You, the pup, and the open road. It doesn’t get much better than that.
You might not be surprised, but over 60% of the RVers we surveyed said one of the main reasons they wanted an RV was to get out into nature with their dogs! In fact, if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them! Most people I know wouldn’t dream of traveling without their dogs and I’m in the same boat.
We travel with a 65-pound Norwegian Elkhound named Bo. He’s 5 ½ years old now and has literally grown up RVing.
He is very popular among our followers. In fact, the other day at a gas statio off I-65 in Alabama, I was with him in a doggie exercise area when a couple who follow us on our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel recognized Bo. They pulled over and jumped out to come meet him. They were so excited it was as if they met a celebrity. They would have asked Bo for his autograph if he could hold a pen. When Bo went off sniffing, they turned to Jennifer and me and asked what is probably the most common question we get from our followers who travel with dogs:
“How do you keep Bo safe and happy when you bring him on an RV road trip?”
We answered as best we can as traffic whizzed past and Bo explored the fenced in area. But as we all went our way again, I kept thinking of things I wish I had time to tell that couple. Hopefully, they’ll read this article! Here are 7 tips that will help your road trip be a success for you and your dog:
Planning a Road Trip with your dog
An unfortunate fact of the road is that while you LOVE your dog, not everywhere does. In fact, due to the number of irresponsible dog owners who let their dogs run wild and don’t clean up after them, there are a lot of establishments that don’t allow dogs at all.
There are also times when you want to get away and enjoy a nice meal or go to a movie but leaving your dog alone in the RV can feel like a scary prospect. Even with the AC on, it’s hard to be sure of the internal temperature and there are even some states where it’s illegal to leave a dog unsupervised in a vehicle!
All these factors can make planning a multi-week trip with your dog seems like a daunting task! Thankfully, there are several resources to help plan out your road trip with ease.
The best site, hands-down, for RVers who travel with their pets is www.gopetfriendly.com. This is a website with a database of over 65,000 dog-friendly areas across the US and Canada. The site lists everything from hotels, campgrounds, beaches, wineries, restaurants, and dog parks to pet supply stores, vets and doggy daycares. If you’re on the road and find a spot not listed, you can even contribute to the website.
The thing that Jennifer and I like the most about Go Pet Friendly though is the Road Trip Planner. Just put in your starting and ending locations, as well as any stops you’ll be making on the way and along with your directions you’ll be able to see all the dog-friendly places on the route that you’re taking!
Here are some other resources that have been suggested to us to help plan your trip:
- RVParky is a great RV Park/campground directory with a filter setting to see areas with “Pets Allowed” and “Pet Area”
- Allstays has a filter for “Pet-Friendly Hotels”
- RV Trip Wizard is another good RV Park/campground directory to see pet-friendly places
- National and State Park information websites are also a wealth of information on which areas are dog-friendly
- PetDesk is an app that keeps everything pet-related on track and in one place. Medications and recurring treatments can be easy to forget, especially with so many other concerns on the road.
- BringFido helps travelers find pet-friendly hotels and attractions like dog parks, doggie beaches – even restaurants where canines are welcome. The app allows for in-depth research on pet policies so users know if they can bring big dog. BringFido includes a rating system so owners can see what others think of it. It’s free for iOS.
Before you set oﬀ on your trip, there are a number of preventative measures you can take to make sure that if your dog runs oﬀ, you’re in the best position possible to find him before anything happens. The biggest concern that RVers face is that we are constantly traveling into new areas. Always being in a new place can be exciting for your dog but it can also make him anxious or nervous. There are lots of new smells, new sounds to distract him – things that you probably aren’t even aware of!
The best preventative measure you can take is to start training your dog, even if you’ve never worked with him before. Having a dog that listens to you and doesn’t have a “mind of his own” 100% of the time is a huge advantage and gives you a lot of peace of mind…But, even a dog that has been well-trained can get spoked and run off.
Microchip your pet
A microchip can be implanted by your vet and should only be a one-time cost of $25-50. If your pet is found, a microchip will be one of the first things a shelter or vet will look for and they can contact you using the personal information on the chip.
