What Should You Do With Your Dog When You Travel For The Holidays?

It’s that time of year again. The time when millions of dogs take to the highways.
 

Golden Retriever is ready for a road trip

I smell pies baking. It must be Thanksgiving. And that means it’s time to hit the road.


 
What? You look puzzled.

American Thanksgiving is coming up fast. It’s the biggest travel day of the year. If you’re visiting distant friends or family and have a dog, he’s probably traveling too. And you have a big decision to make.

Should you board your dog? Take her along with you? Or let her stay home with a petsitter?

Boarding Your Dog

I have never boarded my dogs. My first dogs, Agatha and Christie had severe separation anxiety. And Agatha didn’t like other dogs. Heck, she didn’t even like her sister.

But boarding kennels have been around for years and many dogs tolerate them well.

Boarding facilities in my town feature radiant heat floors, piped in music, and home-type rooms with soft beds. Heck, sign me up. It sounds nicer than my house.
 

Honey the golden retriever takes a nap.

My friend is at a fancy boarding kennel and all I got is this stupid pillow.


 
If your dog is sociable and doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety, boarding him can work well. Just make sure, if you’re considering boarding your dog, to interview the owners, tour the facility, and follow-up on references.

Personally, I would not leave Honey in a boarding facility for an extended stay while I traveled without doing a test first. An overnight visit while you’re still in town is one way to see if your dog likes a boarding situation before you travel miles away.

Pros of boarding your dog

  • Usually the least expensive option if your dog can’t go with you.
  • Simplifies your travel plans.

Cons of boarding your dog

  • No matter how many tours you take or references you read, you won’t know how your dog tolerates boarding until you try it.
  • Leaving your dog in someone else’s care is risky. Add dozens of strange dogs to the mix and the risk of your dog being injured or becoming ill goes up.

If boarding is not a good fit for your dog, it’s getting easier to take him with you.

Taking Your Dog With You

This is always my first choice. But sometimes it’s impossible—especially if you’re flying.

If you take your dog with you, you’ll have lots of decisions to make. Where will you stay? In a hotel or with family? Will your dog tolerate the noise and excitement of a family gathering? Does your family like dogs?
 

Honey the Golden Retriever relaxing on bed.

I always sleep better in a hotel.


 
And the most important question of all: how likely is it that you can transport three pies and a lab mix in the same car without incident?

Once you decide to take your dog with you, use a website like Go Pet Friendly to plan your doggie road trip. The last thing you need is to try to smuggle a mastiff into a hotel room because you can’t find one that allows dogs.

Pros of taking your dog with you

  • You don’t miss him.
  • You know exactly how he’s being cared for.

Cons of taking your dog with you

  • Unless your dog is a back-up driver, having her along complicates your travel plans. Just try pulling over for a potty break on the highway when you’re in bumper to bumper traffic, if you don’t believe me.
  • Not everyone in your family or group of friends will understand why you need to have your dog along.

Once you’ve committed, check out my tips for making traveling with your dogs for the holidays as stress-free as possible. And if you decide not to take your dog with you, you could leave him at home with a petsitter.

Leaving Your Dog With a Petsitter

It was hard to go to Panama for a month and leave Honey behind. Luckily, Honey’s best (human) friend is also a terrific petsitter. Our absence was no big deal since our petsitter stayed in the house and was with Honey in the mornings and evenings. Honey’s schedule changed very little from what it would be if I was home.

And that’s the ideal.

I believe that most dogs, if they can’t be with you, would at least like to be surrounded by your smells. At home.
 

Honey the Golden Retriever lies in her crate.

Do you really think you’re going to convince people that you left laundry on the crate for my comfort? C’mon.


 
That’s why we left plenty of dirty socks in the hamper before our vacation. No, it had nothing to do with running out of time to clean the house before I left. I was only thinking of the comfort of my dog. Honest.

Pros of having a petsitter stay with your dog

  • Disrupts your dog’s routine the least amount.
  • Your petsitter will also keep an eye on  your house for you.

Cons of having a petsitter stay with your dog

  • It’s expensive.
  • You’re leaving your home and your best friend in the care of a stranger.

I’ve given a lot of thought to making sure my dogs have a good experience with a petsitter. I spelled it out in today’s guest post at Keep the Tail Wagging. I hope you’ll check it out.

