DON’T GET A DOG! I heard it soooo many times throughout my life. First, I was too young (the day I got my first apartment I started looking); then I was too busy (that’s never going to change); next it was “wait until you’re married and have help” (husband didn’t want a dog); and finally “you travel too much” (YUP!) The truth is, like any big decision; starting a job, quitting a job, moving, having kids, or having a dog…there really is no “right time” to make the leap.
So finally, after my divorce, I figured screw it! I’m done listening to everyone else. I knew in my heart of hearts I not only wanted, but also NEEDED, a dog. And so I began looking. I had looked on the foster site Dogs Without Borders and seen this mangy looking mutt but didn’t think much of it and when I convinced a friend to check out their event at a pet store, there she was! My haggard looking Millie; hiding in the back, ugly as ever, with the WORST paperwork of them all (bad with people, bad with dogs, brought back twice). My friend could not understand why that’s the dog I wanted but I knew in my heart her paperwork was wrong.
She had had a rough first two years. She had been adopted and brought back twice, used for puppies, neglected and more. So I fostered her as a trial run for both of us to see if she is was the right fit for me and my lifestyle. Which brings me to my first tip:
If you don’t have a pet yet, FOSTER! It gives you BOTH a chance to see if you fit into each other’s travel lifestyles.
There are lots of places that allow you to foster dogs or like I did “foster-to-adopt”. This meant that I had two weeks to decided if I was going to keep her and if I decided against it, I would continue to foster her but she would be put back up for adoption until she found a forever home. It was a great way for me to try out the new schedule and see if we were BOTH happy with one another.
The next thing I did was ease her in to my adventurous lifestyle and see how she did. I grew up with big dogs and wasn’t entirely sure how my little Havanese mutt would do on my outdoor excursions. So a couple of days in I took her on her first mountain hike. She ended with WAY more energy than I had left so I knew that we were good!
2. Ease them into travel and adventures.
Now it’s definitely been a lot of trial and error with different types of adventures. I’ve learned she LOVES to camp but doesn’t do as well in hotels with the hallway noise. She enjoys riding in a bike basket but HATES the water. We’re still sorting these out but she’s a trooper and seems to love anything as long as she can be with me.
3. Figure out what they like and work with them slowly on the rest.
I’ve learned in hotels to keep the tv on so she isn’t distracted by the noise and to cover her crate with a blanket so she’s more likely to stay relaxed. We’re still working on water adventures, but this year I”m going to get her a life vest and we’ll keep trying slowly but surely.
When it comes to flying, this one gets a bit trickier. The two main reasons I went with a smaller dog was that I wanted her to be comfortable in my apartment and I knew I wanted to be able to travel with her.
Now, in complete transparency, she is an Emotional Support dog. Part of the reason I initially decided it was time to get a dog was to help with my anxiety and she does have all of her paperwork for this. I know it’s a bit of a controversial topic at the moment but I’m extremely careful to not abuse this or take her places she doesn’t belong (grocery stores, inside restaurants, etc.)
Being an ESA animal she does get to sit on my lap during flights but again I’m very careful about this. I ALWAYS ask the person sitting next to me if they’re ok with dogs and if not, I am happy to move. I also do my best to keep her facing the window as she would happily rest her head all over my neighbors if I let her. I say “know your dog”. Millie is very good with people and hardly moves on my lap. I would be WAY more nervous to fly with her if she was a barker or hyper in any way.
4. Flying still can be an anxious experience for any animal so make it as easy as possible for them.
The first time we went on an airplane my vet prescribed a mild anti-anxiety medication for her. I gave her half of the recommended dose and being the chill dog that Millie is, realized she doesn’t really need the medicine. I still ALWAYS bring it though just in case she has a rough morning or something happens making her extra anxious.
Another tip if you’re traveling with a non-ESA pet is to get them used to the carrier. The first time we flew I wasn’t sure what the policy was with her so I brought a carrier and spent weeks putting treats in it and carrying her around in it to get her comfortable.
5. Plan trips with potty breaks in mind.
This one is sometimes easier said than done but I’ve seen how much more enjoyable it is for both Millie and myself when we have direct flights and are not rushed. Most airports now have Pet Relief areas so I try to be aware of how to locate those but oftentimes they’re at the opposite end of the airport and we’re running back and forth and she has yet to actually go in one. Something about the smell, she just won't do it. So if I can’t plan a direct flight I try to give myself enough time to take her outside and get back through security in time. It’s a longer process and can be stressful but it’s one of the things to think about when traveling with your pet.
6. Look up a vet or emergency pet hospital ahead of time.
When we were in Colorado, Millie’s paws were hurting her and extremely dry from our hikes in Arizona. Luckily with phones nowadays it’s easier to google a nearby vet but if something extreme happens it can be hard to think clearly about knowing where to go.
7. Plan for Weather
In the same way that when we pack for ourselves we have to think of weather, we need to do the same for our pets. I’m always very cautious of outdoor adventures in the heat. It’s important to keep an eye on their behaviors but it’s not always easy to tell if something is wrong. Millie would tough it out through any hike, tail-wagging, if I let her.
In Arizona I knew the rocks were getting hot and the incline was steep so we turned around halfway through a hike. The longest one we attempted was an 8-mile hike at a high elevation and I could tell she was slowing down and carried her the last mile (giving her plenty of water and treats of course).
In the colder temperatures also make sure they’re protected. Growing up, our big dogs got used to the snow and eased into the winter months. Taking my L.A. dog from 80 degrees and dropping her in some snow is a bit different. She has a sweater and a waterproof coat as well as some booties for those super cold temperatures.
8. Be aware of wildlife and bugs
Being in the outdoors as much as we are, I have to be very aware of our surroundings. I used to let her off leash all the time to run on our hikes but have become much more aware of the possibility of nearby coyotes or rattlesnakes. One thing I want to do is get her into a rattlesnake class out here in L.A. that helps train dogs to stay away.
I’ve also had to be aware of bugs and ticks. She’s not only protected with her preventative meds but she gets a nice long bath after a good day outdoors. I skim her hair before she comes in and check her paws for spurs or foxtails.
9. Be a respectful pet owner
There are very few things that upset me more than bad dogs owners. They give us all a bad name. Not everyone is a dog person and that’s totally fine! It’s important to respect that and not force your dog on people even though they may be the cutest thing ever (I know Millie is).
Basic dog practices: pick up after your dog, ask other dog owners if your dog can say hi (don’t assume they’re all friendly, and be aware of where dogs are allowed and where they are not.
10. If all else fails, have a comfortable, safe, and regular place for them to stay home.
I knew going in that there were some trips that Millie just wasn’t going to be able to join me on. I had some awful experiences right off the bat of people bailing on her once I was already in another country, others not communicating with me so I spent my entire trip worrying about her, it was SO stressful.
I didn’t want to take her to a kennel that would bring back memories of her shelter days and stress her out. So when I found my girl from Rover I was SO excited. She goes to the same apartment every time (she practically DRAGS me to their door when we get there), sleeps in her bed with her, and I get daily photos and updates of her stay. It has really taken the stress out for both of us!
Traveling with Millie, while sometimes stressful, has added so much joy to my already amazing travel experiences. It’s for sure a learning process and each time it gets easier and easier but it’s definitely doable!