How To Travel With A Big Dog, According To 18 People Who Have Done It
When you travel, there’s a lot of things to take into consideration — from where to go to how long you’ll be gone to if you’ll travel solo or with others. And if you have a small pet — like a cat or dog — that you want to bring along, you’ll need to plan accordingly for them, too, making sure that your destination will be pet-friendly. But if your pet’s not that little, you may wonder how people travel with big dogs.
“One of the biggest challenges owners often experience when traveling with a large dog concerns exercise,” Ben Team, senior content editor for K9ofMine.com, tells Bustle. “Dogs — particularly big dogs — will often get a touch of cabin fever when kept in a vehicle for long periods of time.” He says the same goes for other contained spaces, such as an RV or boat. “So be sure to make time for frequent stops, and let your pup get out and stretch their legs,” he says. “Just be sure that you keep your dog leashed unless you are in an enclosed area.” He also suggests reviewing your intended route and looking for good places for these leg-stretching sessions, such as public parks and rest areas.
Preparation Is Key
Team also says to make sure you’re prepared for the trip as much as possible. “It’s obviously important to bring along plenty of water, food, snacks, and a favorite toy or two, but it is also important to make sure your dog has ID tags (with current contact info),” he says. “In fact, the best option is to fit your dog with a GPS tracking collar, so that you can find your pooch again if you become separated while traveling.”
As far as flying with your big dog, Team says it’s tough, and many airlines have size restrictions in place, so you’ll need to purchase an approved crate for your dog. “Accordingly, it is generally much easier to travel via vehicle when bringing a dog along for the journey,” he says. Speaking of which, using a dog harness and keeping your dog buckled in — or secured in a crash-tested crate — is recommended. And, with the sunny weather, dogs become sick or die each year when left in hot cars, he adds. “Owners must be sure to keep their canine’s comfort in mind when setting off to travel,” he says. “There are a variety of products that can help keep dogs safe and cool while traveling, such as window shades and cooling mats.” If you’re looking for more tips on how to travel with a big dog — whether it’s by vehicle, plane, or even by boat — below, 17 pet owners share how they do it.
1. Susan, 52
“My husband and I travel with our big dogs — each 70 pounds, Dakota (a black Lab/pit bull mix) and Cruz (unidentified, but looks like a cross between a sheepdog and a German Shepherd) — in our RV. Currently, we RV about two weeks per month from March through October and have gone places all over the U.S. — including the New Jersey shore, Charlotte, NC, and Louisville, KY — but we’ll be transitioning to full-time within the year.
There are always challenges with bringing the dogs along, such as ensuring they are properly secured in our truck while we travel, making sure they have enough exercise, or other campers being afraid of them because of their size — but it’s all worth it (even though they’re bed hogs and RV beds are smaller than residential-sized beds). But our pups seem to love sniffing new smells, meeting new people (who doesn’t love extra belly rubs?), and going on new adventures with us.”
2. Diana, 27
“My husband and I live in Plantation, FL and have taken many local road trips with our three-and-a-half-year-old Pharaoh Hound, Bruno. We’ve gone to nearby cities — like West Palm Beach and Fort Myers — but have also gone as far as Key West and even to Los Alamos, New Mexico. He loves to travel! He knows he’s going on a little adventure as soon as he sees us grab his little ‘suitcase’ — an old backpack — with all the essentials: food, toys, treats, his leash, etc.
My advice for traveling with big dogs, specifically going on road trips, is to have a vehicle that allows for the dog to have the whole back seat, like an SUV or crossover; even a Prius works great. I would also recommend buying collapsible bowls — they come in handy when you pull over on the side of the road and your dog needs a quick bite or drink of water. Also, be sure to plan ahead and book hotels or Airbnbs that are dog-friendly.”
