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Insta-Q&A: Planes, Trains and Great Danes

Scott Vogel

Today's Insta-Q&A question comes from a reader who's in the process of planning a cross-country driving trip. In fact, whether or not this Maryland family travels to the Badlands and Wyoming and Colorado and Missouri this summer . . . may well depend on you. You see, they're interested in taking this trip with their dog, wondering how feasible that might be (hotel-wise, car-wise, etc.), and curious about great places to stop along the way. Dog lovers who speak from experience (not to mention cross-country driving trip lovers) are urged to post some advice for Judy of Bowie. And if you have a question yourself, e-mail us at travelqa@washpost.com.

She writes: "My son and I are planning a road trip from Bowie, MD through the Badlands of South Dakota, across Wyoming through Yellowstone and then down to Jackson Hole, WY and back through Colorado and Missouri. We will be in a Suburban. My question is, How wise is it for us to be planning on taking our fairly large dog (husky mix) with us? How difficult will it be for us to find hotels and motels? Our dog is always on a leash and very friendly."

One Web site that could be of great use here is Pets Welcome. There you'll be able to take advantage of the smarts of lots of travel-happy pet lovers, many of whom have first-hand experience with hotels that claim to welcome pets. You'll also be able to post questions about specific locales.

Among the most interesting aspects of the site is a section devoted to general information on traveling with animals. There you'll hear views on such topics as the wisdom of giving cats sedatives on a plane, the best ways to travel by train or RV, even warnings against buying pet toys made in China.

Equally comprehensive is a site called Pets on the Go. Membership costs $15 a year, but gives you access to the site's reviews of pet-friendly hotels. Elsewhere on the site, you'll read about the 22-carat gold-plated ID tags available at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park South in Manhattan, eucalyptus flea sprays for spa-loving pooches and loads of etiquette tips to help your pet avoid "faux paws."

Of course, all the information in the world can't substitute for the first-hand experience of a fellow traveler, which brings us back to you. Have you taken a cross-country trip with an animal? How'd it work out?

By Scott Vogel |  April 9, 2008; 12:06 PM ET  | Category:  Insta-Q&A , Scott Vogel
Previous: Insta-Cogo: Where Have All the Airlines Gone? | Next: Checking In: How to Get a Better Room

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Several years ago we tried to do some road trips with our dogs (however we were starting in Oregon and the dogs were leashed, friendly basset hounds). Hotels and whatnot weren't the problem - it was the parks themselves. Many of the guided tours and walks to particularly interesting sites and ranger talks had a No Dogs rule. It was fine if you never wanted to get out of your car, but you'll want to stop and look around (especially places like Yellowstone).

Posted by: Arlington | April 9, 2008 1:35 PM

Two years ago we took a road trip from our new home in Western Wisconsin, up to Syracuse, NY, and down to DC. Our family - the ones who weren't brave enough to venture out to Wisconsin from the East coast - were clamoring to meet our year-old Bulldog, so we thought we'd just pop her in the car, and it would be great, since we road-trip well.

Our verdict? Never again.

First off - sure, hotels can be pet friendly. But the nicer ones charge insane fees for cleaning the room after you leave, and the lower-cost ones tend to put you in designated "pet only" or smoking rooms, which smell atrocious and are generally icky. (Our exception was a great Knights Inn around the airport in Syracuse - it *was* a smoking room, but it smelled okay and was nice and clean.) If you're willing to cough up the fees at nicer hotels, spring for it. Make sure to bring some Febreeze air freshener to kill odors. Do your research on the sites listed above.

But more importantly, our dog - who generally likes to take rides in the car and is also very sweet and friendly - was MISERABLE. As we found out, there's a huge difference between a day trip to a park, and cooping the dog up for hours on end in the car. And that was a Bulldog - I can't imagine what it would do to a far more active Husky. Not to mention she was totally stressed out by the hotel rooms - if we thought they were stinky, god knows what her sensitive canine nose was smelling.

She was also very unhappy having to go to the bathroom at interstate rest stops and the like. With the exception of the NY State Thruway (who has separate "parking areas" which are large and grassy in Western NY), we found that any dog-friendly place to take your dog generally put the grassy or wooded areas near the trucks or the interstate itself. Our poor dog was freaking out at the noise and cars whizzing by at high speed.

To top it off, you have to consider what the weather is going to do to your dog. Our trip was at the same time that the DC area, NY and PA were deluged by those major flooding storms in 2006. Because we couldn't get her dry and it was endlessly hot and 100% humid, she ended up getting a bacterial infection in her wrinkles that required a lot of work and antibiotics to clear up once we got home. And that was even after we scrapped the DC leg of our trip because of the weather and flooding - we probably would have had to take her to a vet in DC if we'd actually made the trip.

