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RV Travel USA with your pet dog

We’ve traveled by RV from the mid west to the east coast, north to Maine and west to California and we’ve found RV travel with our pet dog Sparky to be easy and enjoyable with just a few exceptions.

The weather can be extreme, and you need to take care of pets when you leave them either in the car or the RV. There are some public places where pets are banned, and wild animals can be a threat. Read on to learn about our tips for an enjoyable RV road trip with your pet.

Image of Sparky in the driver seat of RV

Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Sparky attempting a turning reverse park with the truck and fifthwheel. I would let him continue, but his feet can’t reach the pedals.

Image of our dog traveling in the USATake care on hot days and in the extreme cold

Keep your pet cool. In this photo, we took Sparky for a cooling walk on the south shore beach of Lake Michigan in the 2015 summer at Indiana Dunes State Beach Park.

The lake’s water is fresh but we think he got a stomach bug after drinking from a stream running into the lake on this same day. Now we never let him drink from puddles and streams. There’s been enough evident stomach upsets and vet warnings about pups drinking from lakes and streams. Unfortunate but true. He’s quick to dip his tongue into a cool running creek, and we’ve learnt to quickly stop him.

We never leave our dog in the car on hot days, unless we can find shade and leave the windows down. We have found it okay to leave him in our fifthwheel RV with air conditioning set to around 85 degrees F, (about 29C), with the roof hatches open. The cold air from the air conditioning stays low to the floor and any heat escapes through the roof hatches. Our RV, as with all modern RVs, has great insulation, so it’s never too hot to be inside.

On one particularly hot day, there was no shade in the supermarket carpark and we needed to buy groceries. We had seen others with dogs inside, and we decied to follow with Sparky. Many people stared, but everyone, including security, were welcoming and friendly. We brought a towel to keep him off the cart’s seat and remained away from fresh produce. After realising this is not usually allowed, we’ve always made other arrangements since then. Most times, one of us will wait in the car with air conditioning, or go for a cooling walk while the other does the shopping. Service dogs are allowed inside shops.

Image of our dog in Walmart

Sparky helping with the shopping. He finally got to see what goes on inside supermarkets and received many friendly pets and gestures. Although he wasn’t supposed to be there!

Taking your pet on board in domestic USA flights

In the USA, you are allowed to take your pet onboard various domestic flights. Sparky has traveled from Los Angeles to Indianapolis on a Delta flight, and from San Francisco International to Redmond in Oregon on a United Airlines flight.

There are specific requirements for taking pets on board, which most airlines specify on their websites, but you do have to apply some common sense too. Your pet must travel securely fastened inside it’s pet carry-on, and be stowed under the seat in front.  It’s best to check the aircraft type for your flight. In the case of the Los Angeles to Indianapolis flight, we took the window seat because the aircraft was of the size similar to a Boeing 737. This meant that all seats have the same leg room. And having a window seat meant there was less chance of restrictions to the inside passenger.

There are exceptions with seating plans though. Some airlines have control boxes that take some of the underseat stowage area for the inflight entertainment. In this case, you might need to ask to be allocated a different seat for the flight so your pet carrier can be stowed with you.

In the case of the San Francisco to Redmond flight, the plane was a smaller propeller driven type with much narrower cabin space. After researching online, we found from other travelers that the window seats have restricted underseat volume due to the way the fuselage arcs across and under the window seats. In this case it’s imperative you request an aisle seat. The good thing about the seating in this type of plane, something like the Dash 8, is that there is usually no center stanchion under the seats. This means there is plenty of leg room and space for you pet container.

Image of Sparky, our dog, being walked before boarding a domestic flight in LAX

Sparky is getting a comfort walk before a four hour domestic flight aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Indianapolis. Los Angeles airport is one of the world’s busiest airports and our Sparky handled the hectic environment with ease.

The special pet carrier is airline approved and has several features that comply with onboard and in-cabin air travel. Your dog must be able to stand and turn inside the carrier, so it needs to be large enough to fit your pet, but small enough to stow under the seat in front of you. In-cabin travel for your pet is limited to certain size and weight limits. The carrier also needs to have absorbent padding on the base. Permission to fly is all pending the final approval of the staff at the check-in counter, so it’s best to do your research and make sure your pet complies with all the standards before checking in.

The airlines recommended to bring Sparky’s veterinarian history and immunisation records with us, but each time we were not asked to produce any paperwork at the check-in counter.

We’ve found it worthwhile compiling a file folder with your dog’s medical records. It makes it easy for several reasons including routine visits to vets as your travel the country, and maintaining a clear record in case you want to go back to your home country when clear and compliant records will help with customs and quarantine processing.

Airline approved pet carrier

The airline approved pet container with the top mesh cover opened for training. We took Sparky for a few fun car trips to get accustomed to his pet airline carry-on bag.

The airline carry-on was also useful for a train trip from Indiana to Chicago. We enquired with the railroad’s website about in-cabin pet travel and found that this particular line allowed pets in containers. Once we got to know the passengers, we let him up on the seat beside us to see the view.

