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Learning From First Pet Friendly Roadtrip

I read a lot of blogs – some pet related, some not. So, imagine my excitement when I clicked over to Camels & Chocolate, Kristin Luna’s travel blog (which typically does not include her dog, Ella) and read that she and her husband, Scott, were about to set off on their first RV trip. AND, they were taking Ella with them!!

They visited some of the same places we took Ty and Buster last summer, and Kristin and I connected over the shared experience of seeing the Black Hills and Yellowstone with our dogs. I asked Kristin to give you a look inside their first dog friendly roadtrip and share some things they learned along the way. She generously obliged …

I should be upfront: We’re newbies to this whole pet-owning business. I grew up with a whole posse of Malteses—my parents still have five—but never had a dog in my adult life for which I was solely responsible. Then, last June, when an unplanned pregnancy between two of my mom’s frisky pooches resulted in puppies, my husband and I found ourselves the parents of a new fur babe. She was even born the day we landed from our honeymoon—hey, at least we did things in what society deems the “right” order.

Ella at Crater Lake

We’re also new to traveling by RV (or rather, travel trailer as our borrowed vehicle was). I’ve been working as a travel writer for the better part of a decade, jetsetting anywhere from six to nine months out of the year on magazine and guidebook assignments, but I usually stay in hotels and had never done any long-term camping prior to this summer. My husband took an extended leave of absence from work to overcome some health issues, and we capitalized on the opportunity of time off—and the offer from my in-laws to borrow their rarely used travel trailer—to hit the wide, open road. There was no question what we do with Ella: Obviously, she would be tagging along for the ride. (We even let her “drive” on occasion—without a license!)

Ella driving

And it was a far easier endeavor than I ever would have anticipated. Other than making sure all of her shots were up to date, we didn’t do a whole lot before we left by way of prepping her to travel (though we did carry copies of her shots records, vet information and rabies tags). There were pet stores along the way, so we needn’t stock up on supplies, other than making sure she had enough food for a couple weeks and her beloved toy monkey. A month in advance, we started walking her daily—she’s a six-pound lap dog who doesn’t necessarily need to go on walks for exercise—and had planned to take her on a series of longer hikes to strengthen the pads of her paws, but the weather thwarted those attempts.

Ella at Canyonlands

But on the road, we quickly learned that she had more energy than the two of us combined and that, even on her short legs, a three-mile hike over red rock or a 200-stair climb was nothing to her. We toted her along into stores and other public spaces. I was surprised to find how pet-friendly most cities were; rarely did anyone ask us to remove her from the store (and many store employees even stopped to ask to pet her or give her a treat!).

Ella with Cows

We took pictures of her in front of famous monuments. She was the fifth president at Rushmore; she posed with a tribe of hundreds of cows outside of Crater Lake. She performed tricks for crowds at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. She saw 12 states—California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon—far more than some of my friends and family members have visited. And she loved every minute of it.

Ella and the Presidents

Our primary concern going into the trip was Ella’s propensity for carsickness. We could rarely drive to the next neighborhood over in San Francisco without her vomiting in one of our laps. We had tried prescription sprays and exposure training (i.e. taking her in the car every day from the time she was born to toughen her up), and still her little tummy didn’t like the ride one bit. We had a cabin in Tahoe this past winter, and the only way we could make the trip with her was by force-feeding her doggie Dramamine each way. We really didn’t want to have to do this daily for 42 days while traversing the Western corridor.

Ella in the Wind

But somehow, miraculously, she didn’t get sick once the whole trip. Using pillows and her bed, we built up a little throne in the backseat of the truck bed, and she perched there like a queen throughout the 5,800 miles we covered. She even started getting excited when we would get into the car, whereas before she would tremble every time we would head for the garage back home.

Ella on her throne

Taking our dog on the road with us made the trip twice as fun than if we’d just traveled with the two of us. Ella was like a child, so excited for every new place and experience, jubilant to get to spend so much time with Mom and Dad, and overjoyed on the odd occasion we let her off leash to frolic on some grassy plain. It was such an easy endeavor, too—traveling with a dog—and now, it’s going to be really hard not taking her along for the ride when we travel by plane internationally!

Family in the Canyonlands

What we learned:

Training is paramount—and an ongoing effort. At just a year old, Ella is still in her “teenage” years, meaning she’s a perfect angel one day, a hellion others. While we had been through two eight-week puppy school courses with one of San Francisco’s best trainers—and Ella learned all sorts of tricks she can perform on command—she didn’t always behave as well as we would have liked, barking at strange people or bolting when a deer or bird would startle her. No matter whether we’re at home or on the road, we set aside a few minutes every day to fine tune her behavioral skills, introduce her to new tricks, and socialize her with other dogs and people.

