammock, sleeping peacefully under the stars. The reality may be waking up to a pee-soaked sleeping bag, vomit in the hammock, or barking excessively during the night at every little sound. Hiking may not fit your preconceived idea of a restful, therapeutic thing to do with your dog at first. Chasing squirrels, barking at everything, peeing every two feet and sticking one’s face into prickly or poisonous underbrush are all possibilities. But rest assured, there are those dogs that seem to take to it right away. And even if yours doesn’t, after a few trips things may be different. Don’t give up!
This trip we have rented a cabin. We decided on this option after deciding to bring the family along. Since we won’t be camping out along the trail every night, we were able to bring a few more things; things we wouldn’t be able to take on an ultralight backpacking trip. Still, we try to pack only things we will absolutely need. Do the dogs need ten toys? Five varieties of food? No. Bringing one bowl each instead of a water bowl and a food bowl for each dog saves space in the van, as does bringing dehydrated food, which is lighter and takes up less space.
Below is an example of what we are packing for the dogs on this trip, which will include standard camping and hiking:
As I am writing this, my mind is still swimming with what to pack in each kid’s pack, what camera equipment I’ll need and what else needs to be taken care of around the house before we go, so hopefully I didn’t forget anything! Which brings me to my next subject–forgotten things. It is inevitable that you will forget something. Thankfully we can usually find what we need by stopping somewhere along the way to our destination.
So between noise, smells, stress and delays, it is very easy to get frustrated while traveling with your dog. The truth is, life is full of ups and downs. Try to refocus your attention on making the best of being alive and being out there with your best friend. It can start out rough, it can get rough at any point, but it can also be the stuff of which memories are made.