french bulldog traveling
As a veterinarian with 20-plus years of experience roaming the States with pets in tow, you’d think I’d have the traveling thing down. Yet every single time I take my pets anywhere outside my hometown in South Florida, I’m forced to confront some new (and often annoying) aspect of pet travel I’d somehow missed during the 50-plus trips that preceded it.

My last expedition serves as a perfect example:

I flew from Miami to Arizona with my French Bulldog, Vincent, for a speaking engagement.

After spending the night at a fancy pet-friendly resort, we flew to Washington, D.C., where Vincent and I met up with my significant other and our Belgian Malinois pup, Violet. They’d just driven up from Miami to help me enjoy three days of BlogPaws, a social media conference for the pet set. There we spent our nights in a ninth-floor hotel room (near the elevator, thank God) and our days in a conference booth promoting my Fat Dog Diet iPhone app.

After the conference, we shared a leisurely drive back to Miami with Vincent and Violet sleeping peacefully (mostly, anyway) in the back of my SUV.

As a mixed media marathon experience in pet travel, this particular trip was extra-illuminating on the things-I-never-knew-about-pet-travel front. After all, it’s only fair for you to learn about the things no one ever talks about in all those supremely unhelpful pet travel websites.

A Few Tips From the Road Weary

So here it is, fodder for your upcoming summer travels:

1. The first time is always the worst. So always plan a short trip first. I know plenty of people who refuse to travel with their pets after having suffered a stressful time their first time out. But that’s only to be expected. As long as it wasn’t a complete fiasco and your dog has a generally sound temperament, it’s probably a good idea to try again. Just be sure to make it a shorter trip the next time out, and stop somewhere fun, like the dog park.

2. Traveling with a puppy is a double-edged sword. As you might expect, puppies can make for some tough traveling experiences. Consider: separation anxiety, housebreaking issues and all that chewing! Despite the drawbacks, traveling with a pup offers plenty to recommend it. After all, how best to socialize a pet to the rigors of travel than to expose her to them early?

(Just be sure to bring along a powerful array of floor cleaners!)

3. Do not be lulled into a sense of complacency with respect to your traveling companion’s adorability. Though it may seem the whole world wants to coo and “awwww” with abandon, there are some humans — believe it or not — who view your pet as little more than an unwelcome nuisance.

Brief anecdote: In Phoenix, I actually let someone bully me into apologizing for the fact that my dog sniffed her. “That is not acceptable. The irresponsibility of pet owners knows no bounds!” she intoned loudly enough for a lobby full of hotel guests to hear. (So you know, certain attitudes are not conducive to apologies, but who was I to argue?)

4. “Under the seat in front of you” is a very small space, indeed. Not every pet is comfortable in confined areas — much less in really confined areas. And depending on your airline and the airplane model in question, that area might be a whole lot smaller than you currently envision it. For the sake of her comfort and welfare, make sure your dog is easygoing with respect to prolonged confinement.

This information is especially crucial to those among you who might’ve considered “fudging” your dog’s weight for the purposes of in-cabin air travel. Unless your pet is really close to the upper limit and very comfortable in tight spots, you should think this through before flouting the law.

5. Sedation is not a solution designed for your convenience. In other words, if your pet doesn’t have the temperament for travel, don’t force the issue.

6. Bring at least a dozen more chew treats or playthings than you think you need — per day. As with children, keeping pets busy during travel is the key to success. Know what toys or chewies entertain them best and don’t upset their digestion. And reduce their food intake accordingly so they don’t consume a glut of excess calories.

7. Motion sickness happens even to the most cast-iron-stomached. Even if your pet never gets car sick, motion sickness can nonetheless occur unexpectedly in any kind of vehicle (boats, trains, planes, cars, etc.) — especially during very long rides. That’s why I always truck along some anti-nausea pills to make it go away.

8. Don’t forget your “first aid kit”! Unless you’re traveling overseas or headed off-road, the best kind of first aid kit is made up of one single item: a smartphone loaded with an app that offers info on the emergency hospital closest to wherever you might be. (Nowadays, lots of apps can do this for you.)

9. Travel is the perfect time to truck out some of those newfangled high-tech safety tools. I’m a huge fan of water safety monitors (they ring at a base station should dogs land in the water) in case dogs encounter bodies of water they’re not accustomed to during their travels. I’m also big on using pet GPS devices to keep track of pets when they’re in unfamiliar locales.

We strap on those cute Safety Turtle water monitors every time we rent a little house in the Keys and click on the Tagg Pet Tracker GPS device as an added safety measure. The GPS thing is especially anxiety-relieving whenever we’re in places where hiking happens (visiting my sister’s place in Tahoe or the cabin in Georgia).

Make Room in the Hotel Bed

With all the vicissitudes of travel, your dog may be craving a little extra comfort, so be prepared to cede the hotel’s bed to your dog’s control.

Somehow, my dogs know they can get away with more when they’re away on vacay. And for some reason, a hotel room bed is a sure sign (to my dogs, anyway) that things will be going their way that night. Indeed, nighttime in a hotel room is the only time they seem to forget all their crate training. And I guess that’s OK. That is, as long as they let us humans sleep there with them!