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Originally, I had a different topic planned for this week, but when life throws you lemons, try to make lemonade!
This last week, my partner and I found out that we suddenly had to drive from the Bay Area to Seattle for some family stuff. Both our dogs were coming with us, and as such, we needed to prepare not only our stuff, but also their stuff.
Traveling with a big feels dog can be very different from traveling with an “easy” dog. I’ve done both, and when Griffey was added to our family, there was a lot more that we had to consider when we were road-tripping.
So, since I’ve done the work, made the mistakes, and adjusted my plans, I thought I would share 5 tips to make your journey just a little bit smoother.
1. Know your dog’s essentials
I always start with the essentials first. What are the things your dog needs daily? Create a list! I suggest writing this all down and keeping a copy with your pet’s records. You can refer back to it for future trips, or even keep a “go bag” packed and ready. Since I live in a place where evacuations happen, I keep all these things collected in one place ready to go at a moment’s notice. This is specific to each dog, so my list won’t be your list, but here is my list to get you started:
- Enough kibble for both dogs, plus some.
- A bowl for water and we have one of these fancy things
- A basic pet first aid kit
- Both dog’s harness
- Both dog’s standard leash
- Poop bags
- A ball for Laika and a wubba for Griffey
- Digital copies of my dog’s records
- Daily medication and supplements
- Both dog’s muzzles
2. Pack the things that will set you up for success
The essentials are the things I want ready to go at a moment’s notice. The items in this list go beyond the essentials. As you think about what’s in store for your trip, think about “what if…” situations. What are some of the things that will make everything easier? For Griffey, we have certain medications on hand in the event that we need them. We bring each dog’s safe space (a blanket of Laika’s and a bed of Griffey’s), a variety of treats of different values, treat pouches, long lines, empty frozen food puzzles, other food puzzles, bones, canned dog food, stuff to bathe your dog (if necessary), crates. Remember, each dog’s list will be personalized. What’s my dog’s “extra” maybe your dog’s “essential”.
3. Know your management plan before you leave
Don’t draft your management plan on the fly, adjust your management plan on the fly.
- How will I keep everyone safe?
- How will I decrease stress?
- How will I prevent unwanted behavior?
This can include new environmental concerns (foxtails, rattlesnakes, fire ants, among so many others), as well as things you already know your dog struggles with. When we are in places with foxtails, we need to make sure our dogs are foxtail free. When we travelled places with fire ants, we tried to stay away from mounds when the dogs were going to the bathroom.
How will you keep your dog from distracting you while you are driving?
If your dog has a hard time around strangers, how are you going to manage their exposure?
If your dog is reactive on the leash toward other dogs, how are you going to manage their exposure?
What elements of your current management routine can you bring with you, and which ones do you need to adjust?
What type of housing will you be utilizing?
4. Discuss your plan with the rest of the family BEFORE you are stressed
Don’t wait until you are in the thick of it to create or communicate your plans to the other people on the trip. Travelling can be stressful, and it’s even more stressful when you have your big feels dog with you.
Here are some of the conversations my partner and I had to get you started:
What are we going to do at rest stops?
Can we predict any situations that might be more than our dogs can handle?
How are we going to help our dogs decompress?
How are we going to meet their needs on the road?
What are we going to do in states where you don’t pump your own gas?
5. Keep a list of pain points while you go
Things may not be perfect, and that’s okay! Sometimes we need to trial and eval. So, while you are going through your trip, keep a list of pain points you want to address later. It can be small things like “ration out their daily food in separate containers” to “work on being comfortable in the crate while I go into the gas station”.
While you are in the middle of your trip, both learning and teaching may be difficult, so keep a list of things to work on in the future. When you’ve both had a chance to decompress, return to the routine, and are ready to gain new skills.
- Create your dog’s travel list. I suggest writing down both the essentials and the things that will help you navigate more smoothly. In some situations, all you may have room for is the bare necessities, so know what those are beforehand.
- Develop your management plan before you leave, and discuss it with everyone involved. When tensions are high, sleep is low, and space is limited, those same conversations might feel much higher stake than on the couch in your living room.
- If you already have some things you want to work on in preparation, come join us for the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions free workshop happening next month. We will discuss more ideas that will help you and your dog navigate this wild world together!