Ask the Blonde Coyote: Tips For Traveling With Dogs

Dio on the summit of South Sister in Oregon, Mount Bachelor and Devils Lake in the background

Dio on the summit of South Sister in Oregon, Mount Bachelor and Devils Lake in the background

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success. My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote:

You obviously have a great time traveling with your dogs but I’m wondering whether you ever feel like they slow you down or limit the places you can go. 

My dogs on Comb Ridge in Utah

My dogs on Comb Ridge in Utah

In some ways, traveling with dogs can be a pain – national parks don’t allow dogs and summer can be a very challenging time to be on the road with an animal – but dogs really are the best travel companions: they’ll go anywhere at anytime with no questions or complaints and they always say yes, to everything. My travels really began when I adopted Bowie and started taking him for long walks everyday. And then right when Bowie and I were starting to get a little bit lazy, the universe sent us a wild rez puppy to keep us on our toes. Quite simply, I would not be the traveler that I am if I didn’t have dogs in my life.

Bowie’s now 11 and while he’s in excellent shape and spirits for his age, he just isn’t up for long hikes anymore. His limits have been cramping my style this summer – I so wanted to go backpacking in the Wind River range! – but he’s been my constant companion for a decade and the least I can do is give him a graceful retirement. As a compromise, I’ve been taking Bowie on easy walks in the cool mornings and evenings and leaving him in the trailer while Dio and I set off on epic double digit day hikes.

Bowie's seen it all and he's pretty happy to chill out in the trailer.

Bowie’s seen it all and these days, he’s pretty happy just to chill out in the trailer.

Even though he’s slowing me down, I hope I will have many more years of traveling with Bowie. I know losing him will be wrenching, but I’ll find solace in knowing we’ve been everywhere (he’s been hiking in 49 states! all but Hawaii) and done everything together. He’s had the bets possible life for a dog and I’m a better person and a more worldly person having traveled with him.

Bowie photobombing me at the Grand Canyon of the San Rafael

Bowie photobombing me at the Grand Canyon of the San Rafael

Hi,  I just bought a teardrop this summer and am planning a trip to Utah in October and want to take my dog.  I know dogs can’t hike in the national parks and not sure how to go about it.  I have a well behaved dog that waits in my car when I ski in the winter and loves being with me.  My trailer is a used ’09 with an old fan system in the cabinets. I thought about putting a new one in the roof to keep it cooler in the teardrop. Do you have any ideas and suggestions to my situation and how to go about it. I know she would love to be with me!

You should definitely take your dog to Utah with you! In October the weather should be cooling down enough that you can leave her in the trailer in the mornings and evenings for national park hikes. Also keep in mind there is a TON of non-National park hiking in Utah where your dog will be welcome on trails. I’ve been traveling in Utah just about every spring and fall for years and I’m still discovering incredible new places, many dog-friendly.

Corona Arch is a dog-friendly hike near Moab, outside of Arches National Park

Corona Arch is a dog-friendly hike near Moab, outside of Arches National Park

I’m not sure how well ventilated your trailer is, but mine stays cool  inside even on hot days. It’s insulated and I have a pop-up on the roof that provides great ventilation. I have a battery powered fan that I often leave on for the dogs to keep the air circulating and I always leave them plenty of water in the trailer. I feel good about leaving my dogs in the trailer for a few hours while I hike and they don’t seem to mind. I usually leave a note on the door saying my dogs are cool and comfy in their rolling dog house with my phone number and the number of a trusted friend, just in case somebody gets concerned about them (or something happens to me while I’m gone), but I’ve never had any problems with it.

My rolling dog house at the Tetons

My rolling dog house at the Tetons

In August, my cousin and I will be leaving to go on a (at least) 6 month roadtrip around the US and I’m wondering what do you feed your dogs?  I’ll have my 6 year old lab mix with me, and when I’ve taken her on trips in the past, I’ve just fed her the normal, store-bought stuff.  However, I’m worried that, for the long-haul, it might be a bit much to have a 25 lb bag in the trunk.  Any suggestions?

