How to Plan for Traveling without Your Pet

Updated: 5/6/2021
Life is slowly but surely returning to normal — COVID-19 infection rates are decreasing, and millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day. With summer fast approaching, pet parents across the country are shaking off the cobwebs of quarantine to book long-awaited vacations.

No one wants to leave their four-legged travel buddy behind, but sometimes, it's simply not "pawssible" to bring them along for the adventure. Arranging pet care for a vacation was hard enough before the pandemic. Although most dog boarding and sitting facilities remain open, COVID-19 restrictions may affect capacity, availability, and operating hours. Plus, with more people traveling, facilities are filling up quickly.

How can you ensure your fur-babies get the care they need while you're away? Here's everything you need to know about preparing your pet for your first post-pandemic getaway.

Preparing to travel without your pet: a step-by-step guide

We know you're already juggling a ton of vacation planning tasks. That's why we created this handy guide to remove some of the stress from your travel plans. (Bookmark or Pin it for easy access!)

#1. Start early

You should start planning for pet care as soon as you decide to go on vacation. We know this takes a bit of the spontaneity out of your trip, but it ensures your pets are comfortable and well taken care of while you're gone. Starting early also gives you plenty of time to make alternative arrangements in case something falls through at the last minute.

Begin working through the checklist below as soon as you can:

  • Research overnight pet care near you.

  • Create a pet care budget.

  • Choose a Pet Caregiver.

  • Schedule a meet-and-greet with your Pet Caregiver.

  • Provide a detailed pet care plan.

  • Arrange transportation if needed.

If you're boarding your dog, don't forget to add these items to your to-do list:

  • Pack a doggy bag with everything your dog will need.

  • Set pick-up and drop-off dates and times.

#2. Schedule a meet-and-greet

If you're entrusting your dog's care to a neighbor, friend, or family member, you can probably skip this step. But if you're hiring a Pet Caregiver with Wag!, it's a good idea to meet up before your trip. This gives your dog and the Pet Caregiver a chance to interact and get comfortable with each other.

#3. Create a pet care plan

Once you've chosen a Pet Caregiver, it's time to draw up a detailed pet care plan. We recommend writing it down and placing it in an easily accessible location. Take a photo of the plan and send it to your Pet Caregiver so everyone has a backup. 

Booking a Pet Caregiver with Wag!? You can create your pet care plan right in the app!

Be sure to include:

  • Routine times for meals, walks, sleep, medication, and potty breaks

  • Your dog's medications, dosages, and instructions

  • Temperament and training information

  • Common behavioral problems and how to address them

  • Grooming needs (if applicable)

  • Housekeeping tasks (if applicable)

  • How to access your home

  • Your veterinarian’s address and phone number

  • Contact information for neighbors in case of emergency

  • Time differences (if traveling abroad)

#4. Agree on a routine for your dog

Most dogs have set times for meals, exercise, and potty breaks. In a "pawfect" world, your Pet Caregiver would follow Rowdy's routine to the letter. But they may also have other obligations that clash with your pup's usual routine.

Discuss your dog's current routine with your Pet Caregiver. Be prepared to compromise and agree to a modified schedule that suits your Pet Caregiver's busy life.

Once you've got a solid idea of your dog's new, temporary routine, start practicing it as soon as you can before you leave. Introduce it gradually, starting with one change at a time. Maybe take them out for a potty break at the new time first, then slowly change their dinnertime.

Your mutt might be a bit confused at first, but rest assured they'll adjust!

#5. Prevent behavioral problems

Tell your Pet Caregiver about your dog's temperament. How do they act in certain situations? Do they misbehave, and if so, how do you usually handle it? Provide as much detail as possible.

Before you leave, spend some time going over socialization, obedience, and leash commands. That way, your Pet Caregiver (hopefully) won't have to deal with any naughtiness from your pup. Consider enlisting the help of a dog trainer near you if you're struggling to instill good manners.

Socialization training

Is Tucker timid around other dogs or aggressive toward unfamiliar people? Plan to socialize them as much as possible before your trip. Not only will this ensure your dog is friendly toward their caregiver, but it will also help the Pet Caregiver better manage your dog's behavior while out and about.

Obedience commands

Go over Fido's obedience commands, specifically crate training. Your dog's crate is a safe, secure space that not only soothes their anxiety, but also protects your furniture and belongings.

Leash manners

If your dog tends to walk you through the neighborhood, it's time to teach them some leash manners. Review commands like "heel", "stop", and "watch me". This will make walks a lot more pleasant for your pupper and their caregiver.

#6. Consider grooming needs

We recommend trimming your dog's nails or scheduling an appointment with the groomer just before you leave. But it's also a good idea to prepare in case your dog decides to wallow in a mud puddle while you're away. Let your caregiver know where the grooming supplies are, as well as where your dog doesn't like to be touched and how they might react.

Long-haired breeds or dogs who shed a lot may need brushing a few times while you're away. If your pup bolts at the sight of a brush, show your Pet Caregiver how you usually coax them out of hiding and calm them down.