Sparky halts the Chicago bound train!

Indiana Dunes State Park, June 7th, 2015.
We were traveling to meet our good friend Kelly in Chicago for a quick side-trip. We were able to leave our fifthwheel RV and truck at the RV park and take the train with our boy Sparky on board.

The local railroad station is a small, unattended country stop and while it was hot, we let Sparky walk onto the platform tightly held by his lead. We had the pet carrier ready for when the train approached. Just as the train stopped, I quickly popped him into the carry-on and zipped the covers and proceeded to carry the bag with Sparky inside and onto the rail car. We found a vacant set of seats and placed Sparky, still inside his container under the seat in front of us.

The train seemed to be waiting a while, and soon after realising this, we were interrupted by the conductor slamming the door against it’s stops and demanding who on this train has a ‘white fluffy poodle like dog running all over the train car’.

Image of dog affirmations found on the wall of a veterinarian

Sit by the fire with friends. Run like the road never ends. Loving the RV lifestyle.

It was obvious that our West Highland White Terrier was most likely the ‘white fluffy poodle’ the conductor had been searching the entire train. But he wasn’t running all about. We acknowledged the conductor and showed her our carry bag with our Sparky inside.

“Okay!” she said.

“Is he inside his cage, with the top closed?” she asked.

“Yes. The whole time.” we answered.

“Well folks,” she continued, “this is why we’ve been delayed! The controllers noticed him on a video and somehow assumed he was running free! Looks like we can all move on now.”

She radioed her controller and signalled for the train to depart. Well behind schedule!

On our return journey back from Chicago, we made sure Sparky was placed inside his carrybag well in view of the controller’s video cameras.

 

Image of our dog outside Millennium Park Chicago

Surprising! The places you cannot take your pet in the USA …

While in Chicago, it was quite hot at the peak of June’s summer climate. The city was bustling with traffic and firetruck sirens and it’s really not a comfortable place for dogs. Our hotel was certainly okay for pets, but there was no dog run or even a dog park within blocks of the hotel, so poor Sparky would need to find a pot plant and a street sign for relaxation.

We took a long walk to Chicago’s famous Millennium Park only to find dogs are not allowed anywhere near any lawns or trees. Only service dogs are allowed and we were promptly spotted by the park police even before we entered. We  wanted to go in for some shade, so we bundled him in our arms and carried our four legged friend through the park hoping this might be within the park rules. We did make it quite a way through, before being spotted by other police, then another park cop stopped us and politely asked us to move out of the park.

Well, at least we took the long way out and we got to cool our feet in one of the running water features. Chicago wasn’t the best place for our dog, but at least we got to stroll around and take in many of the best sights. Sparky is a quiet dog, and we were able to leave him in the apartment hotel so we could visit some fine restaurants.

Taking dogs to the beach

A few weeks later we were in Virginia and heading for a day at the beach. Finally, we get to see the Atlantic Ocean. For two traveling Australians and their Aussie Westie, to reach the east coast of North America is quite a milestone. We found a place to park in Virginia Beach and strolled towards the beach, only to find several signs prohibiting dogs from entering any part of the beach, and officers patrolling the area extensively. We promptly found a quiet bar that allowed us to sit with our pet at the table and enjoyed the view of the ocean from a little further than expected. It was quite a fun afternoon anyway, with a small gathering of other dog owners in nearby tables, we started a dog-lovers’ party!

In parts of New Jersey, particularly around Cape May, we found that dogs are prohibited from the beach and also from the boardwalk on that side of the street! We tried to ‘accidently’ venture on the beach side, just to see some shops, but we were quickly warned by park police to move to the inland side of the road with our pup. Well, that’s the rules of that city. It was surprising for us as visitors, we are so accustomed to being free to roam, but we respected the laws of that city and enjoyed our day visit to the area. Another dog friendly restaurant let us in, and we enjoyed the view from a bar while our pup was treated to lots of pets and friendly visits from other people and their dogs.

Taking pets to RV parks

After a few weeks, we became better informed of where we could go and where we couldn’t. All campgrounds welcomed us  along with most hotels and motels, but there is one RV park that allows dogs but not on any grass. The Thousand Trails RV Park in Las Vegas is very tightly packed with only feet and inches between other RVs and high border fences. This park is paved with hard tarmac and very few areas of grass here and there with “No Pets” signs throughout.

Well this is unusual! An RV Park that accepts pets, but wherever there is grass, pets are prohibited. A generous sized enclosed dog park is provided, but it is entirely covered in dark soil which is inconvenient to walk a white dog in a dirt patch several times a day, so Sparky soon became the colour of cognac!

For dog lovers in the USA, you need to get accustomed to dirt-filled dog enclosures. Being from Australia, I’m used to grassy park-like dog runs, but in the USA, most dog runs are dirt, sometimes including burrs and prickles. On rare occasions there are some covered in thick wood chips. Grass is not common throughout the USA. Sometimes there are drought restrictions, other times, it’s just too dry for grass.