I feed my dogs Iams because it’s affordable and reasonably healthy (I am aware there are lots of options out there) but I mainly feed Iams because I can find it everywhere and I like to keep their diet consistent. I’ve only once not been able to find it – when I was in the Yukon – and they had to settle for Kibbles and Bits, which they loved, like kids love Lucky Charms. I buy a 15 pound bag about every 2 weeks and keep it in a plastic bin on the back floorboards of the Rover. The top of the bin lines up with the edge of the seats, giving them a few extra inches of room to spread out. I also give Bowie glucosamine/ chondroitin supplements that I buy from Trader Joe’s, which has the best price for the dosage. One bottle ($10) lasts about a month so I usually buy a couple anytime I’m in a major city with a TJ’s.

Bowie's preferred diet: dead things

Bowie’s preferred diet.

I understand if you are too busy to answer this, but my wife and I are planning a camping trip to New Mexico from our home north of Seattle bringing our dog. I never had a dog in New Mexico–although I lived there many years. I am concerned about several things:

1. Ticks–I read about a man who had over a hundred ticks on his dog after a hike in eastern Washington and the CDC website has a huge list of tick-borne diseases. I am planning on getting a tick collar from our vet–she says the kind she recommends is safe for dogs and humans–unlike some flea collars which aren’t.

At certain times in certain places, ticks have been a huge problem and both my dogs have tested positive for lyme disease. Bowie is also allergic to fleas. A couple of summers ago, after a long day hike through tall grass on the Lost Coast of California, I pulled hundreds of ticks off both dogs. It was disgusting. Topical flea and tick treatments like Frontline and Advantage have never really worked for us. I’m not sure if it’s because both my dogs are so furry or if it’s because they like to swim a lot but in the places I’ve lived where ticks are common (especially Virginia and Maine) it never seemed to make a difference whether they were on tick preventative or not. If I’m going to put ridiculously expensive poison on my dogs, it better work, so I don’t do it unless we’re having an outbreak.

Tall grass is tick territory

Tall grass is tick territory

Because both my dogs have long, black fur, manually checking for ticks is a task, but one that I’m pretty diligent about. Being on the move seems to help a lot: I haven’t found a single flea or tick all summer this year and I’m hoping it stays that way. My advice: check your dog manually for ticks every evening and know the symptoms of tick-born diseases, especially lyme.

Bowie recovered from his bout with lyme very well. I got him checked (summer 2009) because he was acting lethargic and unenthusiastic and seemed to have some mysterious soreness and sure enough his test came back positive for lyme. After a few days on antibiotics he was back to his bouncy self and has been healthy ever since. Dio never showed any symptoms of lyme but I had him tested when I was in Maine (winter 2010) and it came back positive so we put him on a course of antibiotics. A former starving rez dog, he’s as tough as they come and he’s never had an off day in his life.

Dio on the summit of South Sister, ready to keep on hiking down the other side

Dio on the summit of South Sister, ready to keep on hiking down the other side and up the next volcano.

2. Heat. I remember many days over a 100 degrees in Albuquerque. I survived many years there driving ’64 Volvo with no air conditioning. But I have read that dogs begin to suffer the effects of heat when it gets over 80 to 85 degrees. Although our truck has air conditioning, obviously we can’t keep the dog that cool all the time. We are planning on giving him a haircut.

Heat is always a major issue for us. My big black furry dog Bowie has zero tolerance for heat. He always needs access to shade and lots of water, even on mild days. Dio, on the other hand, will lay out on a hot day and sun bathe. The best way I’ve found to cope with heat is to schedule our day around the hottest hours. In the summers, we’re active in the mornings and evenings and during the heat of the day we’re either driving or hanging out in the shade. I also tend to go north in the summer and gain altitude. Winters are for deserts, summers are for mountains.

I always carry at least a gallon of water per dog, per day and I keep a tupperware container of water in the back of the Rover for them at all times. On bumpy roads, I snap on the lid but otherwise it’s always available to them. A windshield screen can make a huge difference in the inside temperature of your car, as can tinted windows. My dogs are trained not to get out of the car unless I tell them to (which you should definitely plan on teaching your dog before you travel so they don’t bolt and get lost or hurt) so if it’s hot, I often leave all the windows all the way down for them while I run inside a store. Dio is very protective of my stuff so I don’t worry about people stealing things out of my car. Obviously, it should go without saying that you should never leave your dog trapped in a car on a hot day. This has been one of the biggest benefits of traveling with the trailer; it doesn’t get hot the way the car does. If you don’t have your very own insulated rolling dog house, you can also seek out parking garages. Parking in the shade helps, but keep in mind, shade moves!