If you're traveling for more than 3 weeks, your dog may need to have their nails trimmed. Even though your Pet Caregiver should already know how to trim a dog's nails, it's always good to demonstrate. (After all, they've never trimmed your dog's nails before!)

#7. Don't forget about housekeeping

If you're hiring a pet sitter, you may need them to do some light housekeeping. Taking out the trash, checking the mail, and watering the plants are all things your sitter can do in addition to caring for your fur-babies.

Let your sitter know what days the trash needs to go out, what time the mail runs, and how much water the plants need. These small tasks can be easy to forget when planning a vacation. If you book pet care with Wag!, you can message your Pet Caregiver anytime in case something slips your mind.

If you're boarding, ask a neighbor, family member, or close friend to handle the housekeeping for you.

#8. Provide contact information in case of emergency

Let your Pet Caregiver know how to contact your veterinarian and trusted neighbors, friends, or family members. (Always ask for permission before giving out anyone's personal information.)

Say, for example, your Pet Caregiver has a family emergency and is unable to watch your dog. They will, of course, try to contact you, but maybe you're lounging on the beach and left your phone back in the hotel room. In that case, they can call one of your trusted contacts to look after your dog until they're available again. Sure, it's an unlikely scenario, but it's always better safe than sorry!

Preparing to travel when your pet has separation anxiety

A little extra planning is required for dogs with separation anxiety. In addition to the items above, add these tasks to your list to make the transition as stress-free as possible for your pooch.

Find the right overnight care option

Dogs with separation anxiety typically feel more comfortable on their home turf. Your doggo might be okay with a drop-in sitter who visits a few times a day for walks and meals. But if your dog has severe separation anxiety, consider hiring an overnight dog sitter to prevent destructive behaviors and give your canine some company.

While it's possible to board a dog with separation anxiety, you'll need to review your options carefully. Many kennels are loud, busy environments filled with other dogs. Also, dog boarding facilities often set their own times for meals and exercise. Changes to your dog's diet or routine could worsen their anxiety.

Check out our guide on boarding a dog with separation anxiety for more considerations and planning tips.

Communicate with your Pet Caregiver

If your dog has separation anxiety, your Pet Caregiver needs to know. Although your Pet Caregiver will spend as much time as possible with your dog, they will inevitably need to leave to run errands. You don't want your dog chewing up their shoes or scratching the paint off the walls while they're gone!

Let your Pet Caregiver know how your dog behaves during an anxiety episode and how to soothe them. If you use medication or pet products to help with separation anxiety, show your Pet Caregiver how to use them.

Pet products to soothe the transition

You'll find an array of products out there to keep your canine calm and collected while you're away. Here are a few of the most "pawpular".

Dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP)

Dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) can relieve stress and prevent undesirable behaviors. Available in sprays, diffusers, and collars, DAP is a synthetic recreation of the pheromones secreted through mother's milk. Studies show that DAP, when combined with behavior modification methods, is effective at soothing dogs with separation anxiety.

DAP products are widely available at big-box pet stores. If using a diffuser, make sure it's out of your dog's reach.

CBD dog treats

CBD is taking the healthcare industry by storm. Researchers are still studying its effects on dogs, but the findings so far are promising.

While few side effects have been observed in dogs, use CBD dog treats with caution. The FDA hasn't yet approved CBD for veterinary use or released a dosage chart for dogs. Although veterinarians are not legally allowed to prescribe CBD at the time of writing, consult your vet for advice before purchasing CBD treats. 

Some states prohibit veterinarians from giving advice about CBD. If you have any questions about CBD for dogs, chat with a vet now.

Agility equipment and puzzle toys

Working through an obstacle course offers a healthy dose of physical and mental stimulation. It’s also an excellent distraction for your doggo that gives them a chance to bond with your Pet Caregiver.

Start agility training before you leave, and encourage your Pet Caregiver to keep it up while you're away. No need to splurge on an expensive A-frame or set of weave poles. You can make your own agility equipment out of stuff you already have lying around the house. Cardboard boxes, PVC pipes, laundry baskets — the only limit is your imagination!

Low on space or living in an apartment? Try a puzzle toy or indoor activities for dogs, like the muffin tin game or stair ball.

Your Pet Caregiver should supervise your dog at all times while they navigate an agility course or play with puzzle toys. Make sure they know where to store equipment and toys out of your dog's reach after playtime is over.

Preparing to travel without your pup: wrapping up

We know there's a lot to consider when planning to travel without your pets. Feeling a little overwhelmed? Wag! is here to help. Our on-demand Pet Caregivers ensure your fur-children get the care they need, when they need it. No waiting lists, no hidden fees, no cramped kennels!

One of the great things about booking pet care with Wag! is the ability to chat with your Pet Caregiver anytime right in the app. While you'll undoubtedly want to check in on your fur-baby, you don't want to be glued to your phone for your whole trip. So the better you prepare before you leave, the more relaxed you'll be on your vacation.

Once you've taken care of the items on this list, all that's left to do is hit the road and get your trip rollin'!