Staying Home With Your Dog For The Holidays

Of course, who says you have to travel for the holidays at all? If the purpose of a celebration is to enjoy it with those you love, maybe the best place for you to be for the holidays is at home. With your dog.

Your Turn: What do you and your dog do for big family holidays? Do you hit the road? Or do you stay home?

Get Your Petsitter Printables

I’ve fine tuned my planning to make sure Honey has a good experience with a petsitter.

I prepare a vet permission letter authorizing my petsitter to seek treatment for Honey in case of an emergency. I leave a thorough list of important numbers, including the microchip company’s. And I make a petsitter check list for myself so I don’t forget anything.

Sign up below to get your copies of these helpful petsitter printables.

Don’t forget to click the email that confirms that you signed up to get the printables. If you lose the email in your spam folder or forget to reply, you won’t get the petsitter printables. 

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Comments

  1. In the US, it is much harder with dogs because we aren’t accepted many places. In Germany, it was much easier to take us along. Luckily, Mom is pretty traveled out, so she likes to stay home. We do go on road trips and we do great in the car, although 12-14 hour car days are long. We sigh when we need a stretching break but mostly we catch up on napping. We have had pet sitters too and that worked out well, but no kennels for us no matter how fancy, it is very expensive and we wouldn’t like it too much. Now with three of us dogs, our options are even more limited, but that doesn’t seem to bother Mom at all…being stuck home with us that is. Who will watch our cats seems to be the bigger problem around here.

    • In my family, the rule is that people with children get to stay home. Everyone else gets to travel. Pets aren’t considered kids.

      But now that my nieces and nephews are older, I enjoy staying home more on the holidays.

      As for Germany being more pet-friendly–I suspect that if the U.S. allowed dogs in more places, we’d see much better behaved dogs because of all the socialization.

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I have to find a dog-friendly hotel for Christmas.

    Chuck and I took Bailey on her first NC to NY road trip in April when she was about 4-ish months old. Since Bailey gets carsick, we bought some calming drops to help her sleep. She did well considering the trip took about 13 hours. I hear you on the stopping for a bathroom break in traffic. We were about 20 minutes from my inlaws on a major highway when Bailey peed in the car.

    If anyone has them, I would love some tips on how to keep Bailey hydrated during the drive. Getting her to drink was tough. We had to put the calming drops in this sweet potato and goat milk mix so she was somewhat hydrated, but she drank a gallon of water the minute we got to my in-laws house. 10-13 hours is a long time to go without drinking water.

  3. We stay home for the holidays. We are lucky most of our family lives close by. My family is local, and my hubby’s family is only 2 hours away so we make day trips only to visit them. Usually one of my sisters or a friend will come over once to let the dogs out and feed them, since it is a long day.
    When we do travel, we use a pet sitter. We are very lucky because my sister and my friend are usually available, and we feel comfortable leaving our house and pets with them! Those documents will be handy to have though, thanks for sharing them.

  4. Oh man, yes she was. She took that trip like a champ. We drive overnight and usually make it in less than 10, but we got a late start after a full day of work so we kept stopping to sleep. We missed the NY-traffic window and spent two hours napping in the car at a New Jersey rest stop. This year, we’re traveling on a Saturday so we should be able to get ample sleep before the drive.

    Anyway, I’ll definitely have to give this toy a shot. Thanks for the suggestions! I think she avoids eating or drinking in the car because she feels sick, but that’s why I want to keep her hydrated. I have the same problem even when we make a 30 minute drive to the lake. I bring water with me, but she never wants anything to do with it.

  5. Sam and I stay home for the holidays usually, especially now that we have Ducky.

    Back in ’05 when my Dad passed away, we left Callie and Shadow at the PetSmart PetsHotel that was fairly new here in Greenville. I had been taking them there for daycare on rainy days so they wouldn’t have to spend the whole day in their dog house, so I knew the staff pretty well and felt comfortable with the arrangement. Over time, the staff changed almost as often as I changed my clothes and by early ’08, I was no longer comfortable with leaving the girls there even for daycare. So, I had to find a pet sitter I could trust. I was lucky — I found one fairly quickly and I still use them on occasion. I wouldn’t do it any other way now. The usual overnight sitter is also their groomer, and my girls all love her. And, they love the day-time sitters too. If they can’t stay with my girls, I don’t go, period. I still have all the forms that I signed back in ’08 before Jen first came over to play with the girls while I was at work. But it wouldn’t hurt to have a set of your forms, too. Thanks for sharing them with us!!

