Snowflake, a 3 year old White West Highlander Terrier or “westie”, is so easy going, I thought he'd be low maintenance as long as he had food/water and poppy walks. I quickly learned, among other things, that my dog gets tired much faster than I do and feels the heat much harder than I do. He also needs more frequent walks and baths than usual. These are the lessons I learned, I hope they'll make your own planning a bit easier and your trip more enjoyable.
Never, while planning for this trip, did I think about seeking care for him though I knew we'd drive long hours and many parks/beaches do not allow pets. My focus was on making the trip as enjoyable as possible to all of us.
He surprised me with his enthusiasm to follow me on the trails, he is an avid climber, and he didn't miss a chance to get his paws wet on the river or beach. He got pretty good at swimming! Needless to say, my son enjoyed having a buddy to play with wherever we went.
Let’s talk first about the logistics for the food. Snowflake doesn't respond well to changes in his diet. So we ensured his food would be easily available at major grocery stores so I could buy smaller bags (10 pounds) and replenish along the way.
Because space inside the van is limited and I love convenience, I bought an air tight container that fits my van pantry and can store about one week of dry food and kept the remaining food in the trunk. When I throw away the empty bag, I add dog food to my shopping list. Other things to include in your checklist are:
1. Treats. I put them in a ziploc bag. I like the idea that space is released as the goods are consumed. Two types I keep handy: stress calming treats and teeth cleaning treats.
2. Medication. Flea & tick meds, heartworm treatment, etc. A first aid kit is a must, for your family and you pet.
3. Water/food dish & mat. Remember your pet will be thirsty while on the trail.
4. Shampoo, towel, and other toiletries
Other more complicated matters:
Access to the trails. Always check whether your selected location(s) are pet friendly. Most beaches and a good number of National and State parks do not allow pets but in the parking lots, and some not even. That was the case of Baxter State Park in Maine and Point Lobos State Preserve in California, you cannot enter the park if you have a pet in the car. For sure, any dog friendly location will still require you to keep them on a leash (6 feet long or shorter) and to clean up after. On this point, I cannot stress enough how important and considerate it is to pick up the poop and please please please do NOT leave the bag on the side of the trail.
Sickness or injuries. These happen to pets as well. Snowflake got a thorn on his paw. His mood was down, he was constantly licking the paw, and he was limping. I cleaned the area and after pulling out the thorn, applied an OTC antibiotic ointment and put a bandage to stop the licking. He was “like new“ within 24hrs. There are many ways pets can get injured or sick while on the road, it is wise to carry a pet insurance.
Hiking: He always jumps at the opportunity to join me, such a good sport! I know however that after a 2 mile hike, less if climbing or extreme heat is involved, he needs rest and refreshment. I have been doing short (1-2 miles) hikes with him early in the morning before the heat kicks in. It is also important to be aware of ticks picked up along the way. I apply the flea/tick repellent and still once or twice he picked up passengers. We do the tick check before getting back inside the van. Also, if he got too muddy or collected too much dirt/sand, I’ll give him a quick rinse outside as possible.
Sleeping arrangements: There was an attempt at providing him with the comfort of his own bed, we quickly gave it up. It takes precious space and he prefers being next to me while I drive anyways. The bed also becomes a liability as snowflake returns muddy and dirty leaving a very stinky odor, same reason why I do not allow him on our bed. Instead, I put rugs (think bathroom rugs, towels) that he likes. Those get washed every week.
Travel seat: Most times he prefers the floor, it is cooler because of the A/C vents at the feet and the soft vibrations of the car when we drive on the highway. There are times though that he wants to see the outside and feel the cool wind on his face, for those times, I put a safety harness that gives him mobility while attached to the actual seat safety belt. He will not become a live projectile if I hit the breaks when I suddenly see a buffalo or a cool spot on the side of the road.
Feel free to add your own tips in the comments, more than one dog-owner reading this would appreciate it. Thank you for reading!