And I'm just going to say - as a former paleontologist who did field work in those badlands, I can't imagine what the heat is going to do to a Husky mix.

The smartest dog still isn't much smarter than a toddler. And dogs, like toddlers, are creatures of habit. So really think about your dog and how s/he reacts to change. I would say talk to your vet and/or trainer about it and see what they think. It's not really about the hotels, it's about your dog itself.

Good luck - the trip sounds fun, with or without your dog!

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 9, 2008 1:53 PM

I have two Chow Chows that I show. I refuse to fly them, so I do drive a lot with them. The furthest we have gone is Denver. So here are some tips in no particular order:

Make sure your dogs have room to move in the back of your vehicle. A lot of people use wired or wooden crates. I opt for mesh crates as they are lighter and it is easier to get the dogs out in case of emergency.

Switch them to a bottled water about a week before you leave and stay with that brand of water throughout your trip. Dogs' stomachs are very sensitive to changes in water and nothing is worse than a sick dog in a car.

Buyer beware: many hotels that say they allow pets have restrictions on size and/or have surcharges (sometimes more than the room cost itself!)

Red Roof Inns are, for the most part, dog-friendly with no restrictions or fees. But always check first.

Take along a lot of the plastic bags that newspapers come in. They make great pooper scoopers.

Never let your dog lick the floor in a hotel room or drink out of the toilet. You never know what was there before you.

If you go out, turn on the TV (not too loud) so that there is some "white noise" and the dogs will be less likely to bark. ESPN works well for my dogs.

When you are checking out, put the dogs in the car and then go back and spend about 5 - 10 minutes cleaning up any loose fur. If you don't have the time, then leave $5 for housekeeping.

When on the road, with your dogs, choose a fast-food restaurant to eat. One of you goes into the restaurant to get something to go, while the other gives the dog water/exercise, then reverse rolls. If you are at a place where you can't do that, park in the shade where you will have a view of your car at all times. There has been an increase in dog-nappings from cars, so you must be very cautious.

Never let anyone reach into your car to pet your dog, even if you are there.

Be careful of glass, needles, and other hazards when walking the dog in a public park.

Make sure the speakers in the back of your car are turned down. Dogs get headaches from loud music.

Be careful of the tailpipe of your car when taking your dogs out of the car. They can easily get burned.

Bring a copy of your dogs' latest shots with you. It's a good idea to keep this in the glove compartment.

Always have your dogs' rabies tags and nametags on them at all times.

And take lots of pictures of them in various places. Dogs love adventure!

Posted by: Dan | April 9, 2008 1:56 PM

I'm moving cross country next year with two cats, and any advice people have is GREATLY appreciated.

Posted by: Liz | April 9, 2008 3:58 PM

We did The Big Tour three summers ago (Badlands, Yellowstone, Tetons, Zion, Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, etc.) with no pets, but one 10yr old, one 12yr old and two parents. Nearly one month Rockville, MD to Rockville, MD. As the kids put it, our butts were flat when we got home! Huge long stretches in the car. Unbelievably hot weather in many locations. Lots of National Parks (as well as National Forests and State/Local Parks) that had major restrictions on pets.

Before you decide to take your pet, visit the National Parks website at www.nps.gov and check out the specifics for the parks that you want to visit. Here's the link to the pet info for Yellowstone:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/pets.htm

Posted by: cotopaxi | April 9, 2008 4:54 PM

Re: Pets and National Parks. Please, please check into this before deciding to take your pet.

I have worked at Yellowstone and visited on separate occasions. They are strict about No Pets rules. Sure, people bring pets but most of those folks are either passing through or traveling in an RV. I don't believe any park lodging allows pets and you cannot bring them off trailhead or parking lot areas. So if you really want to experience the park or even just go on a few short hikes, your pet will have to stay behind. I'm not sure about the other parks but they probably have the same rules. It is for your protection and your pet's. If I were you, I would not take my pet on a trip to a national park(s) unless I was either in an RV and felt I could safely leave my pet for an hour or so, or someone in my group could stay behind with the pet, or I was just driving through and maybe stopping at overlooks/picnic areas along the way. Seriously.