3. Steve, 33
“I’m a first-time dog owner; my dog is a seven- or eight-year-old shelter dog, Buddy. We’ve spent a lot of time traveling in my car — and he’s got some boating under his belt, too. Buddy has been a dream to travel with since day one because he loves car trips, whether going on a five-minute drive to visit my parents or a seven-hour drive to visit our family farm in New York. He loves sticking his head out the window, whether in the summer or winter, and loves having the whole back seat of my 4Runner to himself.
As for boat trips, he loves them, both sitting inside and looking out the windows and hanging out in the cockpit and sticking his head over the gunwale. I think it helps that my dad’s boat, a Ranger tug, has A/C and heat, so I can keep Buddy comfortable.
My top tips for both car and boat travel would be to give your dog a long walk and make sure they pee and poop shortly before the trip. Also, bring at least a gallon of water and a collapsible water bowl, some snacks and chew toys, and whatever your dog likes to lie down on and will be comfortable with the smell of (for Buddy, that’s a whole queen bed comforter). Be sure you can pet them periodically during the ride, too, and be prepared to stop once every couple of hours so that they can stretch their legs.”
4. Christy, 46
“I have two dogs: Kodi is a Great Pyrenes/Border Collie mix — he is marked like a black and white border collie, but big like a Pyr (he weighs 80 pounds) — and Kai is a Border Collie/Shepherd mix — she is black with a white blaze on her chest. Because our dogs are so big, car travel is the most convenient. I don’t feel good about putting the dogs into the cargo space of an airplane, and unfortunately, we can’t afford to travel by private jet (though this is my one wish if we ever win the lottery!). We move a lot for my husband’s job and we’ve traveled with the dogs from Dallas, Texas to Phoenix, Arizona. When we lived in Dallas, we enjoyed camping with the dogs, too. In Phoenix, we often road-tripped to Southern Colorado for ski trips. We also took the dogs on a big road trip from Phoenix to Montana one summer for a family gathering and took the scenic route to stop a lot to hike and play!
My best advice is to plan ahead and not be shy about asking hotels and restaurants with a patio about their pet policy. La Quinta is our go-to for hotel stays because they don’t have a limit on the size and number of dogs (we used to travel with three big dogs before our old Lab died). If we can’t find a pet-friendly restaurant at a place we want to eat, we often get takeout and go to a park where the dogs can be with us, and then we go on a walk afterward.”
5. Lauren, 31
“My boyfriend and I are the proud owners of a three-year-old German Shepherd named Fauz. He’s 75 lbs. and, while we’re always traveling, we hate leaving him behind, so we tend to bring him along whenever we can. He’s traveled 18 hours in the car down to Florida, has gone on camping trips, and ventures with us throughout the city most days.
Ultimately, I will be applying to certify Fauz as my emotional support animal for flight travel, as I have severe flight anxiety. I’ll need to apply for an ESA letter and have it authorized by a licensed doctor. The biggest preparation for flying with Fauz will be ensuring his training is up to par so that he’s well-behaved and quiet in the airport and on the plane. I will make sure he is wearing a ‘DO NOT PET’ vest and leash to avoid any issues with strangers trying to pet him, as he’s a bit timid with people outside of his circle (since he lives to protect his humans). I will likely also likely bring his muzzle — you can never be too safe in what will likely be an anxious first flight for both of us — and treats (lots of treats). Aside from bringing him along for emotional support, it’s a dream of ours to take him on more of our travels, so being able to hop on a plane with him will open up more opportunities for where we can go as a family.”
6. Amy, 45
“I’m the founder of GoPetFriendly.com and the author of The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip. My husband and I, along with our two dogs (Buster, 75 lbs., and Ty, 35 lbs.), live in a Winnebago and have spent more than nine years exploring America's highways and byways and blog about our adventures on the Take Paws blog. I think there’s nothing better for pet-friendly trips than a vehicle that provides all the comforts of home, but comes on wheels. One of the primary benefits of RV travel is that your pets can enjoy the great outdoors all day and sleep in a familiar place every night. Providing that consistency helps pets get comfortable with their new environment.
