There’s nothing better than traveling with your pets … but nothing would be worse than having your dog or cat get lost when they’re away from home. Sadly, each year a number of pets run away while they’re on vacation with their families. July is Lost Pet Prevention Month, and we’re sharing what we’ve learned about traveling with pets to help you make sure your furry family member comes home safe and sound! Follow these tips, and you’ll have no trouble staying together while you’re traveling.
1. Make sure your pet’s collar fits correctly. A properly fitted collar should be snug around your dog or cat’s neck, allowing just enough room for you to slip two fingers underneath. Collars that are too loose can slip over your pet’s head if they suddenly shift into reverse. Also, check the buckle for wear and replace the collar if necessary – after all, the ID tag on your pet’s collar is his first line of defense!
If you think your dog may be uncomfortable with a collar fitted that tightly, consider getting a martingale collar, which has no buckle to wear out, and is specially made to tighten when your pet pulls on the leash. Martingale collars should be adjusted so at it’s tightest point, you can just slip two fingers beneath it. When he’s not on his leash, the collar will fit loosely around your dog’s neck, but he won’t be able to back out of his collar if something frightens him.
2. Leave your pet’s collar on. Taking your pet’s collar off when they’re lounging around the house, or when you go to bed at night, is a habit best left at home. When in an unfamiliar environment, it’s safer to leave your pet’s identification tags on at all times … just in case.
3. Check your leashes. Like everything else, leashes wear out and need to be replaced – especially if your pup thinks it’s a chew toy! Check the latch regularly to be sure the spring is operating properly, and examine the entire leash for damage. This is especially important for people using retractable leashes, because it’s hard to notice weaknesses. Once a month attach your leash to something stationary, walk back to the point that the leash is fully extended, and give it a good tug – at least twice as hard as your dog would pull in pursuit of a squirrel. If it snaps, you’ll know it’s time for a new one!
4. Use a harness to walk your dog. One of the benefits of harnesses is that they provide some extra security for your dog. It’s a lot harder for a pup to wiggle out of his harness than it is for him to slip his collar.
5. Be mindful of how you hold the leash. Dog walking requires dexterity! I’m usually juggling multiple leashes, a handful of treats, and a full waste bag in search of the proper receptacle – it’s easy to get careless with your grip on the leash. And that’s usually the moment your dog chooses to hit the brakes and check his p-mail. If you slip your hand through the handle, so the loop rests around your wrist, and then grab the leash, you’ll have a little leeway in case you’re like me – all thumbs.
Taking care that you don’t drop the leash is especially important if you’re using a retractable. Imagine how your dog would feel seeing that handle flying toward him on a collision course! Of course he’d panic and run away from you at top speed – who wouldn’t?
6. For pets in the car, develop a routine. You may think that once your pet is in the car, he’s safe. But what if someone opens the door on the other side of the vehicle and your pal scoots out before you get him secured in his seat belt? When it’s time to leave, put your pet in the car, fasten his seatbelt or get him in his carrier, and then remove his leash. When you arrive, reattach his leash and then remove him from the carrier or unbuckle his seatbelt. This procedure applies for all stops – including breaks at rest areas – along the way.
7. What’s good for the car also works in the hotel. Clip your dog’s leash on before you open the door of your hotel room, even if it’s just put your “Do Not Disturb” sign on the knob or ask housekeeping to come back later. Dogs are naturally going to be curious about what’s in the hallway, and you don’t want yours taking off to check it out by himself!
8. Skip the off-leash playtime. Your dog may come to you every time you call him in your back yard, but with new sites to sniff and friends to make, his recall may not be as good away from home. If you have a big dog who really needs some space to exercise, look for a fenced, off-leash dog park, or get a long-line leash that will allow him to play, without being in danger of getting lost.
9. Sometimes you have to fight your instincts. If your dog somehow gets away from you, do not panic. Think quickly – if you can take a few quick steps and grab the leash, do it. But, if your dog is running away from you, the best thing to do is to stop, drop to the ground, and lie there. First, running bent over trying to catch a dog is impossible … I speak from experience. But worse than potentially injuring yourself, chasing your dog may only encourage him to keep running – potentially into a life-treating situation. This wonderful article by Mel at No Dog About It explains why you should never chase a lost dog.
10. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Sometimes, you do everything right and bad things still happen. If your pet does somehow become lost while you’re traveling, you’ll have a much better chance of getting him back if you’re prepared.
With a little vigilance and preparation, you can make sure that your next pet friendly vacation is fun for everyone – and that you’ll all come home together.