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Before getting a dog, one of the biggest concerns I had was for how much I travelled. Once I made the decision to get my little furry monster, Toby, I knew that I needed to take steps to be able to start travelling with him at some point. I did a lot of research on what I could and couldn’t do. After having him almost 3 years, he is a well-seasoned travel dog. Now, I get a lot of questions on social media and from friends about how I travel so much with Toby. Hopefully this guide will help you learn how to start travelling with your dog!

Before we get started, I would like to disclose that Toby is an ESA (emotional support animal). It’s really rare that I tell anyone this because I find there is a lot of stigma surrounding it, but there are certain rights we are afforded when we travel because of it, so it seems important to disclose. If you have an ESA also, awesome! I’d love to chat more with you about it. If you are one of the folks who believes ESA owners cheat the system by purchasing a generic online certification to be able to take their dogs on planes and such, I would urge you to consider that not everyone does – and I’m hoping the vast majority don’t. Perhaps more on that another time πŸ™‚

Lastly to note, this is written about what I’ve learned with travelling with my my dog around the United States. While I have plans to take him to Europe with me this year or next, I can’t speak to any international travel… yet!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to the products that I use and trust. This means that, at no extra cost to you, I might receive a small commission if you make a purchase using any of my links below.

Start by taking your dog on a short road trip

Start small! A short road trip is a great way to start travelling with a dog and assess how well s/he does – specifically with being in a confined, moving space for an extended period of time. Pick a destination for a day trip or an overnight an hour or so away from home.

Some things you may want to consider to help keep your dog comfortable: 

  • Bring a familiar toy
  • Have a long-lasting treat (I never do a trip with Toby without a Red Barn filled bone. Seriously the best distraction!)
  • Take your pup on decently long walk beforehand so s/he’s tired
  • Know your dog’s bathroom habits. This might sound obvious because no one wants their dog to have an accident in the car, but you know your dog’s habits (as predictable or unpredictable as they may be!)
  • Consider investing in a car hammock. They’re washable slings which go over your front and backseat headrests to create a larger lounging space for your dog. I think they’re great for all size dogs. Plus, if you dog, heaven forbid, has an accident, they’re waterproof.

You’re going to know fairly quickly how well your dog is going to travel. I knew within a week of having him that Toby loved car rides. (He was 12 weeks old when I got him.) Within a month, I could have him in the car for more than an hour with no problems. Feel it out, be patient, and consider rewarding your pup for car rides so they have a positive association with them!

my dog travelling in the car for the first time
Look at tiny Toby! This was his first car ride with me, the day after I got him!

Travelling with your dog on a long road trip

Once you know your dog can handle a short road trip, start planning for a longer one. Woohoo! My first real road trip with Toby was when he was about five months old. I believe we went to Cincinnati, which is 4-5 hours away. Right after his 1st birthday, Toby did a car ride to NYC (well, Brooklyn), which took around 12 hours, and he was a champ. A month later, I took him to Daytona Beach, which is a 20 hour car ride. We even slept at a rest stop overnight with no problem. He got a little restless around the time we hit the Florida state line, but we powered through.

What I could not recommend enough if you’re going to take your dog on a long trip is to go to the dog park before leaving. Both our NYC and Daytona trips were in the middle of winter, and I froze my tush off taking him, but I swear letting him run for 45 minutes before a very long car ride was the best thing I could’ve done.

toby travelling on a road trip with a car hammock
Toby’s first time out with the car hammock. I can’t recommend this enough. It has made car rides and road trips so, so much easier!

Staying in a hotel with a dog

So you’ve figured out the logistics of the car, you’ve gotten there, now you need a place to sleep.

The good news is that basically every lodging search, including Airbnb (new to AirBnB? Click here to get $55 off your first trip!), has a filter available to only include pet friendly accommodations in the search results. But to start travelling with your dog in hotels, there are some things of which you should be aware first:

Be prepared to pay a fee

Most properties are going to charge a one-time fee of between $50-100. That, to me, is super worth it. I stayed at one property in Florida, though, where it was a $50 fee per day, and I was there for almost two weeks. It was my fault for not reading thoroughly enough, because I definitely thought it was a $50 flat fee for the whole stay. Woof.

And of course, if you dog does any damage to your room – or anything on their property – you need to be prepared to pay for it.