RVing also makes it easier to develop and stick to a routine. With a bit of patience, most pets quickly accept the RV as another ‘home.’ Of course, there’s also the large storage compartments for stowing all your pet’s necessities and conveniences, like outdoor showers, to keep pet messes to a minimum.”
7. Ashley, 26
“I travel with our huge nine-year-old white German Shepherd named Ace, who’s traveled all over the country. He was originally in California, so he has done several cross-country trips to get to our now-home state of Virginia. Because of his size, we are generally pretty limited to car travel when it comes to any of our adventures. My boyfriend and I have a special car dog hammock that gives Ace a comfortable space to lay in and protects my Mazda’s back seat by keeping his fur contained (it makes clean up so much easier!). We have traveled to D.C., the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and will be planning a trip to Fort Meyers, Florida for Christmas. Our dog is so large that he really takes up a full back seat, so we try to make him as comfortable as possible, sometimes even adding a dog bed. My recommendation is to make sure your dog is used to traveling in the car often before you begin to embrace long car rides.”
8. Michelle, 30
“As a freelancer, I travel full-time with two dogs, one who’s 85 pounds and one who’s 17 pounds. First, my husband and I traveled by RV, and now by sailboat. The dogs have traveled full-time with us for around five years now and seem to like it, as they get several walks each day and get to explore new places all the time. We have taken things slow with them since they are older and didn’t grow up on a boat. Taking it slow is the top tip we’ve heard from other people with boat dogs. They’ve adjusted really well, and our dogs can get on and off the boat just fine. (We bring them to shore to use the bathroom.)
We had no problems bringing them to the Bahamas for several months, but we did have to get some documents in order to be approved, which wasn’t difficult at all. We still find plenty of places to explore and I just can’t imagine not bringing our dogs with us! While there is definitely more planning required when you have dogs on a boat, we wouldn't trade it for the world.”
9. Emily, 35
“I’m a travel writer and blogger (emontheroad.com) based in Michigan. My husband and I often travel with my two black Lab rescues, Junebug and Lula. They’re big dogs (about 75 lbs. each), so when we take them somewhere, we do plenty of research ahead of time to make sure they won't be cooped up in a hotel room the whole time. We do a lot of camping, and that is the easiest place to bring the dogs along — you don’t have to worry about paying a pet fee and they have plenty of room to stretch out (which is important for big dogs). We’ve never flown with them because it is an extra expense, and we don’t want to stress them out being in the cargo hold for a trip that might just be a few days.
When prepping the car for a road trip with the dogs, we usually lay down the back seats in our 4Runner and put down towels or a big sleeping bag if it’s wintertime. Always have several full water bottles and travel bowls (like an old Tupperware container) to make water breaks easy. Leashes are a must in most cities and they’re a good idea even if you’re camping in the wilderness. Don’t forget your dog food either (since you might not have access to the type of food they prefer). Also, make sure to stop every few hours so they can stretch their legs and go to the bathroom.”
10. Heather, 45-50
“We have two German Shepherds we travel with on road trips and vacations (they very rarely are left home). We have driven cross-country several times with ours and it’s interesting plotting out a map — not just places to overnight, but also pit stops on the way that will be slightly off-the-beaten-path with a good area to run them every few hours (as they get cooped up being in a car).
We tend to scope out the dog-friendly lodging directories first. GoPetFriendly.com is a favorite of ours — the owners even came to visit years ago because we had been chatting with them on Twitter — and we like it because they visit the spots they recommend versus just being a regular directory. We also look at BringFido.com to see additional reviews, and then pop over to TripAdvisor for reviews of pet-friendly places. We tend to look for mid-to-upscale places and Bed and Breakfasts. We also look for places that have dog amenities. Our pups love to swim, so next is looking for dog-friendly beaches and places to hike, followed by places that let you bring dogs outside to dine, like patio dining. (Bonus points to a restaurant who has doggie snacks, and then ice cream stands; they go nuts for frozen yogurt.)”
