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A tricolour dog sits on a dock with the lake and trees behind them.

Summertime is cottage season for many of us in Canada. (That's "lake house" for my friends south of the border.). While we all dream of our summertime travels being relaxing, oftentimes a lack of preparation causes more stress than we bargained for. 

This list of tools and tips will help you prepare for the worst and hopefully in turn give you the peaceful and enjoyable vacation you imagine. 

Before you leave, take some time to prepare Fido for the trip:

  • Check that your dog is up to date on vaccinations and is on flea/tick/heartworm prevention through your Veterinarian, never through a pet store or online source.
  • Let your vet know that you are heading out of the city and ask if there is anything you should consider - they will have great tips and also tick keys which everyone should have on their keychain.
  • Have them scan your dog's microchip and ensure the contact information is up to date.
  • Get a copy of your dog's most recent vaccination proof and bring them with you.
  • Double-check your dog's collar - does it fit securely around your dog's neck?
  • Check their ID tags - are they readable and current? Ensure that the phone number shown is one where someone can reach you even while at that destination.
  • Ask your vet to write down common medications that would be a great idea to bring, along with the dosages for your pet. Common ones are anti-histamines, anti-nauseants, anti-diarrheals, and antibiotic ointment for typical topical issues such as red ants or other rashes. Keep the dosage information in your pet's first aid kit. If you don't already have one, prepare or purchase one.
  • Lastly, do a little Google research for the nearest veterinary clinics to your destination and even en route. Don't forget 24-hour emergency clinics. Have the names, address, and phone number written on an index card inside your pet's first aid kit.

What to pack for Fido is going to vary depending on your dog and where you're going, but we'll give you a general list:

  • Food dispensing toys and stuffing
  • Treats (high-value and freeze-dried)
  • Your dog's crate/bed & toys
  • Life-vest for your dog
  • A 20-50 foot training lead for outside
  • Your dog's regular collar / ID tags, harness, leash (and a backup of each)
  • A brush/comb (pesky burrs!)
  • Your dog's food in an air-tight, food-grade container (plus a few days' extra) 
  • Water bowls (multiple)
  • Towels and baby wipes
  • Medications & first aid kit
  • Skunk shampoo
  • Crash-tested car harness or airline-approved carrier

The car ride is a common challenge that we hear about at this time of year, whether it is car anxiety or car sickness, or even a combination of both. If your dog gets motion sickness, our favourite go-to is Cerenia - many of our clients use this via their Veterinarian and have magnificent results.

If your dog's challenge is anxiety-related then there is more we can do to help them. Don't force them into a 6-hour car ride where you know they'll be panicked or shut down! Speak with your vet about a short-term fast-acting anti-anxiety for those longer trips and promise your dog that you will seek help to resolve that car-related anxiety once and for all as soon as you're back from vacation.

A Thundershirt and/or Calming Cap might be helpful in the short term but it's best to be sure what will work before embarking on a long drive.

Once you arrive at your destination, have a plan in place and make safety your priority. Before getting out of the car, ensure your dog is secured - the excitement of arriving at one's destination is enough to send them flying out an open door and off into unknown territory. While unpacking, ensure your dog is somewhere safe as you come and go. Even if they've never darted out the door before, don't trust that this time will be the same. 

Once they've had a potty break and a drink, do a solo walk-around on the property so that you can look for poisonous plants (poison ivy and oak), animal carcasses, traps, or anything else that might be dangerous. If there is a fence, are there any holes through which a dog can escape? Are there other properties with dogs/children? Once you're certain it's safe, take your dog for a leashed walk around the property so that they can stretch their legs and have a great sniff. Let them go at their pace and really get to know the area without stress. It might be an idea to take them to the places you'll be spending your time, such as the beach and the dock. Keeping them on a leash for now allows you to keep safety as a top priority as your dog learns about this new place sans-failure. 

Whenever your dog comes in from outside, give them a once over with your eyes and hands, looking for cuts, rashes, ticks, or anything else worrisome. Infections can happen very easily and dogs don't often show when they're in pain or discomfort. 

Set up a dog-area indoors where your dog can feel safe and their familiar items are kept - crate/bed, toys, water bowl, food dispensing toys, etc. Your dog may need breaks away from all the excitement (especially if there are bonfires or fireworks) and guests if you're having any.

Keep in mind that they will be more tired out at the cottage than in the city - the exercise and fresh air is a blessing! This might cause them to be overtired and a little more cranky later in the day and evening. 

Water safety is of utmost importance as not all dogs are natural swimmers despite popular belief. Oftentimes we hear of our clients taking their dogs swimming and making three major mistakes:

  1. 1
    Allowing their dog to leap off the dock into the water only to find that the dog sinks instead of swims (Bulldogs and other bully breeds most commonly).
  2. 2
    Carrying a dog who is afraid of the water into the lake and "letting them swim back to shore" - does not teach a dog to be comfortable with the water any more than dropping me from a plane would cure my fear of heights.
  3. 3
    Allowing their dog into the water (or boat) without a proper life-vest. 

It's best to start on a leash (long line) and allow your dog to wade in at their pace if they so choose. Bring treats and buoyant toys to associate great things with the water. Don't splash them or force them - simply observe and let them learn about it in a safe manner as you would a child.

Watch for stress signals during your stay especially if there are other people/children sharing your time. Yawning, lip-licking, shaking, avoiding eye contact or physical contact, whale-eye, growling, whining, and other vocalisations - these are just a few! 

Make the vacation as stress-free for your dog as you want it to be for you and you might find that you both have a fabulous time together! 

Safe travels!