When an event on the west coast tempts you to attend.. you plan a 4,000 mile road trip to go. And of course the best decision is to bring a puppy too! Daisy, my Alaskan Malamute puppy, and I recently got home from a very long road trip. We traveled for over 4000 miles round-trip, to attend a dog show and for me to attend and teach at a conformation dog training retreat in California. Traveling with a dog is not easy. Traveling With a four month old puppy for that long take some creativity.
Fortunately for me, and my two wonderful trainer friends who came with, we are all experienced in traveling with dogs. This prior experience helped give us some base knowledge about what the trip and all of the hotel stays might entail. But this was the longest road trip any of us had been on with dogs and certainly a 4 month old puppy on a trip with three other dogs would be interesting. So let's talk about travel!
WHERE TO STAY ALONG THE WAY
When booking hotels, I made notes in the reservation about room preferences, which I then confirmed when we checked in. Getting ground level rooms and rooms close to the stairwell make it much easier to bring in crates and to get outside quickly for a potty break. When initially planning the trip, I also tried to break up our overnight stays between hotels and rental homes with fenced yards. In hotels, we all have to stay quiet to respect others that are staying and honor any quiet time hours the hotel may have. But dogs need to be dogs! Finding rental homes that we could get in for a night, mixed in between hotels was a great way to let the dogs let loose and have some fun. We could easily go for a walk in the neighborhood and even let the dogs get loud and romp around inside for some play and decompression. Plus with a little extra space for all of the dogs, enrichment and chews were easier.
WHERE TO POTTY THE DOGS While our dogs are generally good travelers, who are lulled to sleep with the engine, we had to take frequent potty breaks. When along the road, convenient isn't always the safest. We tried to find large rest stops with more grass along the sides, or busier exits when possible so that we could find space to let the dogs out (grass by restaurants works great!) Finding grass and clean areas was essential. While it may be most convenient to fill the tank up with gas and quickly let the dog out, heavily trafficked areas are likely to be contaminated with more germs and pathogens. This isn't great for exposure for the dogs, but can be especially problematic if you have a young puppy who isn't full vaccinated or a puppy who (like most puppies) enjoys picking things up in their mouth!
PUZZLE TOYS AND CHEWS
Bringing along an arsenal of pacifiers is essential to any trip. We offered items like bully sticks, tracheas, cow ears, and no-hide chews. We also brought along some Toppls for stuffing- fresh and frozen. Enrichment items like these can be given to help the dog decompress at the end of a long travel day, to entertain them while in the crate for travel, and can be used for meal time fun. We stocked up on chews before we left so she had a variety on the trip! Most meals were fed out of a Toppl. While traveling, its convenient to use wet food packets or squeeze tube peanut butter to top top off or refill a Toppl to provide a little licking enrichment. And when we had access to a freezer, those Toppls promptly got packed to freeze meals for more long lasting entertainment.
TRAINING EXPECTATIONS When traveling with such a dog it’s normal to see some back track in normal training like crate work, leash skills, recall, or house training. This can be more intense with young puppies who are still learning the ropes. Its important to remember that puppies (and adult dogs) thrive on schedule, and now everything that they thought was normal has been rocked. Little things like offering meals at different times to big things like not having their "go to" settle spot at home and having a whole new array of distractions and smells. While Daisy Did very well with this for her age, it’s always important to remember that a little bit of change in these normal habits is to be expected. Try to be patient and understanding. Try to keep food or treats in pockets to continue to reward behavior you like and redirect behavior you are less excited about. Travel is exhausting, I know, but remember that when our puppies get tired we may see some undesired behavior. Deep breaths!
Because of these likely changes in behavior, when possible increase management and supervision are key. If you are staying at a bigger rental home, closing doors to unused or messy bedrooms can decrease chewing temptations. Using a long line on walks instead of total freedom (for those off-leash lovers) can help prevent the new animal smells from being too exciting to get a solid recall. And supervision in home can help reduce likelihood of accidents and inappropriate chewing. Remember that each moment our dogs are learning - and with all this new this is actually a great opportunity to help your dog learn to generalize and strengthen known cues. Bring the food, reward the behaivor, and do what you can to set them up for success in these environments.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT AROUSAL- IT CAN BE TRICKY! Arousal is something we talk about quite a bit when we are working with our adolescent dogs. Classically seen as a dog who is easily excitable, and has a hard time self-soothing. Think jumping, mouthing, chewing and hard to redirect to get them to calm down - PHEW! Arousal can absolutely be impacted by such a big and adventurous road trip. Especially when travel includes friends (we had 3 people and 4 dogs!) Arousal can lead to undesirable behaviors like barking, more leash pulling, difficulty settling, and inappropriate play. Arousal can also be impacted by being too tired- and aren’t we all tired on road trips?? Calm sniffy walks, hikes, easy training games, food enrichment, and quiet time/space. While we planned on sharing hotel rooms the whole trip (when we weren't in a rental home) there were a few nights I splurged a little more for a separate room. It became clear that she was tired, and there was some undesired behavior of barking, rowdy inappropriate play, and inability to settle even when she was exhausted - that I didn't want her to rehearse. It's totally reasonable for her to have those challenges under the given circumstances, so in order to help her have some quiet time to chew alone and decompress, (which positively impacted her behavior the following day!) I added on an extra room to our stays. While this particular excitement of additional canine friends might not be applicable to all traveling puppies- thinking about all of the excitement and how stimulating an environment is can help you plan for your quiet time and decompression needs better. Keeping space when possible from other stimulating things, long and slow sniffy walks, lots of sniffing time, food enrichment, licking and chewing time, and even calming aids like classical music speakers, calming probiotics, or canine CBD/CBG products can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
When putting in 7 to 12 hours a day driving in the car, it is easy to feel exhausted by the time you finally reach your destination. But it’s important to remember that your dog was likely sleeping all day, which means that by the time you get to your destination, your dog is going to have some pent-up energy to burn off. Instead of getting frustrated with your dog as they try and find their own things to do, try to plan some adventures along the way. I mapped out a few parks for us all to stop at for a short hike. A new location, new smells, activity, strangers, training, and movement helped all of the dogs get their energy (mental and physical) needs met! This made it much easier for them to relax in the hotel rooms or Air BNB when we reached our destination for the night.
You can be strategic about your stops for your dog and their needs as well. We stopped at one quiet park for an early morning walk and hit two dog-friendly national parks (Yosemite and South Rim of the Grand Canyon!). For dogs who may be reactive or fearful of too much activity planning early morning walks can help you beat the crowd and get your day started right. You could even consider finding a local SniffSpot to find a fenced yard where you will be guaranteed to have a safe and quiet space.
I hope that this helps you think about your travel with your puppy a little differently. With some planning, it can be turned into an adventure and you can prep so you have lots of tools in your toolbox to help when your puppy is experiencing an increase of emotions. Do you travel with dogs? What items do you bring, or what tips have you found make it easy to travel with your dogs