Most hotels have weight limits for your dog

If you have a small dog, you’re going to be fine. A medium-sized dog will also likely be okay. But if you want to start travelling with a dog who is 50+ pounds (22.5kg), it might take some extra leg work. Be sure to check the policies before booking, especially if it’s non-refundable. It is not impossible to find a hotel for a large dog (like Toby, who is now almost 100 pounds). You just really need to do your research and be cognisant of the rules. Note also that pet policies an vary greatly from property to property within one brand, too.

Your dog must be a polite travel companion

This goes without saying, right? If your dog can’t be around people without growling or jumping all over the place, s/he is going to need more training before your first adventure. I don’t say that in any type of judgey way. I say it because it’s going to be in the rules anywhere you stay: your pet must be well trained. If your dog is aggressive, that probably seems fairly obvious, but the same goes for an overly friendly dog.

While you might be able to hide any not-quite-yet-well-trained behaviour, there is going to be very little you can do to get around a dog who barks. And I’m telling you right now, the hotel won’t stand for it, especially if they get a complaint from another guest about the noise. If you have a yappy furry friend, this is not me saying don’t start travelling with your dog. This is me saying you need to learn to manage it if you don’t already know how.

Here’s a story of my direct experience:

I was staying in a very large, upscale hotel while attending a conference in the same hotel. On the first day, I got a call from the manager saying they had gotten a report that my dog was barking like crazy and to please calm him down. I said the to manager that I would go check on it. Now, I was immediately suspicious, because Toby does. not. bark. ever. To this day, I could count on one hand the times I’ve heard him let out a bark (yes, just one single, yet terrifying, bark). But I went and checked on him. He was calm as could be and was probably sleeping before I had come in. So I went back to my conference.

An hour later, I was called back by the manager saying the same thing. I explained how Toby never ever barks and definitely had not been. She said she appreciated my saying that, but if she had to call back one more time, I would need to find a new hotel. Seriously. I went back to my room, at which point I heard what sounded like a very small dog barking like crazy. I called the manager back and gave her my observations. She thanked me and asked where I thought I heard the other dog because Toby was the only registered pet on my floor. In the end, someone had smuggled their dog in. Not sure what happened, but all of that to say: if your dog barks a lot, you absolutely run the risk of being asked to leave.

Your dog technically can’t be left alone

What I also learned from that story above is that dogs aren’t allowed to be left unattended. The manager was nice about it, but she explained me to that technically a pet is to never be alone in the room.

In theory, I get it. Any number of things could go awry. In reality, though, I don’t know how it’d be feasible to not leave a dog in the room at some point. So there’s my confession on breaking the rules: I leave my dog alone sometimes. But you should know the rules and make those decisions for yourself.

Even pet-friendly hotels do not allow your dog everywhere

In general, the only places dogs are allowed are in your room, at the front desk, and the path in between. Pets are definitely not allowed in hotel restaurants. If your hotel has a restaurant with a patio, check to see if you can bring your dog. Pool, spa, and fitness areas will also be be off limits. Most conference or group meeting spaces will also not allow pets, but there may be exceptions.

Know what you need and don’t need to bring for your dog

When you start travelling with your dog, it’s going to take a while to get used to packing. The first thing I’d recommend is calling your hotel and asking if they provide anything for dogs. You might be surprised!

I’ve stayed at a handful of properties where Toby has been greeted with food and water bowls, treats, and more! I’ve found dog friendly Westin properties to give Toby his own “Heavenly” dog bed. They also left a roll of waste bags with a little Westin leash holder for them. I use it to this day! Pet friendly Hiltons have given Toby little gold-plated leash tags with their name on it. He now has his own travel souvenirs πŸ˜› As a dog owner, I never forget these things which I consider to be above and beyond. Makes me a very loyal guest!

dog travel swag from hotels
Toby has gotten good swag from travelling!

Travelling with your dog in an AirBnB

Overall, I’ve had very good experiences staying in Airbnbs with Toby. Where hotels will often have weight limits, I’ve found Airbnb properties mostly do not. (Always read the rules, though!)

