Tips When Traveling With an Old Dog

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This is a blog devoted in large part to family travel, and for some (like us) a dog is part of our family. Dogs who are members of traveling families are very much impacted by the human’s travel, whether they come along for the ride, or are left behind at home or in boarding. I’ve been lucky enough to have an awesome siberian husky be a part of my family since 2001. She was a rescue from an animal shelter in Austin, and wasn’t in good shape when I adopted her. I was 20 years old when she entered my life, and she was very much “my child”. Back then I had many adventures with her, including a drive up to Buffalo, New York, from Texas, in part so she could play in the snow… you know, being a husky and all.

Covered in snow on her trip up north.  She loved it!

Covered in snow on her trip up north. She loved it!

Fast forward to now and life has gotten a lot more hectic since I adopted her during my college days, and consequently her position in the family did drop a little from “child” to much-loved pet. Don’t feel too bad for her though as she still has a pretty great life that usually consists of laying on the guest bed and dreaming of treats, or doing her best tolerating the affection from our daughter.

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While you wouldn’t know it by looking at her, she is at least 13 years old, so she is slowing down a little and is squarely in the category of “old dog”. Maybe “mature dog” or “senior dog” sounds better, but we cut to the chase around here. It has reached a point where we no longer think it is fair to ask her to go to boarding and have to keep up with all the other dogs there while we are away. We use a great boarding facility that offers kennels or cage-free boarding, and lets the animals roam the farm, swim, and play for most of the day. She loves swimming and playing there, but being a 13-year-old dog who has to keep up with young dogs just doesn’t work as well as it used to.

Thankfully, my parents are usually willing and able to take care of her while we are away, but on a recent trip we were all gone at the same time so they were not an option. So, we loaded the dog up and all set out on an adventure together. It had been a little while since I really traveled with her, so the trip brought forth a few lessons in traveling with a dog in general, as well as some specific issues when traveling with an old dog.

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Our polite old dog didn’t even try to steal one bite of the burger

Find pet-friendly lodging:

If you are bringing a pet along for the ride, you obviously need to make sure that they will be allowed where you are staying. Some hotel chains are more pet-friendly than others, and sometimes the pet policy is location specific. For example, La Quinta and Kimpton are pet-friendly chain-wide. Kimpton’s policy is that they welcome any pet, regardless of size, weight, or breed for zero fees or deposits at every Kimpton Hotel. However, on this trip I was traveling to a Hyatt, and I know that with Hyatt the pet policy is not necessarily chain-wide. I contacted the property we were visiting, Hyatt Lost Pines, and found out that they were indeed dog friendly, and they added our dog to the reservation. I recommend not just relying on what the hotel’s website says, but actually call and make sure you are getting up-to-date information. Sometimes there can be weight, breed, or even room-type restrictions that the website may not have up-to-date.

If you are starting for scratch looking for lodging I would check-out sites like www.dogfriendly.com or www.bringfido.com for some ideas on hotels that allow pets.

Pack for your pet:

We were told to bring our pet’s shot records, so we brought those along with the other basics we knew we would need. We were never asked for the health records, but it was still good to have them with us. Our dog is a pretty simple creature, so packing for her mainly included dog food, bowls, and plastic baggies. For your dog, it may also include toys and treats or even a doggie bed. Some hotels provide some of this as part of their pet package, but we didn’t want to assume anything…and in the end nothing was provided, so it was good we brought everything we needed. If your dog is on any medication, then make sure to bring plenty of that as well.

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Settling into her room at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort

Potty-breaks, potty-breaks:

The drive from our house to the Lost Pines Resort is about 3 hours, and my husband is one of those who likes to “make good time”. However, when traveling with an older dog (or even a younger dog), you almost can’t have too many potty breaks. So, we made sure to stop after about 90 minutes to give her a chance to get out some of her energy and take advantage of the facilities grass. Of course it goes without saying that you need to be prepared to clean up after your pet as well both on the road and when you get to your final destination.

I made a very big strategic error when I did not walk her before entering the hotel check-in area. She had just been walked about 40 minutes prior, so I didn’t think to walk her again before heading in the hotel. We were not just traveling with her, but also an energetic 3 year old, so the goal was simply to get checked into the room as soon as possible. Let’s just say that our dog did not make a good first impression with the check-in agents who were initially oohing and awing over her as we walked in. I was mortified by her accident and my husband was about ready to turn around and drive home as we were afraid this was the start of a very bad idea of staying in a hotel with our normally very house-trained dog.

