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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?