Dog As Your Guide: Travel Tips For Your Best Friends
Heading up the mountain, climbing switchback after switchback, Jackson — an 8-month old, 45-pound mutt mixed with a bit of pointer, lab and whippet — and his owners went backpacking for the weekend. They were climbing two of Colorado’s most esteemed mountain peaks.
The group packed everything they could think of for Jackson: his food, toys, harness, leash, and water. They were ready for an exciting outdoor adventure.
Setting up camp, Jackson’s owners secured him with his leash and collar. After a few hours, in one swift moment, a squirrel came running through camp and Jackson raced to chase it.
Jackson sprinted so hard he broke free of his collar and escaped into the woods. His owners tried to catch Jackson but he was too fast.
That night they searched, asking nearby campers if they had seen Jackson. Hours later, Jackson was nowhere to be found.
The next morning they left the campsite without their dog.
Desperate to find their four-legged friend, the owners printed and posted flyers with photos of Jackson, contact information and the location where he ran away. They called veterinary offices and pet shelters within a 20-mile radius putting out the word to anyone who would listen.
The couple even returned to the campsite to leave items with their scent, hoping the power of smell would bring Jackson back. Social media posts were made as well, alerting anyone who might be in the area to keep their eye out for Jackson.
Jackson was microchipped, so they felt confident that if someone found him, he could easily be returned.
Twelve days later Jackson showed up in a nearby mountain town, 15 miles from where he was originally lost. The woman who found him, worked at the local vet’s office and had seen one of the flyers placed around town. She had been hiking with her dog, when Jackson approached her and instantly she knew this was the lost dog she had heard about.
The woman called the owners with the great news and met them at the town’s visitor’s center.
The vet checked his vitals and said he was well-hydrated — he must have found some mountain streams to drink from — but had hardly eaten. Jackson was skinny and malnourished with minor cuts and scrapes, but all in all, was in good shape.
How to prepare for a roadtrip with your pet:
There are a few things you can do prior to hitting the road that will help keep your dog safe and hopefully, from running away:
- First and foremost, make sure your dog is microchipped. Most pet adoption places automatically do this as well as some breeders. Police and animal control offices scan to identify your pet and find the owners. So, make sure your contact information associated with the chip is current.
- Work with your pet on obedience. Working with your dog as a puppy to establish basic obedience practices is always a good idea, and essential if planning to bring them along on vacation. Teaching your dog to “come”, “sit” and “stay” no matter where they are is critical. But even if your dog knows basic commands, a good rule of thumb is to keep them on a leash, especially in unfamiliar territory.
- Check your dog’s tags and collar. Make sure the tags are up-to-date and that the collar is in good condition. As an added security step, you could even print temporary tags. These tags include the information of where you will be staying during your trip. Places like Petco and PetSmart make it easy to print cheap temporary tags for vacations.
- Pack for your pet. Bring along your pet's favorite toys, bedding, and food. Don't forget to pack water, food bowls, leashes, and waste bags.
- Get your pet used to the car. Start taking your pet on short car trips before your trip to get them used to the car and help prevent motion sickness.
- Use a pet restraint. If your pet will be riding in the car unrestrained, make sure they are secured with a pet restraint or seat belt. Using a pet-restraint not only keeps the ride safe for you and your pet, but it prevents them from sprinting from the car when you stop for a potty break. Thus, less likely to run away.
- Consider attaching a GPS tracking tag to your pet’s collar. A rugged, waterproof, GPS collar tag can help locate your pet using an app on your mobile phone. Via Bluetooth when in range or a GPS network when out of range, a GPS tracker gives your pet an added level of security.
- Be prepared for pet emergencies. Bring a first aid kit for your pet and research emergency vets along your route just in case.
- Consider your accommodations. If you aren’t camping, then try to find a pet-friendly hotel that has interior corridors. So, if Fido sprints from the room, they are still contained in the hotel.
What to do if your pet gets lost on vacation
No one wants to lose a pet. If it does happen, here are some helpful reminders:
- Print lost pet flyers. The only reason Jackson was found was because his owners had printed flyers with his picture and contact information. They considered a 30-mile radius and put them in public places such as the town library, visitor’s center, gas stations, at other trailheads (including the one where they lost him). Another tip is to put a reminder on your flyer — especially if your dog is skittish — “Do Not Chase.”
- Visit or call local shelters and veterinary offices. Often when people find a stray pet that doesn’t have tags or they haven’t seen a flyer, they will return them to the nearest shelter or veterinary office. Jackson’s parents sent the local pet shelter a photo of Jackson to post on their social media page as well.
- Take to social media. This can be a powerful tool to get the word out and fast. Make sure to geo-tag your location of where you are visiting or where you lost your pet. This way people in the area, even if they are not friends with you, can see your post. Also use social media as a place to check to see if anyone posted about finding a lost dog. More often than not, people always want to get lost pets back to their owner.
- Leave something behind. Go back to where you lost your dog and leave a few of his toys behind along with your own articles of clothing that would have your scent. Most likely your pet is scared and might return by smelling something familiar.
- Stay hopeful. Jackson was lost in the mountains for over a week, where a bear, mountain lion or something else could have easily attacked him. Don’t despair! Documented cases show dogs may be lost for months and returned to their owners after traveling across state lines.