  6. Thanks for such a thorough article. Being a professional pet sitter, I’m partial to that option. I find that people check in quite a lot the first time I sit for them, and then I’m not a stranger any more, so the trust and confidence is established. I have worked with many of my clients for years and years, often seeing generations of pets. It’s nice that they know they can trust me, and I know the drill, so it’s like sitting for a family member. So if you go with the pet sitter option, be thorough about your selection so you can build a long-term relationship. And we book up early for the holiday season, so plan ahead! Thanks for such a great overview of the options!

  7. Ugh! I don’t trust anyone to care for my dogs for more than a walk or two. When it was just Wilson, it was easy as I had a good friend (who owned Wilson’s best dog buddy) he stayed with and I watched her dog in return. But when Jimmy came along, it became harder to palm of 2 dogs onto a friend, esp. since Jimmy can be snarky. So we started planning road trip vacations that were dog friendly (La Tourelle get very high marks as being dog friendly!). I am starting to get itchy for something more exotic, so it could be we will have to try the house-sitter route.

  8. We are lucky as my immediate family is all close enough that we just get together for the day. (Although in the past, we had to either bring the dog along – even flew with her once, nightmare of worry – or find a place to keep her, also worrisome!) Whenever we go away now, my sis and I trade dog-sitting duties. If they couldn’t keep her, we probably just wouldn’t go away! (Or I’d try to find someone I could trust to stay home with her.) I think going to a boarding facility would set Rita back! Luckily we don’t have to consider that.

  9. We mainly stay home, although most Thanksgivings we head to my sisters in New Hampshire Friday morning. She has three dogs and 11 acres and mostly things go well. Of course, we rarely leave all the dogs alone together. Mostly the girls go out and the guys stay home and vice versa.

    We’ve made the trip so many times that we have a routine for stopping. We always stop at the same areas up and back. I usually use the facilities first while Hubby walks the dogs then we swap.

    I’ve thought about all the other options and honestly, I’m not comfortable kenneling them and I haven’t found a sitter I’d trust. So if they can’t go, neither can WE. Which doesn’t mean one of us can’t go. 😉

  10. Most of our family is within an hour drive of us, so we don’t have to make that decision. The one time we did have to travel out of state for a long time and couldn’t take our dogs with us, we were lucky and had a good friend who also has Greyhounds who lived two blocks down the street. The dogs stayed here and she came down and let them out and fed them for us. I wouldn’t do that now with Morgan, though. We just make our travel plans to include the dogs, and we’ve learned that there are plenty of ways to make that happen if we take time to plan for it.

  11. Oliver, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, also sleeps better in hotel beds. I think its cause he gets the middle pillow in the king size bed. At home, he either has to push us around to make some stretching room or curl up on top of us.

  12. One of the joys of having a smaller dog – the odd time my cairn has needed to be looked after whilst we have been away he has been taken in by family and friends. My grandparents take him happily, as they used to have dogs and so love to have him stay for a while and if they are busy we have people cuing around the block who would have him for a short time.
    With my collie is it a very different story, he is too strong for a lot of people to walk (although I have trained him to “heel” I think it is only myself who rigorously sticks to this walking my ex seems to think what is the point!) and with his fear aggression those who would not worry about his size worry about this and so have said they will have him for a few hours but not walk him.
    I hate that BD has to go into kennels the few times we have been unable to take him with us, especially with his fear issues but we felt we had no choice!

  13. We were intending to leave Donna at at dog boarder. We were intending to have her at the dog boarder for daycare sometime before we have to board her, but it did not occur to me to leave her over for one night. Something to think about. Good post.

  14. This is a lot of wonderful information! Maya and Pierson go with us when we make our annual holiday road trip from Kansas to Texas to visit family. But there have been times in the past when we were flying to other places in the US and they couldn’t go. Maya does very well in a boarding kennel with a large group play area. I don’t like vet boarding kennels where they stay in a cage most of the day. Generally, though, Maya and Pierson stay with friends.

  15. Love this article, Pamela. Lots of great information! We, too, either take our dogs or have someone stay with them. In a pinch, I’ll drive them 2.5 hours to my parents’ house, but with 4 dogs, that’s a lot to drop off on my parent’s front porch! :) The dogs do love it there though — they go to the lake every day for at least an hour and swim to their heart’s content. It’s a Labrador’s dream — walk from the backdoor to the lake… Ahhhhh!

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