Winter in the desert

Winter in the desert

3. Giardia. I note that your dogs drink from streams with no apparent ill effect. A long time ago on a hike in the Sandias, I drank directly from a stream and lived to tell about it. But everywhere one reads of the risk to humans and animals of Giardia. Having had dogs in the past (but not in New Mexico), I know that they love to jump in the water and probably end up drinking it as well.

My dogs drink out of streams and puddles all the time and have never gotten giardia or any other water-borne illness. Once on a backpacking trip in Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks my friend Sarah’s little dog Oliver started having bloody diarrhea and we carried him out and got him to an emergency vet who diagnosed the dreaded giardia. A course of antibiotics and some fluids fixed him up and he was fine. My dogs had been drinking the same water but never showed any symptoms. I’m sure their sheer size helped as they both significantly outweigh 12-pound Oliver. I try to keep them out of stagnant puddles or obviously polluted streams, but their immune systems seem to deal with most water sources just fine.

With Sarah and Oliver on the summit of Mount Yale

With Sarah and Oliver on the summit of Mount Yale

How do you handle vet issues when you’re traveling with your dogs

Overall, both my dogs have both been very healthy and accident-free, but I’ve had to seek out new vets a few times while I’m on the road for various illnesses and accidents. I keep copies of their records in my car and the trailer and it’s not usually a problem to find a vet who will take on a new client. Thankfully, I’ve never had to take my dogs to an emergency vet clinic. Only once has a vet given me a hard time about traveling with my dogs: I had them checked in Oregon just before crossing into Canada and the vet was very discouraging about the border crossing and even suggested I was a bad pet owner to be dragging them all over the place with me. I shrugged her off (I don’t dwell on the opinions of negative people) and had no problems at the border entering Canada or coming back into the US (they’ve never even asked me for any papers on any of my six border crossings in and out of Canada).

Dio on Mount Rundle near  Banff

Dio on Mount Rundle near Banff

My best vet resource on the road is a woman in Madrid, New Mexico (where I often spend winters) who runs her own independent vet practice out of her home. Unlike the Oregon vet, Nan is very encouraging about traveling with dogs and she helped me put together a first aid kit with bandages and a few medications like emergency pain meds and antibiotics. I carry a book on emergency first aid for dogs and I’ve doctored them myself a few times and Nan has told me to call her anytime with problems or questions.

Ok, that’s enough for now – after traveling with dogs for nine years, through 49 states and most of Canada, I could write a whole book about it: Travels With Bowie & D.O.G.! If you have any more questions about traveling with dogs, or just traveling in general, email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Beyond the USA, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ask the Blonde Coyote: Tips For Traveling With Dogs

  1. Anna says:

    All the pics are so wonderful “Winter in the desert” – this one is really cool

  2. swade says:

    Great info! I also have two dogs and rarely travel without them. I would love to see what you carry in your first aid kit in case I’ve missed anything.

  3. LOR of Tijeras says:

    Great post! It’s no wonder your Madrid Vet is so encouraging about traveling with dogs. Madrid is basically the dog capital of New Mexico.I’m pretty sure everyone who lives there owns at least one dog. They even created a calendar called Dogs Of Madrid! Haha!

  4. hobopals says:

    I think the vet that chewed you out is way off her rocker. Traveling and hiking with dogs is giving them the best possible life they could have. My Lizzie and Jack were the most wonderful companions–I found many out of the way places searching for great lakes and streams for them to swim in–their favorite activity. I lost Lizzie at 13 years old–not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Jack just turned 13. I, too, adjusted my life to give them peaceful retirements. While my travel is not as active as yours. they were ready to go on trails at the drop of the hat. They were wonderful traveling companions–best company in the world, and as you said–they go along, happily, with whatever you want to do.

    I found a product to carry dog food that is just great. It fits in places bins can’t and adjusts in size as the food is used. In case you are interested: http://tinyurl.com/pk3nzuj

    I feel, as you, the inconvenience of traveling with dogs is far outweighed by the company and joy they bring. I am a better person for having them. Scratches to Bowie and Dio.

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