Good luck!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 12:00 PM

We moved from DC to California a year ago and made the cross-country drive with our pooch. We bought a great AAA guide at the bookstore that listed pet-friendly hotels across the country and included phone numbers and directions for each hotel. We found that Best Westerns were a good deal, clean and allowed dogs. We didn't always tell the hotel that we had a dog with us so that we could avoid the extra charges. As for the parks issue, we stopped at the Grand Canyon and hiked along one of the rim trails with a dog (they are allowed on-leash there, but not below the rim). The park also had a kennel on-site for people travelling with their pets.

Posted by: X-Country Vet | April 10, 2008 1:41 PM

I've traveled extensively with my beautifully behaved and always welcome Golden Retriever. The problem is leaving the dog in the car on a hot day. It isn't safe to leave the pooch long enough for me to RUN to the rest stop restroom. Many sites have rules against leaving a dog in a car or having a dog walking on the grounds--so what do you do with the dog? It changes the trip you have planned tremendously. Save dog-accompanied travel for cooler months.

Posted by: Diane | April 10, 2008 5:50 PM

While I agree the pet room fees can be exorbitant at some hotels, don't lie about your pet's presence. Staying at places like Best Western where the fee is only $10 per stay isn't a bad option.

For those with pet dander allergies who think they're going to check into an animal-free room that hasn't actually gone under any extra cleaning (well, okay, I admit, after the whole lack-of-glass cleaning thing, I'm not sure I buy that the fee is charged because hotels do extra cleaning on pet-inhabited rooms), checking into your room will ruin their trip pretty effectively...

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 10, 2008 5:57 PM

Bringing a dog along adds to the hassle, for sure, but can also be lots of fun! Pets Welcome is indeed a fantastic site for finding pet-friendly hotels. But there are some serious considerations for you to think about:

-- Plan to make some nice long stops to give your dog some exercise. That's an awfully long time for an active breed to be cooped up in a car! Make your travel plans keeping in mind that longer stops mean you won't make as many miles in a day as you could without the dog along.
-- If it is too warm to leave the dog in the car while you run to the rest stop, leave the car running with the a/c on and lock the doors from the outside with a spare key.
-- Do careful homework about whether your destinations are pet-friendly. It does you no good to plan a route with pet-friendly hotels only to find that the National Park you came to visit doesn't allow dogs.
-- Leaving the hotel room tv on while you go to dinner/breakfast is a brilliant idea, which I totally intend to use on my next canine-accompanied trip. You can give Sportscenter some extra help by leaving Pooch with a really good chew object.
-- Consider taking an overnight trip to a destination 5-6 hours away as a test run.

Posted by: Northern Girl | April 11, 2008 10:14 AM

La Quinta Inn is pet friendly.

I have two major concerns (1) most national parks don't let you do anything fun with an animal - basically nothing off the campsite, at best, and (2) that's a big dog for a long trip - I have a 90 lb dog that can look me in the eye, for what it's worth. While I prefer big dogs, the amount of stuff you need for one, plus the car harnesses, plus the random fear of people who just don't get dogs is higher.

Have you tried shorter trips yet?? Assateague is great for dogs on unlifeguarded beaches. I would practice before you did a trip that long.

That said, make sure you have PLENTY of water, benedryl, doggie pain reliever, and motion sick stuff.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure you travel safely with your animal - either a hard sided crate of a properly fitted doggie seatbelt.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | April 12, 2008 5:36 PM

you may think your dog is "very friendly" but that's just your opinion. a "very friendly" dog knocked my toddler over at Red Rocks park near Vegas several years ago (she was looking up at a formation and the dog jumped on hind legs to "hug" her and knocked her over.) it ruined that much-anticipated day to the park. she knocked her head and took two days to feel better. jerk owner just grinned and said "oh my dog just wanted a kiss."
the heat in the regions you will visit and the distance you will cover make taking a dog a silly idea.
don't subject others on expensive vacations to accommodate your household pet. those regions are remote and costly to drive or fly to. if everyone brought pets it would be insane. leave the dog home, or board it. a much better idea is to bring a friend or cousin for your child, if you think your child would like a "pal" on the road.
please consider renting a hybrid for the trip. the savings in gas vs. a suburban will pay for the rental and you won't pollute these lovely areas. hey - consider trading in that bad boy if you can. hybrids are whisper quiet and a pleasure on the open road - four times the suburban mileage or more...

Posted by: leave dog home | April 13, 2008 5:49 PM

we leave our danes home with our daughter or a young couple when we travel, they don't kennel well. if you have a move to a new home, best bet is to rent a motor home, bring their beds and chew babies along with their greenies, water and food, extra plastic bags (i use produce bags for pickup and grocery bags for take out).
take along a golf umbrella for rainy days and don't forget the leashes.

Posted by: gr8dane owner | April 25, 2008 4:55 PM

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