Preparing for Summer Vacation with Your Dog

When the weather turns warmer, thoughts generally turn to vacations, family picnics, and the beach or pool. But you must also give some thought to what your canine companion needs for vacation season.

To board or not to board?

The most basic decision you must make about your dog and vacation is whether or not to take the dog with you while you travel. Some of the reasons you might want to bring your dog are that you will not have to pay someone to take care of him, you will be able to show him off to whomever you are visiting, or you are vacationing at a dog-related event such as a show or dog sporting event. On the other hand, you may choose to leave your dog at home if he becomes car sick, doesn’t fit in the car, or if your budget doesn’t allow you to fly him to your destination with you.

Bringing the dog along on your trip

If you will bring your dog with you, make your travel arrangements early to assure that everywhere you are going welcomes pets. If you are traveling by RV, this is a relatively simple process, as the dog can stay in the RV while you sightsee or visit relatives where his presence may not be welcomed. However, if you are flying, you will need to check into your airline’s animal policy. Most of them require that dogs fly in the cargo hold, although Pet Airways will fly your dog to selected destinations in the cabin, and you can pick up your dog at the airport when you arrive.

Dog walking on the beach
Bringing your dog on vacation requires a lot of thoughtful planning.

If you are driving, you must make arrangements for lodging that includes your pet. Many hotels charge a deposit or an extra nightly fee if you are bringing a four-legged friend. Don’t just assume that the friends or family you are visiting will welcome your dog with the same open arms they extend to you. Allergies, cleaning concerns, and landlord restrictions may make your friends unwilling to allow your dog in their home. Respect their wishes by asking ahead of time whether or not you can bring your dog when you visit.

Special arrangements you may need to make

In addition to lodging, give some consideration to what you will do with your dog while you are sightseeing or eating. It will likely be too hot to leave him in the car, even with the windows down. It is not uncommon for the temperature inside a car to rise well above 100 degrees within minutes after the air conditioner is turned off, and it doesn’t take very long for a dog to be overcome with heat exhaustion under these conditions.

Call ahead to the parks and other locations you will be visiting to make sure it is okay to bring your dog. Have a plan for how you will handle activities where the dog cannot attend with you. For example, maybe each family member will pick one activity he or she will miss to stay with the dog. If your family is like most, not every member will be equally excited about each stop on your trip. Dad may be just as happy to miss the trip to the vacuum cleaner museum, while Suzie may be perfectly happy dog-sitting during the tour of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little house on the prairie, and Junior will definitely be looking for an excuse to miss the visit to Aunt Edna’s house. Perhaps you will decide to pack picnic meals or buy your meals at drive-thrus rather than leaving the dog outside while you go into restaurants.

Keeping your dog safe

Lastly, make sure you protect your dog from the dangers of the road. Exercise him well away from traffic and provide a crate or seatbelt for him to keep him safe in the car. There are several types of car harnesses which give your dog the ability to see out the window or lie down on the seat, but keep him from flying about the cabin in the event of a crash.

Dog seat belt
Your dog needs to be properly secured in the car.

Boarding Kennels

If you will leave your dog at home, you have three basic options: commercial boarding, phone-a-friend, or professional dog sitters.

Take the time to visit several area boarding kennels before you make a reservation for your dog. Again, plan ahead so you can get a reservation at your first choice, rather than having to take whatever space is left at the time of your trip.

If your dog has any medical needs, you may want to consider boarding him at a veterinary facility. The cost may be a bit higher, but you will be assured he is getting professional care for his special needs. There may also be boarding kennels that will provide upgraded service for health needs for an additional fee.

Some boarding kennels offer amenities such as air-conditioning, daily exercise outside of the cage, grooming, television privileges, or other forms of mental stimulation for your dog. When you call, ask specifically about the things that are important to you. Basic boarding is just that: basic. It usually includes 24 hours a day in a cage, with a food dish thrown in once or twice a day. If you want more than that, you will have to pay more, but your dog will likely be much happier, and you will feel much better about leaving him there.

Dog in a kennel
Dog kennels come in a range of qualities and price points.

The best boarding kennels even offer an Internet feed so you can check in on your dog from time to time while you are away. Cameras mounted inside the facility allows you to feel secure because both you and the boarding provider know that you can see how they are treating your beloved family member.


If you have good friends who are dog people, the most economical vacation solution to ask them to watch your dog, offering to return the favor when they go away or to buy them dinner when you return from your trip. It doesn’t hurt to buy them a T-shirt or some other memento from your trip, either.

If it isn’t feasible to leave the dog with friends, you may have to hire a service to come into your home several times a day to walk and feed your dog. Take the time to check into the company’s references and make sure they are bonded and insured. Clarify your expectations before you leave, including the number of trips they will make to your home and how long they will spend with your dog on each trip.

Post very clear instructions for whoever will be taking care of your dog, including feeding times, medications, favorite toys, and any special instructions such as that the dog will only do his business in the back yard, not on walks, or that the dog is not allowed to go upstairs.

Family portrait with dog
Whatever you decide, make sure it is in your dog's best interests.

Whether or not to take your dog with you on a trip is an individual decision, but make sure you are making it in the dog’s best interests. Many dogs become upset when taken out of their accustomed environment, and will do much better at home than on your trip. Your dog really doesn’t care if he gets to see Yellowstone, but he does care if he gets exercised, petted, played with, and fed regularly. If you can make arrangements for these necessities at home, leave him there. Otherwise, make sure you can provide for him while you are on the road.

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