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Attempting check-in a second time after our initial “incident”

Make the room feel like home:

When you get to the room, make it feel as comfortable as you can. Some old dogs can’t see as well as they used to, so stay with them while they get used to the room. Make sure the food and water is somewhere they can find. We also made sure to not just throw her into the room and take off, but instead we all stayed in the room for a while together while she adjusted.

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The hotel did give us a special hanger for the door so that staff would know not to enter as there was a dog present. This was for their safety as well as the dog’s. Plus she would have been stressed if people she didn’t know were coming in and out of the room. I recommend doing the same for your room, even if the hotel does not provide a special door hanger.

Get ready to pay:

While some hotels, like Kimpton, don’t charge for dogs, many other hotels do. In fact, this hotel charged $150 whether you are staying one night or six with a pet. I totally understand that having a dog means more work for the housekeeping staff, so I respect their decision to impose a fee. Since we were there just two nights it did feel a little steep to us. They had just switched from charging $50 a night, to a flat $150, which is great for longer stays, but obviously that is more painful to the wallet for those there on short stays. It cost us more to bring her than to board her for two nights, but our decision to bring her was not based on cost. We would never fly with her for many reasons, but if you do decide to fly with your pet there will be fees every time you do that as well. Traveling with pets is not inexpensive, and isn’t really all that helpful with building points/miles either. You do it because it is what is best for your family, not because it is what is best for your wallet.

Take it easy on the older pups:

Once our dog got settled in the routine of the hotel, she started to really enjoy her walks around the property and through the lobby. She didn’t have another accident, and I think started to actually like the new adventure. We took her on one longer walk down to the Colorado River on the hotel’s property, and while she really seemed to enjoy the experience, the fact that she is an older gal became a problem when it was time to head back to the room.

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Enjoying the view on the Colorado River

She goes up and down the stairs at our house just fine, but we had exceeded her limits when asking her to go back up the stairs from the river area. A combination of impaired eye sight, tired bones, and exhaustion had her tripping and falling on the stairs. After a couple of steps it was clear I just needed to carry her up, so that is what we did. We don’t notice her age as much at home because she is in a comfortable routine, but we really needed to set limits for her on this journey in order to keep her safe and comfortable.

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Be aware everyone will want to pet your dog:

We were staying at a very busy and very family-oriented resort, so there were people (especially kids) everywhere who wanted to pet our dog. We had put a bandana on her so she looked super friendly, and that probably just amplified the effect. Keep your dog’s temperament in mind if you are staying somewhere like this. Again, because she is older, this could have become overwhelming for her in a hurry. With a few exceptions, we primarily walked her away from the busiest areas. The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines has tons of great places to walk all over the property, so we generally just headed away from the heavily populated spots so she could have a peaceful walk. We also did the longer walks in the early mornings and evenings when it was not only cooler, but less crowded.

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Overall Experience:

Even though we had one or two mishaps, I still think the trip overall was a great success with our old(er) dog. She was a bit nervous at times, but settled in and I think liked experiencing something new and sniffing all sorts of new smells. Due to cost and the stress it did put on her at times, I do not think I would seek out additional ways to travel with her. However, if we needed to do a similar trip in the future, I think we could take the lessons learned on this journey and do even better next time. After a day or so of rest, she has actually been more active than normal at home since the trip! For the most part, when my parents are unable to watch her, I think we will be moving into looking for a pet sitter to take the reigns since our days of “doggie daycares” and boarding facilities are probably behind us.

While it is totally possible, and even enjoyable, to travel with an older dog, I think our dog’s favorite activity is making funny faces while resting on one of the beds. That’s no problem with me. She’s earned it.

Do you have any tips from hitting the road with your dog?

Comments

  1. Although I’m an old dog myself, I don’t have (nor do I have any interest in having) a pet. Still, I found this article an excellent (and interesting) example of the kind of useful and unusual content that you get at this blog. Even if your old (or young!) dogs are just other (human) members of your own family, everyone can benefit by giving each other the kind of consideration described.

  2. Enjoyed the awesome photos! We bribe our money-strapped-college-aged kids to stop by or stay at the house with the pets when we travel.