There are two downfalls here, though. First, travelling with your dog can sometimes spike the cleaning fees. I get it. You bring a dog, there’s a lot more to clean. Sometimes I feel these fees can be exorbitant, though. Second, I’ve had hosts ask that I keep Toby of all of the furniture, couches and beds included. For a lot of us, that can be a real challenge. I had one host even tell me (only as I was checking in, no less) Toby wasn’t allowed on the carpet. I walked in to the unit to find the whole darn thing was carpeted except about a 5×2 stretch of tile in the kitchen. I texted her like…um, no.

All of that said, I’d like to reiterate that I’ve had overall exceptional Airbnb experiences. Just read all of the details, the fine print, and definitely read the reviews. When I travel with Toby, I also ask my hosts if they have extra sheets, so I can put one over the couch. Before leaving, the sheet can be taken off and thrown in the hamper, and dog fur cleanup is much simpler. I also ask if there is a vacuum and/or Swiffer, and I clean all of the floors before leaving. Just me, but I was taught to leave a space better than I found it. If you’re travelling with your dog, please clean up after him or her.

Flying with your dog

This honestly will need to a whole separate blog post, but I want to at least touch on flying. If you want to start travelling with your dog long distances, flying may at some point become an option. Toby flew for the first time in October 2019, when he was almost 3.

Originally, I had hoped to do a short flight for his first time in the air. I travel quite often to New York City, which is a quick two hour flight from Detroit. That seemed ideal, but it never seemed to work out. So Toby’s first flight wound up being Detroit to Los Angeles, which is a whopping five hours. I would never have done this had I not known how great of a car traveller is. And knowing that Toby could go more than double that amount of time without a bathroom break if necessary.

If you’re thinking about flying with your dog in the cabin, here are some things you might consider:

Go to the vet before flying

You will need paperwork showing your dog is up-to-date with the rabies and distemper vaccines. You will likely also need a form from your vet certifying your dog is in overall good health. Certain states also require a health certificate to be filled out by a USDA-approved veterinarian. Before you fly, I would highly recommend calling your airline and asking them specifically what you need based on where you’re flying to/from.

Know if your dog is capable of being crated

Is your dog small enough to fit in a little crate under your seat? Will s/he tolerate it? Toby is so big, I have to buy him his own seat! Dogs aren’t actually allowed on the seats though, so he just had his own floor space. If your dog is small enough, you are able to hold them in your lap, though.

Have something to calm your dog down if necessary

All of those things I said about having a well-trained dog for staying at a hotel? Multiply the seriousness of that by a hundred for a flight. TSA agents will have no patience for an ill-behaved dog, and you don’t want those problems. You could consider the following options to help chill your dog out before travelling:

  • Use a calming aid: I used these calming treats when Toby was little and I was having people over. I found they worked well enough.
  • Benadryl: Word on the street is that Benadryl or Children’s Benadryl is safe for dogs though not yet FDA approved. In addition to treating allergies, this could help your dog calm down. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends 2-4mg of Benadryl per kilogram of body weight, but I would not administer this to your dog without first consulting your vet.
  • Prescription sedatives: While I am firmly against taking medication unnecessarily, if you want to be sure your dog has a calm demeanor before going to the airport, you could ask your vet to prescribe a sedative. To be honest, I did this with Toby because I was really paranoid he’d get overly excited seeing so many new friends at the airport. The pills wound up being about $1 each, and I was happy to have them. Do what’s best for your dog, though.

If you choose to use any of the aids above before starting to travel with your dog, you might want to test it out in advance to know how it will affect him/her. And on the day of your flight, administer it about two hours before going to the airport – or whatever time frame your vet recommends. Again, don’t do anything without checking with your vet!

Know where the pet relief areas are

Every US airport from which a pet is allowed to fly in or out will have a relief area both before and after security checkpoints. This is usually accessible information through a google search. Try and find this information before arriving at the airport rather than counting on any random person you ask who is working to know.

dog on an airplane
Toby’s first time flying!

Have resources to start travelling with your dog

There are so so many great resources out there to help you start travelling with your dog! The one I would most highly recommend is BringFido. They have a great website with resources and also a fantastic mobile app which I use so often while travelling with Toby! You can find pet friendly hotels, restaurants, events, attractions, services, and more, and many have reviews from fellow dog owners. (Like Yelp for dogs!) I particularly love that I can find dog parks through the app!

Do you travel with your pet? Or are you wanting to start travelling with your dog but still have questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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how to start travelling with your dog
how to start travelling with your dog
how to start travelling with your dog