Dog shoes or paw protection. Is it necessary?

After a few months of visiting Bar Harbor in Maine, Cape Cod in Massachusetts, New York State and back again through the Mid West, we found ourselves moving through the west where the land is drier and wilder. This is prairie country where cities are sparse and wild plants fill the open plains and valleys. This dry and harsh environment produces burrs and prickles that not only harm you and your dog, but even our bicycle tires!!! In west Idaho, we took our bicycles across a small trail to find we had three deflated tyres the next day! These prickles, called goatheads are as sharp as needles and as tough as wood. The prongs are about an inch or 25mm long and easily penetrate anything soft.

Goatheads. Woody in strength and sharp as needles. Penetrated our bicycle tires

In cold conditions with snow and ice, paw protection is necessary to prevent frostbite. Dogs that live in these areas may have a higher immunity, but our boy is from the subtropics of eastern Australia and needs some pampering.

For these reasons, we purchased some fashionable boots for Sparky. This gave us the satisfaction of being able to take prolonged walks in extreme conditions and on rough ground. In the rain season, the boots have been great for muddy walks. Rain in some parts of the north can last a month, and it’s great to bring our paw footed family member back inside and not have muddy feet in the small confines of our RV. A raincoat also helps in rainy times. You don’t have to dry down every time he goes outside.

 

Dogs need paw protection in some areas of the USA. Dog shoes for snow, ice, and goat heads and other stickers

Would you wear these shoes?!!! Not impressed. He did the usual doggy dance when he started, but soon after became a pro at wearing shoes.

 

Predators and wild animal hazards are common in rural areas of the USA

Wide eyed Sparky in a taxidermist’s store. Kennewick, Washington.

Wildlife hazards

When you travel throughout the USA, there can be hazardous encounters from the local wildlife. Even near cities.

Many RV parks are located on the fringes of cities and there is a risk a predator might become over protective. For this reason, it’s not safe to leave your pet tethered outside overnight. We’ve observed coyotes near homes, skunks, a bobcat in a mountainous RV park, and we were informed of a black bear sighting in one RV park in New York State. Safest to keep your pet supervised at all times. Best not to let them roam free at night, and keep a flashlight or torch handy for night time walks.

There are procedures for encountering large mammals on trails. Learn the local safety procedures and perhaps keep some bear spray or pepper spray handy if you’re worried.

 

 

Caring for your pet while traveling in your RV:

  • It’s not customary to leave your pet unattended outside a shop or supermarket. Leave your pet at home, or if you can find shade, leave your dog in a cool place in your car with water. In freezing temperatures, keep your pet warm if left in the car or RV while you are away.
  • Use paw protection for extreme hot or cold days. I usually feel the pavement to check it’s safe to walk if it’s a hot day. If it’s snowy, some dogs are not accustomed to the cold. Remember that prickles and burrs are common, particularly in rural areas. Little boots and even socks for your pet help you keep your RV floors clean on muddy days.
  • Cities usually prevent your pet from popular beaches and grassed areas in parks. Check the signs and local directories.
  • You can mostly take your dog into campgrounds, RV parks, and many hotels.
  • Dogs are often allowed in national parks. The walking trails are sometimes restricted though. Be prepared that you may have to leave your dog in the parking lot. Sometimes we have taken turns at walking the trails while the other stays with the dog.
  • Most restaurants have an outdoor section that allows dogs. We always ask, if it’s not obvious, and have rarely been refused.
  • Always take water and a portable bowl with you. We use it every time we go out. Even if it’s just a local trip to the store.
  • For long travel trips, make sure your dog eats and drinks before the trip. We have packed too quickly to get on the road and found our boy needs a comfort stop, water, and some food fairly soon after leaving. So we try to get him fed, watered and settled before leaving on a two hour or longer journey.
  • Keep a file of all vet records and immunisations. You might need it for the next veterinarian visit. We’ve had to visit several different vets throughout the country.
  • Pet insurance is a must. You are prone to more risks while traveling. It’s comforting to know you can stop into the nearest vet when you know your dog is suffering and you just don’t know what is wrong. Sparky has had occasional stomach upsets, (we think from drinking from a stream or puddle), and a case where a burr had worked its way under his skin, requiring some minor surgery.
  • Socialising: Most dogs are well trained these days, with owners being more responsible. Socialising is not risky. There are some city dog parks that have split enclosures. One for the aggressive dogs, another for the friendly dogs.
  • There are many RVers who travel with cats too. We have even seen cats tethered out for fresh air and sunshine, and cats being walked on a lead at RV parks.
  • Don’t let your dog roam. Keep a good watch for wild animals when you tether your pet outside. Especially don’t tether your pet outside overnight. Take a flashlight or torch with you when you walk them at night.
Dog friendly beach - Cardiff Beach in Southern California

A dog friendly beach. Cardiff State Beach in southern California. Sparky on a walk with his Californian friends, Bella and Al Capone.

 


 

Find out more about the airline approved pet carrier we use here.

 

Categories:   RV Handy Tips

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