Cruising with canines: Successful RV-ing à la dog
By Pamela Delaney

Taking your dog RV-ing is like painting a room: 90-per-cent preparation, 10-per-cent common sense. Three areas of planning will make canine cruising a holiday to remember: health, safety and itinerary.

No matter where you go, ensure optimum dog health and that necessary paperwork is handy in the glovebox. Travelling within Canada requires no health certificates or vaccinations, but be certain all vaccines are up to date and, because you are apt to stay in natural environments, that rabies shots have been administered. A trip across the border means United States im­migration will require proof of vaccines and a valid, current health certificate. Check for details.

Check-up before you go

Don McLean, D.V.M., of Aurora Animal Clinic in On­tario, recommends a visit to the vet before you leave for your holiday. A basic examination will ascertain your dog’s general health, and may include suggestions for dealing with things like motion sickness (often preventable by low doses of Gravol® – ask your vet for the cor­rect dosage) or tummy upsets from drink­ing tap wa­­ter in various places. Dr. McLean says that bottled spring water maintains a safe, consistent composition, and if you don’t already feed this to your dog at home, start introducing it a week or two before departure.

No matter how much you love your dog, if he is not healthy enough for long-distance travel, do him a fa­vour and leave him at home with a competent sitter. Be especially careful with old or chronically ill dogs. Veterinary care will not be readily available in the far corners of a wilderness park.

Safety is a huge issue. We tend to think of motorhomes as places to live, but they are vehicles like any other. Paul Brown of New Hampshire has travelled throughout Canada and the United States in his small motor­home with his rescue dog ‘Doofus,’ a six-year-old Rott­weiler/Husky mix. Doofus has some obvious Rott­weiler features, unfortunately making some commercial camp­grounds iffy about accepting him. Mr. Brown books in advance and then when they arrive to camp, he in­troduces the campground owners to his happy, gentle dog.

Restraint while on the road

Doofus has swum in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico, and he’s made hundreds of new friends, but Brown is careful to keep him leashed and uses a smart safety technique when the motor­home is in motion; he turns Doofus’s seat-back to the window to protect him in case of collision. Dogs should be restrained in a moving vehicle.

The new generation of dog ‘seat belts’ allows some movement; my dog can sit, lie down, stand and turn, but in the case of impact, she’ll be secured from being thrown from the vehicle, the cause of most major in­juries and deaths. For example, the force of a collision at only 50 kilometres per hour can equal 20 times body weight – enough to cause your dog serious injury. Dog restraints also benefit human drivers; when the dog is secure, the driver is not distracted.

Ride in comfort

To prevent my Collie ‘Fiona’ and her blanket from slipping off the seat under braking, I use a square of the textured anti-slip mat found under area rugs and in kitchen drawers. Even with a harness on, her hind­quarters can slide if our vehicle stops suddenly.

If your dog travels in an area of the motorhome or trailer separate from the cockpit, crate him, and use tight bungee cords to secure the crate to a fixed item, such as a table bolted to the floor. Make sure the crate fits the dog (not too small to be uncomfortable, not too large to leave room for stumbling around) and is lined with cozy, padded bedding. If your dog was not crate-trained as a puppy, purchase a crate well in ad­vance and let him sleep and even eat in it to develop a sense of belonging.

Smart hydration

Part of your dog’s safety and comfort on the road will be having adequate food, water, treats, toys and rest stops. Water is of particular importance because ve­hicles harbour dry environments. When we travelled from southwestern Ontario into the Maritimes, I packed a bottle of water and a small bowl, and gave Fiona about four ounces of water half an hour before we made each stop; she urinated accordingly. I did not want her to dehydrate, nor suffer bladder discomfort.

Planning your itinerary carefully is as important for your dog as it is for you. Besides plotting your course on a map and determining time and distance between stops (including fuel-consumption estimates so you can plan pee breaks and refuelling to coincide), it’s a great idea to leave a copy of your itinerary with friends and to check in with them regularly so they’re aware of your progress.

Critical to the itinerary will be booking your stops, reserving at campgrounds (be they public parks or private campsites) and learning in advance what rules may apply. Almost all national and provincial parks in Canada allow dogs providing they are tethered, their feces are cleaned up, and they’re not left alone to bark. Generally, dogs are not allowed in public buildings or on beaches, although there are a few new dog-designated beaches dotted across the country. Check

Go green

The exception to the dogs-allowed policy is in protected habitat, such as that of polar bears in Nunavut, and certain areas of Algonquin Park in Ontario. Using the Internet to research the places you plan to visit will give you accurate, current, detailed information. You might also want to visit

Follow the rules

Privately run campgrounds tend to be more stringent in their pets rules. One of the largest, Koa Kampgrounds, generally allows dogs, but re­stricts certain breeds. If you opt for a night in a motel, almost all Days Inn properties allow pets (we stayed in Rivière-du-Loup, Que.; it was clean and comfortable, and the staff attentive to our special requirements), but call ahead. You don’t want to arrive, tired, at a motel only to be turned away.

Once the three planning elements have been managed, think of the emotional side of things. Put yourself in your dog’s paws. If he’s not accustomed to lengthy mo­tor trips, two weeks ahead of your planned departure date start taking him out in the car for half an hour, and then for longer increments.

Other considerations

Consider having your dog professionally groomed, leaving less hair to shed in the RV, and less coat to make him hot in summer transit. Pass on giving breakfast, and feed your dog his dinner when you arrive at your destination for the night, reducing the likelihood of motion sickness. Make regular stops for exercise on a leash; never let a dog run free in an unfamiliar place.

And remember that your idea of a vacation may not be shared by your best friend. Doofus loves to go RV-ing, but Brown still insists that his dog’s favourite spot is at home. Dogs prefer routine and don’t care if they ever see the Rockies or the Bay of Fundy. Understand your (possibly selfish) reasons for wanting to take your dog RV-ing. If you firmly believe your dog will be happier en route with you than at home in familiar surroundings, cared for by a favourite sitter, and you’ve planned it well, then the trip should be great for you both. ‘Bone’ voyage!

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