11. August, Early 40s
“My wife and I are full-time travelers and run a site called outsidenomad.com. We also travel a great deal with our trusty 12-year-old dog, Tajh (who’s 75 pounds). For summer travel, it’s important to consider the temperature. When picking a campground, we will call ahead and try to reserve one with shade and also stick with campgrounds that have a stream or lake nearby where the dogs can cool off.
Any activities we do that the dogs can’t join us on, we always do those early in the morning before our van gets too hot. We even have a temperature sensor that connects to our mobile WiFi so we can monitor our van’s temp while out biking or hiking. We also research any dog parks in the area. (This is especially useful for bigger cities where it might be hard to find an area for the dogs to run off-leash.)”
12. Steven, 27
“My wife and I frequently travel by car with our two chocolate labs, Gordo and Floyd, each around 80 pounds. There are several considerations when choosing a travel destination when we are taking the dogs (we also blog about this on our site, Travel to Blank). There needs to be sufficient dog-friendly activities and dog-friendly accommodations available. Many cities call themselves dog-friendly, but haven’t much to offer beyond a few breweries and city parks. Also, at most National Parks — even if they do allow dogs — it is primarily restricted to the campgrounds, so we often seek out national forests, state parks, and dog friendly-beaches. Our dogs’ favorite types of destinations are hikes with streams and the beach. As chocolate Labs, they cannot get enough of playing in the water, even if it means just sitting in a cool stream on a hot day. In both these cases, it is super important that you always carry sufficient water, a water bowl, and a few treats to keep your dogs properly hydrated and motivated throughout the day. It might not seem like you are walking all that far throughout a trip, but remember, a dog’s legs are much shorter than yours.
With large dogs, one of the most important pieces of logistics to keep in mind is that even if a hotel or other accommodation says they’re dog-friendly, in many cases the maximum weight is 25-50 pounds, which is not so helpful for our 80-pound dogs. Even if there is a weight restriction, we find that calling the hotel and talking with a manager is best. Larger dogs also means louder barking. We also travel with calming dog treats if the situation ever becomes too much for our dogs.”
13. Jill, 52
“My fiancé and I travel as much as possible with our dogs — an 85-lb. brindle Boxer Mastiff mix named Rizzo and a Poodle Bichon mix, Louie, who’s a big dog in a small dog’s body — and have an SUV for this purpose. (When we don’t bring them along, we have a trustworthy person who stays at our house so we don’t have to kennel them.) We only take the dogs on car trips because the other trips we take require flying and putting my dogs in the cargo area is too risky for me: What if there is a long delay? What if the AC breaks? Most airlines don’t even have AC in the cargo areas.
We live in L.A. and take them on all kinds of driving trips. So far, the best places are San Diego (lots of dog-friendly hotels), Palm Springs and desert cities for hikes, Santa Barbara, and Ojai. Preparing for a road trip entails a few obvious things, like making sure the places you’re going allow dogs. If you’re taking them hiking, do a Google search for the area and type in ‘hiking with dogs.’ For example, if you type ‘Palm Desert, hiking with dogs,’ you’ll find forums from people offering tips about the trail as well as official parks’ departments telling you about the rules and regulations. If possible, weekday hiking is more conducive to bringing your dog than weekends, particularly if you plan on letting them off-leash. Keep in mind the area, too — if you’re hiking in the southwest when the weather is particularly warm, beware of rattlesnakes. There are rattlesnake training classes teach your dogs to steer clear. And, no matter what time of year it is, pack extra water and check the temperature for the day (to prevent your dog from getting heat stroke). We also usually bring our dogs’ cooling vests along. Another Google search will show you where there are dog-friendly beach areas. Long Beach and Carmel each have a beach dedicated to dogs!
My dog travel kit — whether it’s a beach outing, a hike, or a city setting — includes: plenty of water, collapsible bowls, dog brushes (for the poodle mix), dry shampoo, bags of dog food, doggie treats, extra towels, paper towels, doggie wipes (human toilet wipes also work), cleaning wipes for inside the car (think slobber and trail dust), leashes, a few toys (Frisbees, tennis balls, and squeaky toys), paw balms if you’re hiking on terrain your dog isn’t used to, and some emergency care things, like flea and tick spray, antibiotic cream, and Prilosec. Also, be sure your dog is microchipped and is wearing an ID tag with your current phone number.”
