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You’ve planned your dream vacation or you’ve finally booked that holiday travel to visit family. (If not, hot tip: Expedia’s current seasonal sale has some amazing deals.) Travel plans, check. But what do you do with the dog?
It’s one of the biggest dilemmas pet parents face. While pet-friendly travel is increasingly common, it’s still fairly difficult. There are a lot of reasons it may be best to leave your dog home while you travel. Potential complications include:
- Not wanting to subject your dog to flying as cargo.
- Concerns about behavior on the airplane and in the airport.
- Extra safety precautions and frequent potty stops on car trips.
- Pet fees and other restrictions at pet-friendly hotels.
- Complicated international travel requirements for pets.
If your trip isn’t pet-travel-friendly, there’s a lot to consider in making sure your pet is happy and safe while you’re away. We’ll walk you through the options and steps to assure your dog has a great time at home so you can enjoy that road trip or European vacation.
It’s easier than ever to leave your pet in the comfort of his own home—or the cozy home of a loving sitter. Your dog will enjoy the least amount of disruption to their routine with the former, and in both cases, it’s easier to get personalized updates and specialized care.
Kennels are a well-known way to accommodate your dog while you’re away, and they can be fairly inexpensive. But dogs can be uncomfortable with kennel boarding, which can disrupt their eating and sleep cycles, and even their training.
“If dogs are used to sleeping in houses and beds, kennels can be cold and lonely,” San Francisco-based dog behaviorist Beverly Ulbrich explains. “It can also be loud if other dogs are barking and moving around.”
A variety of newer boarding facilities exist that include more spacious accommodations than old-school kennels. These include off-leash facilities, pet hotels, and similar. Get recommendations from fellow pet parents in your area rather than relying on a simple Google search. Keep in mind that pricing can go up significantly with these options.
2. Finding the Best Fit for Your Dog
It’s best to introduce your dog to the potential sitter before the stay to make sure it’s a good match. At Rover, we call this the “Meet & Greet.”
Ulbrich describes what you should do when introducing your dog to a new caregiver. “Have the potential sitter give your dog some of his favorite treats the first time they meet and even give commands so the dog sees the sitter as someone who will be taking care of him,” she suggests.
“Go on a short walk with the sitter to make sure they can handle your dog and your dog feels comfortable.”
During this initial meeting, make sure your sitter knows your dog’s idiosyncrasies. For instance, if your dog doesn’t like their paws or ears being touched, if they get feisty when someone comes near while they’re eating, or if they lunge after cats or birds on walks.
If visiting a sitter’s home or a boarding facility, check out the sleeping areas, feeding areas, and outside areas. Ask questions and don’t hesitate to voice concerns.
Once you’ve decided on your caregiver, get your dog started on the right paw.
Make a list of the basics to make sure nothing gets missed. Be sure to cover:
- How much you feed your dog and when
- How often you want water freshened
- How often you walk them
- How many treats and what type to offer
- Favorite games and toys
- Vet’s information
Beyond that, you’ll want to describe your dog’s personality and temperament.
“Making sure the pet sitter knows the ins-and-outs of your dog’s habits, needs, and insecurities will really help them,” Ulbrich explains.
4. Brush up on Skills: the Impact of Training
The same way a child needs rules and limits, dogs need training and care to adjust to a new caregiver or boarding situation. Dogs that bark constantly, don’t follow commands, whine when left alone, or show aggressive behavior towards other dogs can be difficult to care for.
“It’s important that you train your dog for his safety, and the safety of others,” Ulbrich says. “The Canine Good Citizen Test is a good guideline to use to ensure your dog is well trained.”
If your dog has trouble being left alone, they’re not the only one! Ulbrich says separation anxiety is on the rise and one of the top issues she sees from clients. Let your caregiver know about your pet’s anxieties and offer tips for soothing them. Dogs like these are likely to do best with one-on-one care in a personalized setting.
The bottom line: if your dog needs training help before your next trip, make time for it. You’ll both appreciate it.
5. Travel Day Tips
On the day of departure, allow time for extra exercise—there’s nothing like getting the wiggles out to settle an anxious pup. Whether it’s fetch, a dog park visit, or an extra-long walk, it’s likely to make the transition easier.
You might also offer puzzle toys like a KONG or other treat-dispensing toy, or a naturally-shed antler, to distract and entertain your dog. Note: if your dog will be staying in a home with other dogs or in a boarding facility, avoid sending them with the toy or chew, as it can provoke territorial behavior.
Last, stay calm and confident so your dog will pick up on your cues. You want your dog to look at you and think, “she feels fine, so I’m fine, too.” (If only that worked when the UPS guy came to the door!)
What about Drop-In Care?
If you can’t find a full-time sitter, you may wonder about having someone check in on your dog, like a neighbor, a friend, or a dog walker. Typical favors include feeding and walking the dog and spending some time with your pet so they don’t get lonely.
But there are some risks to leaving a dog alone for long periods of time, particularly when your dog knows that you’ve left for more than a day’s work. There’s a chance for destructive or compulsive behavior.
“I feel that dogs, like children, need monitoring to some degree,” Ulbrich says. “If they get scared or stressed, they can do damage to your house or themselves.”
And there’s always the possibility something could go wrong. Generally, it’s best to make sure your dog has regular company. Ask your dog sitter about their daytime availability and be sure they know how many hours you’re comfortable with your dog being alone.
A Worry-Free Vacation for Both of You
When planning a fun trip, don’t forget to make fun plans for your dog, too. Leaving your dog at home with a full-time caregiver can reduce their stress and yours. And no matter what pet accommodations you opt for, make sure your dog and caregiver have the tools they need a successful time together.
- Pet Parents Go to Crazy Lengths to Travel with Their Dogs
- Traveling with Your Dog: Expert Tips from a Professional Trainer
- Flying with a Dog: Should You Take Your Dog on a Plane?
- 6 Signs of an Excellent Pet Sitter
- How Long Can You Leave a Puppy Alone?