  3. Totally agree with Larry. We don’t have any dogs in our house (I don’t even like dogs, mostly – sorry), but I really enjoyed this post. It is a nice example of what you do so well: write an engaging and interesting story that people can learn from, too.
    And your dog is really beautiful.

  4. While dogs thrive on routine they are very resilient and adaptable. An accident at check in, not that uncommon, it’s a new place and they are not yet sure where the potty is. Most dogs just want to be with their families, and as long as they can come along their happy.My dogs are well traveled (land and air)and they can add a lot of fun to a trip.My dogs do get boarding, and they also have a good time playing with all the other guys.I try to have a balance so they aren’t boarding too often.Good post

  5. Larry, wow thanks for the nice comment and very glad to hear you enjoyed her story. Totally agree that being considerate whether it is to the old or young, human or creatures, is always important. 😉
    alaneaw, sounds like the perfect plan!
    Jamie, I have several in my own family who don’t really like dogs, no worries. 😉 So glad to hear you liked the post and thanks for the comment!
    Jim, totally agree and how neat that your dogs are well traveled! I think things get a little more complex once they hit a certain age, but in general they really are adaptable. I know mine has had to be!

  6. Nice post. We don’t travel much with our four greyhounds but I can see where our older dog would get worn out on a long walk.
    Oh and I like the Chiefs dog leash. Gotta get one of those.

  7. This post is so helpful to us since we just booked a December trip that will include a long-distance drive with our two senior dogs and a stay at a rental property. I hadn’t thought about carrying their health records but that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the tips!

  8. Red Roof Inns and Motel 6 also let pets stay free at every location.

    They can easily go in and out of Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, but cannot go to Hawaii.

    On a plane it’s nice to pre-board and take a back row so as not to slow down boarding and de-planing.

  9. Beautiful dog. I really love dogs with a passion. They’re great companions and great for stress. I was wondering though what your feelings are on flying with a dog. I personally find it disturbing that airlines allow passengers to impose their pets on others in a confined space where you can’t leave the plane and you might be allergic, or simply want to sleep, or whatever the case might be. We might love dogs, but after all, they’re animals. A hotel I can live with, but someone flying next to me with a dog? Not so much. Any thoughts?

  10. Thank you so much for posting this story!!!!!

    That dog is so beautiful – I swear I can feel her spirit! (One of adventure, caring, hope, joy, love, etc.)

    I see wonder spirit the pictures of your daughter as well – you should be very proud of how you have helped your dog and daughter find joy and happiness.

    You keep saying how she is old – she does not look old at all. She is like some human beings who are 80, 90 or even 100 years YOUNG!

  11. Excellent post! I too have an aging dog (two actually) and one of them actually had a spinal injury a week before our big trip to Europe this summer. She (temporarily, as it turned out) lost function in her hind legs and so couldn’t stay at the kennel, of course. Actually, three separate vets recommended we put her down. We found a dog chiropractor who also recommended a sitter (a massage therapist in her practice), so the dog was actually getting treatments while we were gone – we felt so blessed!

    Also, I just checked my e-miles account for the first time in months and saw an offer for rover dot com, which helps you find local sitters – it looks promising for future trips.

  12. Loved this post even though we don’t have a dog either. Especially loved seeing how well behaved your dog is with your daughter holding the burger.

  13. Beautiful gal! Glad you could make time to travel with her again in her older age. Travel is certainly not the exclusive property of the young!

  14. -I have seen more and more hotels in Hawaii advertize their pet-friendly status, so that would coincide with a relaxed quarantine.
    -Personally I would not fly with my dog, but she is too large for the cabin and I would never send her in cargo. I think I probably fly near more pets than I ever realize on the plane as they are often very well behaved.
    -She has hidden her age well, but she certainly has more white than she used to. 😉
    -She is a very good dog, but in generally huskies are not the best pets for families as they are very pack hierarchy oriented so it is a constant issue to remind her that the child is over her in the pack order and is not to be messed with. Still, she has done great for the most part in our family.

  15. I could not approve of this article and its content more than I do. I have stated before that I don’t always find this blog most useful because of its family oriented content, but there are excellent articles from time to time and overall it is now one of my favorites…especially after this article and your obvious love and affection for your dog.

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