14. Lauren, 25
“I have a 60-lb. yellow Labrador named Ricki (and I’m also the development manager at Early Alert Canines). Ricki is my diabetes alert service dog, and we travel together a lot. In the last month, we flew a red-eye to North Carolina from San Francisco and back with a connecting flight, drove to Portland, and drove down to Anaheim. We live in the Bay Area (Pleasant Hill, CA), so the drive to Portland was more than 10 hours and to Anaheim was just over six. Ricki and I have been together for almost three years now, and we’ve flown to the east coast probably six times. We have put over 12,000 miles on my car this year alone!
For road trips, make sure your dog is wearing a harness that is attached to the car (not something tied to their collar)! If it's tied to the collar and you get in an accident that sends the dog flying, their neck can snap. The dog should be wearing a harness attached to a seat belt clip or a headrest, or another non-movable tie down in the car. The back seat strapped in, or in a secure crate in the back of a car, are the safest places for larger dogs.
As far as airplane travel, large pet dogs shouldn’t be on planes. If they ride in the cargo area, it can traumatize the dog, and they’re not permitted in the passenger area (unless they fit in a small carrier that can go under the seat in front of you, depending on the airline’s rules and future FAA regulations). For service dog handlers, you need to remember not to feed them and ensure they’ve relieved themselves before you get to the airport. Ricki rides in the seat with me — she tucks her bum under the seat in front of us and has her head and front paws between my legs. She will sit up to alert me to check my blood sugar, but generally stays lying down and snoozes while we’re up in the air. (Alaska and Southwest have more legroom; she couldn’t even turn around on our United or Delta flights to get her bum into position to be tucked under.”
15. Danielle, 20
“I am a blogger (PawLeaks.com) and dog mom to my 88-pound Rottweiler puppy (10 months old), Amalia. My boyfriend and I live in northern Germany and have been traveling by car a lot. Aside from food, you will also need to bring water, a kennel, toys, leash, harness/collar, treats, blankets, and bowls. It only gets tricky when your dog is on a raw diet (like mine is), but we bring a little freezer with us every time we do a road trip.
It is mandatory that your dog loves to be in the car, otherwise it will be no fun for them. Introducing your dog to the car has to be calm and joyful; you will want her to associate the car with adventures and everything that is great, so you will need a whole lot of treats. You will also need to take more breaks on the road than you would only by yourself (your dog should be able to go for a walk every 2-3 hours). In the summer, we feed Amalia lots of watermelon so she stays hydrated.
Traveling with a dog is so much fun and not that hard — start with smaller trips and slowly build up to long ones. Amalia’s been used to being in the car since she was four months old.”
16. Trish, 50+
“I am a dog trainer who travels frequently with my friendly and well-behaved pit bull, Theodore, to teach seminars. I love traveling with a dog — he makes me take frequent walk breaks, so I get to see more of the areas I travel through. However, there are extra concerns when traveling with a discriminated-against dog breed that I bet most people don’t think about. Before a trip, I figure out where I will be stopping, and check the Animal Farm Foundation Breed Specific Legislation map to ensure I don’t accidentally stop in a town where my dog may be taken away and killed just for the way he looks. I won’t even support such places by stopping there for a meal!
As far as hotels go, I usually stay in either Motel 6 or La Quinta, as both are dog-friendly and don’t discriminate by breed or size. Theodore is a perfect hotel guest; he doesn’t even bark. (There are sites like BringFido that can help you find hotels if there’s not a pet-friendly chain in the place you want to stay.)”