Finally, the most eﬀective way to track down a lost dog that we’ve heard of is a pretty nifty system called a Marco Polo tracking system. The Marco Polo system is a radio tracking device (not a GPS tracking device, so no GPS or cell network is required). This is a system attached to your dog’s collar, it doesn’t need cell service or WiFi (in case you’re out boondocking) and it’s completely waterproof with no monthly fee.
If your dog goes missing it’s a single button-push to begin searching with real-time distance and direction feedback. It uses a rechargeable battery on your dog’s collar which lasts up to 6 weeks while being continuously monitored.
What to bring for your dog on the road trip
We have a camping gear list to pack before we go out on any RV trip, so it only makes sense that we have a dog checklist as well. Having a checklist gives us a little peace of mind that we haven’t forgotten anything for Bo. After all, forgetting something little like shot & immunization records from the vet can really mess you up if you’re trying to board him for the day (a lot of places won’t take a dog that doesn’t have the right papers!).
Here is our checklist for traveling with a dog:
- Dog collar with ID
- Long leash (to tie to tree/picnic table)
- Six-foot short leash for walks
- Dog food
- Food and water bowls
- A towel for when he gets dirty
- His favorite treats and a treat bag to carry them in
- Cooling pad to keep Bo cool during the summer
- Waste Management: Lots and lots of poop bags and a poop bag holder/dispenser.
- Copies of his health/vaccine records and regular veterinarian’s contact info
- Dog brushes and a small handheld vacuum cleaner if you have a dog like our BO that sheds like crazy!
- Dog shampoo
This is just a partial list. Add your own items, like your pet’s favorite toy, their medicines, their bed, etc.
Keeping Your Dog safe while the RV is in Motion
One of the biggest challenges pet owners face is keeping the dog restrained while the RV is moving. Restraining your dog while traveling is just like having a child put on their seat belt. In the case of an accident, your dog is going to keep moving and turn into a projectile that can end up hurting you and them.
Check out this comment from a reader:
“We had a close call one day and ended up with our 2 large dogs being thrown forward–one under the dash and the other striking me in the head as he was tossed into the windshield. No serious damage done to any of us but that led me to research restraints for the dogs. We now use a system that hooks into the passenger seat belt and clips to a harness on the dog.“
Or this reader:
“Having had the unpleasant experience of having both of my 70 lb. rescue dogs hitting the back of my car seats during an emergency stop; I don’t want them going through the windshield of my Class A. So I use harnesses with 6-foot leashes that are hooked into the sofa seat belts…”
The two major ways you can restrain your dog while in the RV are by using a crate or a safety belt, combined with a vehicle safety harness, all available from pet shops or online.
Crates are best when traveling, but a harness that is attached to a seat or other stationary object is excellent, too. If you were in an accident, your pet is contained and not flying through the vehicle or worse.
There are a lot of types of crates and dog harnesses out there based on your rig, how many dogs and how big your dogs are. If you aren’t satisfied with a safety belt combined with a vehicle safety harness, to do some more research, there’s a good Facebook group called “Dog Sport Vehicle Ideas & Setups” that has a lot of reviews and specifics about diﬀerent brands, etc.
It’s good to remember as well, not only is it important to secure a dog in a vehicle for safety reasons, but it is the law now in some states.
Make sure to do your own research on local laws but it is currently illegal to have a dog without a crate or unleashed in your vehicle in Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.
Getting exercise for your dog
Just like their human companions, most dogs need daily exercise! Being cooped up in an RV for hours on end is even more uncomfortable for your dog than it is for you! Making sure your dog can get enough exercise on the road is a problem that we hear about all the time from our readers. A dog without enough exercise can be extremely moody, high-energy, and prone to bark or whine.
When driving, we try to stop every 90 minutes or so for Bo to stretch his legs. He gets one or two walks a day, of at least 20 minutes and, as many times as we can squeeze it in, a visit to a fenced-in, leash-free dog park in whatever area we happen to be visiting. Finding dog parks on the road is an essential part of planning your trip. All those hours on the road without exercise are not good for anyone – owners or dogs.
