Trip Prep Before You Travel With Your Dog

Woman sitting on the beach with her dog posing for a photo near SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel Pismo Beach

Trip Prep Before you Travel with your dog

Traveling with your doggie best friend can be one of the most fun and rewarding adventures. When everything goes smoothly, you and your dog will love getting to explore new places. But, it can be frustrating, scary, and potentially dangerous when things don’t go according to plan. To help ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible, below are some tips for before your trip.

Make sure your dog has some training. For example, if your dog has a habit of bolting out of open car or room doors, then teach a Wait at the Door command so that your dog does not escape in an unfamiliar location or at a busy rest stop by the highway. If your dog is prone to barking or is noise sensitive (would bark at a neighbor room door closing or people talking in the hallway) then desensitize your dog to noises and train a Quiet command. Loose Leash walking is also a good behavior to train so that when you are exploring new areas, or on local hiking trails, it is a pleasant experience for both of you.

Car Travel
If your dog doesn’t love being in the car or gets car sick, address this before starting a trip. Sometimes changing where your dog sits in the car can help curb car sickness, such as moving from the back to the middle seats, or vice versa. It can be different for every dog so play around and see what works. If your dog is nervous in the car, practice doing short car rides or getting your dog more comfortable by eating meals in the car without the car moving anywhere.

Doggie Info
Take a grab bag of all your dog’s info. This should include a recent picture of your dog, a copy of their medical records, an allergy list and any medications your dog is on. Your dog’s tags should be current and securely attached to the collar and microchip information should be up to date with a current phone number. Dog collars or harnesses should be properly fitted and tight enough so that only two fingers fit underneath. This helps prevent your dog from slipping out of a loose collar if they get scared at all. If your dog is prone to bolting, consider using a martingale collar. These collars are specifically designed to help prevent a dog slipping out. The Sea Crest provides a doggie bed for your use, but if your dog is unsure in new places, bringing a familiar towel or blanket to put on the bed can help your dog feel more comfortable.

Dog Food
Pack plenty of your dog’s food, including some extra in case the local area doesn’t carry your dog’s specific brand. Having extra is also helpful if travel plans are delayed or you decide to extend the trip. If your dog is a chow hound and will steal food, make sure it’s not accessible at any time in the car or hotel.

Your dog will likely need more exercise if you are traveling in the car a lot, or if they are used to running around in your backyard during the day. Long road trips are fun but make sure to allow for breaks in the trip and plenty of time walking around the hotel to help your dog acclimate. Luckily the Sea Crest hotel in Pismo is extremely dog-friendly. With beautiful lawns and a walking path down to the beach, you will have plenty of area to explore and exercise.

Mental Stimulation
To supplement physical exercise, bring some puzzle or enrichment toys for your dog to eat meals from to help exhaust them mentally. All dogs need a combo of physical exercise and mental stimulation both to be happy and healthy. Mental Stimulation is training, puzzle toys, searching for food, etc. It should engage the nose and the brain. 30% of a dog’s brain is dedicated to scenting, so it is an incredibly important resource. Feeding your dog all meals out of a puzzle toy is an easy way to add extra mental stimulation into your dog’s daily routine. This can be something like a Bob-a-Lot or Kong Wobbler, a snuffle mat, a treat scatter outside, etc. When in doubt, offer MORE mental stimulation, it will help exhaust your dog. Teaching your dog how to play Nose Work, a scenting game, is also a fun idea. Initially teach your dog to search for hidden food or toys, then progress to searching for target odors.

Off Leash Areas
Research any doggie off leash areas ahead of time and do not let your dog off leash in an area you are unsure about. In San Luis Obispo County we have some amazing hiking trails that are dog-friendly, but all require dogs to be on-leash for the entire hike. This is largely due to the popularity of our area and trails and the local wildlife we have (rattlesnakes, ticks, coyotes, mountain lions, etc.). There are a couple beaches and dog parks around that are off leash friendly, but otherwise please respect local leash laws. This is for your dog’s safety and the safety of others. Even if your dog is very friendly, you never know what the other person might think or feel (they might be afraid of dogs, have been recently attacked, allergic, etc.).

Heat & Travel
Consider the time of year you are traveling and where you will stop along the way to your destination. If you are traveling alone and it is very hot during summer time, you will need to plan where you will take potty breaks or get food for yourself, if there is nowhere dog-friendly around. Many gas stations and rest stops will have a patch of grass or dirt for your dog to go potty, but gas stations are not dog-friendly so you will need to plan to leave your dog in the car (faking your dog as a service dog is not a good option as it’s illegal, unethical, and often has ramifications for disabled people who really do need their service dog to help.). An aluminum shade cloth is a great idea for those times when you need to leave your dog in the car for a short period and it’s warm outside. You can purchase one from most dog sport websites as they are used a lot for agility and nose work trials. It is a flexible meshy aluminum cover that goes over your car and dramatically cools down the interior. You will need to secure it so it doesn’t blow off. Window guards are another option so the windows can be left down but your dog cannot get out and nobody can get it.

Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a very serious and life threatening condition for dogs, but luckily is preventable. Heat stroke is where your dog’s core temperature gets too hot, into a critical range that can cause organ damage and death. Dogs normally have a higher temperature than humans, typically around 101 to 102 as a baseline. So critical temp for dogs can be 104 and higher. Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water and do not exercise or walk your dog during the heat of the day, especially if your dog is brachycephalic dog (smushed face like bulldogs or boxers) senior or very overweight. Always check the ground before getting out or walking your dog when it’s hot. Ground temps can get very hot very fast and burn and blister your dog’s paws. If your dog is quickly picking up different paws then that means it’s too hot and they are burning. If you can’t put your hand down for more than 15 seconds then the ground is way too hot for your dog’s paws. If you think your dog is overheating, get them water immediately and into a cool area. Try to cool the body down as quickly as possible, using water, wet towels, etc. and call a vet.

First Aid Kit
Stocking a first aid kit in the car is always a good idea, but make sure you have one for your dog as well. Doggie first aid kits usually have bandages and a plastic bootie for covering cuts on the foot, emergency nail clippers for a broken nail, an ice pack, etc. Make sure yours has a muzzle that fits your dog in case your dog is injured and becomes aggressive during treatment and styptic powder to stop bleeding surface cuts or broken nails. Corn Starch is a good substitute for styptic powder.

If your dog has fleas, get that resolved before traveling so you are not spreading them to the hotel for the next dog to pick up. ​