17. Katie, 29
“My dog’s name is Maisie, almost four years old. She’s an 86-pound Great Pyrenees rescue in Charlotte, NC who has gone on quite a few road trips with my fiancé and myself. She rides in a hammock that covers the back seats of our cars. (You can find a lot of reasonably priced options, about $25, on Amazon that are waterproof and keep dog fluff off of your carpet and seats. A large dog bed can fit on top of the hammock, and you can store your dog’s travel items under the hammock, on the floor mats, like their food container and water bowl.)
We actually made a point to spend a whole dog-friendly weekend in Charleston, SC with her the weekend we got engaged. (For lodging, check out Airbnb options with the ‘Pets Allowed’ filter turned on, or browse dog-friendly hotels, like a Quality Inn.) We also do some pre-planning before we take our trip, and come up with a list of spacious, dog-friendly patios at restaurants, coffee shops, and wine bars, so we know it will be easy to bring Maisie on our adventures. Before we hit the road, we take Maisie for a nice, long walk so she’s ready to snooze the whole way. She’ll travel with us to be the ring bear(er) in our wedding this October, too. She doesn’t mind car rides and we’d rather bring her than board her! (She spends a day a week at the dog-friendly marketing agency I work for (Union), as well.)”
18. Comrade, 30s
“I’ve been traveling around North America since December 2016 alongside an 80-lb. Golden Retriever Service Dog, @alfrescodog, who is always with me. We both prefer trains most, but we’ve also used planes, buses, cars, subways, ferries, and high-speed gondolas. We’ve also visited Mexico for several months at a time (there is no Service Dog regulation outside of Mexico City, so he’s treated as a regular dog there).
When traveling with a big dog, you should consider that the most critical aspect is not what you do during your travel, but how you prepare before it even starts. The best dog to travel with is a tired dog. If you don’t have the time or the stamina, you can always hire a dog walker (or two, if your dog has a lot of energy) to tire them out entirely for three straight days before your trip. It also helps if you travel at night; ideally, you want your dog to be sleeping naturally. One of the most common mistakes is to let your dog associate traveling with unhappy outcomes. If your dog knows a car ride means a visit to the vet or the groomer, then any trip will feel stressful. You need to break that pattern. On the other hand, if your dog absolutely loves car rides and gets excited when they jump in the car, you might think they’ll do well on a long trip, but they won’t. If you want to practice, get your dog extremely tired BEFORE getting in the car. Then drive around for a while and return home. You want your dog to think riding a moving vehicle is boring. Because if it’s boring, then they might as well sleep through it. That’s the travel companion you want.
Assuming you’re allowed to take your dog, it’s common for many airplane or train companies to assign you a seat at the front, but you might want to reconsider. If you’re facing a wall, without another seat in front of you, your big dog will only have half the space available to go underneath and a little extra legroom won’t cut it. That means they’ll need to lie down horizontally, which will take up two seats. Whenever possible, use companies that do not assign seats. If passengers can sit anywhere they want, then other people will be able to choose if they’re comfortable sitting next to your dog.
The main reasons people don’t want to allow dogs inside places are aggression, dirtiness, and noise. And the bigger your dog is, the more these fears will grow. A few ideas: Make sure your dog looks groomed; carry dog wipes to clean their paws while you ask if your dog can go in; if you’ll depend on ride-sharing apps or cabs, it helps to bring a clean blanket where your dog can lie down; schedule your travels during the low seasons; alter your meal times, so you show up at restaurants when they’re empty; and, just like with any transportation, go inside once your dog is exhausted.
You will need a small backpack to take everything, including enough water and a collapsible bowl for your dog. Also, buy your dog a rain jacket, and always carry it around (you don’t want them to shake off water inside a bus or a restaurant). Teach your dog how to stand in line, too — for instance, while you’re waiting to go through Customs. And for all of us that travel with our dogs, please make sure you always leave a handsome tip and reward those businesses that allow dogs.”
The Bottom Line
Although traveling with a big dog may be more challenging than with a small one, based on the above, it’s very doable. And it’s also a win-win: Since dogs are a “man’s [or woman’s] best friend,” you get to travel and have them along for the ride (literally).