We also like to use the site Hike With Your Dog to plan out our trips. Just put in the state you’re traveling through and park and hiking recommendations pop up. It will tell you if any national, state, or local parks allow dogs and give links out to each individual park as well as contact info if you want to call ahead and double-check. This site is also great for finding dog-friendly beaches. It will show which beaches are open to dogs or are seasonal dog friendly beaches.
Monitoring the temperature inside the RV
Another big worry for pet owners is keeping the temperature inside the RV at a safe level when the pet is left alone. As dog owners, we have a responsibility to make sure our dogs have safe conditions when we take them in our vehicles. BUT on the road there are times when we would like a couple hours to ourselves to go on a hike or beach or to eat at a restaurant they aren’t allowed at.
We all know that RVs can heat up FAST so we want to be confident the temperature in our RV is safe for our dog when we are out and about for a few minutes to several hours. The best way to monitor the internal temperature of your RV is with a temperature sensor on the inside of the RV. There are several temperature sensors on the market.
Make sure that you do a bit of research before you buy so that you can find the system that works best for your needs. Some of these only give updates in 30 min intervals rather than real-time or don’t work without WiFi or cell service.
Even without a temperature monitor, here are some tips to keep your dog cool when these situations pop up:
- Find a shaded area to leave your RV in, even a little bit of shading can go a long way versus direct sunlight
- Get some sun shields or shades for your front and side windows, we use these. Covering windows with reflective windshield covers seriously cuts down the internal temperature of your RV
- Keep the AC running! This one is obvious but it has to be said so we cover our bases here. And for those of you who have one, turn on the generator if you’re going to be gone more than 30 mins. Some RVs have automatic systems that start an engine generator whenever the batteries get below the voltage level needed to power the AC.
- Get a cooling pad, which is essentially a mat made out of cold gel! The pad is soft and the gel inside is noticeably cool to the touch. Bo loves it. He finds it very comfy and in hot weather, prefers it to the thick cloth bed he usually sleeps on. We put it on the floor of our RV for him. And when we are at a campsite, we put it down on top of the ground pad under the awning. Camping World has a selection for all sizes of dogs.
Finding dogsitters on the road
Every once in a while on the road there are times where, no matter what you try, dogs just don’t fit in. We had a situation come up a few years ago with our dog at the time, Tai.
We were on a long trip west but the first part of that trip was a week in suburban Memphis where our grandson was in a baseball tournament. This posed a major dilemma. We were staying with the rest of the team’s parents and grandparents in a hotel where dogs were not allowed. And the sports complex where the games were being played did not allow dogs on the grounds either.
Added to that was the notorious Memphis heat. The temperatures were in the mid 90s each day, with heat indexes well over 100. So leaving Tai in our RV, even with the air conditioning running, just wasn’t a good idea. If that AC should fail, the heat buildup inside the coach would be potentially fatal. We thought of leaving him 1,000 miles away, back in Michigan. But to take him on the trip west, which was to begin once the tournament ended, would have meant 1,000 miles back north before we could start west.
We found the solution from a website called Rover.com which lists thousands of trusted dog sitters who are willing to board pets in their own homes, just as if they were members of the family. As it turned out, the family that kept Tai for us lived just a block from the dog park. Since then, now with Bo, we have used Rover services all across the country. We’ve even had Rover sitters come to the campground, take Bo for the day and then return him to us in the evening.
Another solution that we’ve used many times when we need to work or visit somewhere that Bo isn’t allowed is to find doggie daycare in the area. Just Google “doggie day care” in the area you are visiting and you’ll find lots of chices. Bo loves dogge day care. He gets a cool place to hang out with some doggie buddies during the day and we get to explore places where he isn’t allowed. We drop him oﬀ in the morning and pick him up around 5. Bo gets supervised playtime, a nice comfy private kennel and seems to love going there. Some of the doggie day care centers we’ve used even have webcams that we can call up on our smartphones to see how Bo is doing.
So there you go. We hope that this has been helpful to you. We wish you and your dog Happy Trails and Happy Tails.