You could say Granger is a well-traveled pup. You’ll find her somewhere in the continental United States, traveling state to state in a modified Scout truck camper with her humans Dani and Mike. The wirehaired pointing griffon is one of many pets joining the nomadic life trend, fueled by the untethering of the human workforce from their office desks.
The ability to thrive while traveling didn’t come overnight for this wanderlust pup. A year ago, her pet parents scrapped the whole idea of life on the road. They were bummed, but respected Granger’s dislike for moving vehicles. Then, Granger found comfort in traveling with her best pal — a white feline named Walker.
Not all dogs are born for life on the road, or take on the status of weekend warrior. But your dog will still likely need to buckle up for a car ride or other means of travel during their lives. The good news is you and your dog don’t have to navigate this winding road alone.
With a little training, insight into your pup, and their favorite treat (or furry pal), your dog can be on their way to wanderlust status — or at least a pleasant ride in the car.
Do dogs like to travel?
A few pups go wild with joy at the sight of a suitcase. But most need positive reinforcement and dedicated training with their trusted human to enjoy a weekend road trip or a flight on a plane. Before modifying your dog’s behavior for travel, however, it’s important to understand what’s going on when they resist. What does your pup actually associate with the experience, and why might leaving home make them anxious or upset?
“Some dogs were bred to be carried around by the Queen, not caring where they are,” explains Washington State research psychologist James Ha, PhD, co-author of Dog Behavior: Modern Science and Our Canine Companions (think poodles, spaniels, and Labrador retrievers). Other, more ancient breeds maintain a strong sense of home, making them ideal for protecting human houses and livestock (think malamutes, shar-pei, and the saluki). The former is more likely to experience separation anxiety when not by your side. The latter is more likely to experience anxiety when leaving home.
Of course, the breed of your dog doesn’t necessarily determine whether or not they’d like to spend a long weekend at a pet-friendly Airbnb. Life experiences and the positive and negative associations that come along with them shape every dog differently. If family travel has been pleasant and joyous, your pup may react positively. Chaotic or innervating trips are sure to give your dog pause next time around.
If your dog doesn’t enjoy travel, motion sickness could be to blame. It typically shows up in puppyhood, due to the immature development of the inner ear. As dogs grow and develop, they tend to become less wobbly and less likely to experience sickness in a moving vehicle.
Small animal veterinarian Lindsay Butzer, DVM, of Clint Moore Animal Hospital in Boca Raton, Florida, has some tricks and tips to make rides smoother for your pup, and potentially save you a cleanup in the back seat.
- Encourage your dog to look forward, not at the world flying by from the side window.
- Skip meals before the car ride.
- Crack open a window or two. The breeze will settle air pressure fluctuations that can cause sickness.
If you’ve tried everything and your dog is still experiencing motion sickness, you can ask your veterinarian about prescription anti-nausea medication. “One of the best ones is Cerenia. It’s the only FDA-approved prescription for vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs,” Dr. Butzer says.
Traveling long distances in the car takes a little extra prep compared to a drive to the local park. But, like all car rides, your dog should be secured in a crate, behind a barrier, or strapped in. This might mean training at home before a paw ever touches the car seat.
“I would suggest taking the time to introduce the dog to the car by rewarding them for getting in and out of the car and taking short journeys before a long one,” says Lynne Gilbert-Norton, the owner of Pets Decoded LLC and a Salt Lake City-based canine behaviorist with over 20 years of academic and applied experience.
Once you and your dog have the basics of car travel down, it’s time to plot your journey together. You’re going to want to map out stops along the way for potty breaks and walks. Plus, think about when and where your dog will enjoy their meals and how you plan to keep them hydrated.
On the checklist of essential supplies, double-check that your dog’s microchip and collar info are up to date and accurate. Have vaccination records on hand if you plan to cross state lines. “And to keep them feeling a bit at home, go ahead and bring their favorite blanket or bed, plus whatever toys or comfort items will reassure them,” Dr. Butzer adds.
How to Fly
There are two ways your dog can travel by plane — tucked away in an airplane-approved carrier at your seat or secured in a crate in the cargo hold. Given the unique and challenging method of air travel, not all dogs are the jet-setting type.
Dogs need to meet varying requirements to fly in-cabin with their human companion — from weight to age and breed. If your dog doesn’t meet your selected airline’s requirements, they’ll need to travel in the climate-controlled airplane hold. Just check that box when purchasing your ticket online and a fee will be added for your pooch. Be aware, however, that while airlines strive to secure your pet on the same flight and route as you, that’s sometimes not guaranteed.
“If your dog needs to travel in the hold, consider their personality and ability to cope alone for a long period without you,” Gilbert-Norton says. Becoming familiar with the crate at home and teaching them to stay relaxed will make the trip safer for everyone. If your dog is showing signs of anxiety brought on by separation, strangers, or long periods in their crate, Gilbert-Norton urges pet parents to rethink their travel plans.
When travel by air is a must, talk with your veterinarian about medications that can provide relief. Over-the-counter calming chews might do the trick. Other times, prescription trazodone or alprazolam could be right for your dog.
Before your pet boards an airplane, they’ll need proper documentation including their health certificate, proof of vaccinations, and any diagnostic testing required by your destination. Your vet can help get the paperwork in place and meet the airline’s timing requirements before traveling. Preparation for a trip to a foreign country with your pet can take a few weeks to months, so talk to your vet as soon as you know your travel plans.
Track and Train
There are plenty of accessories created to give traveling dogs their comfort and space, from collapsible bowls to waterproof blankets. But UK-based canine behaviorist Annie-Mae Levy says it’s still hard to stop wandering hands from petting her London-bound charges. Traveling on crowded public transit can be challenging because it’s difficult for many members of the public to resist petting your animal companion when it’s not appropriate. That’s why cue training is Levy’s first task when prepping for public transit travel with dogs.“‘Tuck’ is a cue I use to ask a dog to go under or between my legs. People are less likely to trip over my dog and they’ll be less inclined to reach out and touch the dog.”
Other handy tools: indifference training to people, sounds, and other dogs — plus a well-known “settle” cue.
Should I travel with my pet?
“Be realistic about your dog’s personality, mood, coping skills, and level of training,” advises Gilbert-Norton. Sure, her pups dutifully pile into the car for road trips, but the canine behaviorist also knows they would rather stay at home than get on a plane, train, or other means of transport — and she respects this.
For Dani, traveling with Granger makes anywhere feel like home — and it’s clear that Granger shares her comfort and enthusiasm for exciting journeys and adventures. Days on the road, well, they never feel mundane with a furry co-pilot by your side.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine, Inside Your Dog’s Mind, in 2022.