Ella on tractor

Research park regulations. Many national parks don’t allow dogs on trails. But that doesn’t mean they can’t go in the park with you. Yellowstone, for example, won’t admit dogs 100 feet from the roads or parking lots. That said, due to the flooding in the park while we were there, most of the sites we wanted to see were just off the main road, so we didn’t have to leave her behind. For those that weren’t, we still took her along in the truck and left her in it while we went and did our tourist thing. (The temperature was never more than a breezy 65 degrees throughout our trip, so we could do this without worry.)

Ella in Nebraska

Know the area’s wildlife. One of the biggest fears I had going into this trip was a rattlesnake encounter; there’s a reason the saying goes “mean as a snake,” after all. Ella has spent all of her life (that whopping one year) living in the heart of a city and hasn’t been exposed to animals beyond dogs, cats, birds and the occasional horse. I feared what might happen if we stumbled upon a rattler and she started barking her head off at it. Although I’m very anti-firearms, my husband actually bought and registered a pistol for this trip that he took along for safety purposes, should any malicious wildlife attempt to attack Ella.  (He also took me to a shooting range to make me a bit more comfortable with the idea and should I need to use the gun to save him or Ella.)

Ella in trailer

Dogs are adaptable. My biggest revelation on this trip was how we could put Ella put in any situation and she wouldn’t waiver. (Well, except those bison—she wasn’t a fan of the lumbering, linebacker-like creatures!) She loved all the new sights, sounds and smells, and it took her all of 10 minutes to feel right at home in the trailer. She’s a happy dog by nature, but I’d say she was the happiest I’ve ever seen her while on the road with us!

Ella Happy

*****

Kristin Luna is a travel writer by profession and also writes a blog, Camels & Chocolate, about her adventures in globetrotting. You can read more about the route she, Ella and Scott took through the West here.

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  • I love reading about Ella’s adventures!  It’s interesting about the car sickness thing, I didn’t know that there could be circumstances when I dog who has a propensity to get sick wouldn’t (if that makes sense).  I have a cat who gets car sick and once had to take her on a 5.5 hours trip from Geneva to Paris, she cried and was sick the ENTIRE time there, and one week later, the ENTIRE way home.  Not that I travel around with my cat all the time, but I wonder if there is ever an instance in which she wouldn’t be sick!  Looks like Ella had a fabulous time and was pretty much the star of the trip with all those cute photos!

  • Hi Y’all!

    Many dogs seem to mirror their masters.  Body language is how we communicate.  Be careful how you act; like a child, we watch and learn. So what if you aren’t our pawed parents!  We know when you are enjoying something.  We know when you don’t like someone or something.  We take our cues from you, the ones with the opposable thumbs. 

    Oh, and we can get cabin fever too.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  • MelF says:

    What a great post! I loved reading about all of the things they learned along the way as well as all the unexpected surprises Ella gave them with her stamina, love of new things and just zest for life. I can see why it will be hard not to take Ella on their next trip. 

    The pictures of Ella were phenomenal too! I love the one where she’s flying through the air over the sandy trail. Who knew a Maltese could jump that high? :)

  • Wow – that’s a wonderful story! We have two large dogs, so I was a little jealous looking at all the pictures of your *adorable* pup posing at Mt. Rushmore (though I did laugh a little at the thought of trying to lift either of our 75+ lb. dogs into the same position!!) Thanks for sharing :)

    Had you thought about travel with Ella before this or was it one of those “Well, we don’t have another option … I guess we have to do it!” type things?

    • Jess, I went to Hawaii for work in April, and my husband tagged along (he usually has to stay at home due to work) and he wanted to bring her even then! I said, “we can’t take a dog to Hawaii when we’re going to be out and about every day, surfing, snorkeling, taking boat rides, etc.!” So yes, I think he wants to take her with us always =)

      Typically for work, I do mostly international travel so taking a dog just isn’t feasible with quarantine rules and the like (plus, I’m often not given enough notice prior to any assignment to go through the necessary steps in the first place). However, since this was all domestic travel, yes we wanted to take her and try out the whole pet-friendly travel bit versus it simply being a necessity. Now, after six weeks, we’re thinking about all the trips we can do around the US to make our dog more cultured, ha ;-)

  • Joy says:

    As my husband & I prepare to drive across the U.S. with our two dogs in tow, I really loved your story!  Thank you for all the info!  I am heading outside right now, to  brush up on their training as you suggest!!    Thanks again!  PS  She is a beauty!

  • Great story.  Ella looks like she may be a constant travel companion from now on!  Wonderful pictures too!

    • You are so right, Miriam! Now it’s hard to plan a trip and leave her at home. We just got back from a two-week cruise and were more looking forward to returning from vacation than going on it as we were so used to traveling with Ella and missed her so! =)

  • Ella did fantastically well for a 1-year-old pup, congrats! And I’ll confirm your suspicions that you’ll never want to travel without her again. ;)  Kiva was less than a year on our first long vacation with her, and in the 13 years since, we’ve logged 21 states and thousands and thousands of miles together.

  • Bea Worde says:

    Lovely post, looks like it was a great time for all, especially Ella!  The photos really bring it to life too, many thanks.

    Bea

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