Dog-Friendly Vacations

Whether you're traveling solo or bringing the whole family along on vacation, you can add even more fun to your trip by including your beloved canine companion. More than 80 percent of people who travel with pets bring their dog, according to a 2012 survey by AAA and Best Western. The survey also showed that the most popular pet-friendly vacations are visiting friends and family, going on a road trip, going to the beach, camping, visiting a new city and hiking.

One of my favorite vacations was the time my husband and I drove to Savannah, GA, with our dog Jack. We found a bed and breakfast that allowed pets and had a little fenced-in yard. We walked on a nearby beach and around the city, eating outdoors and visiting the local dog park. One day, when we wanted to go on a tour that didn't allow animals, we dropped Jack off at a doggy day care that we had researched ahead of time. Even though Jack is a bit apprenhensive when it comes to new experiences, he did great, and we all had a wonderful time.

Here's what you need to know to plan a trip that both you and your dog will enjoy.
Do Your Research
Regardless of where you go, do your research first. It's not a good idea to just "play it by ear" as you might on a normal vacation. Besides choosing a travel method and a place to stay, you should find out if there are public dog parks you can visit or other outdoor spaces where you can easily walk your pet.

If you think you might like a break from your pet, research doggy day cares and boarding options. Get up-to-date records from your vet and make sure your dog is current on all vaccinations. (Day cares often have very specific requirements, so be sure to call ahead or check their website.) You'll probably need to stop by early in your trip to have your dog evaluated to make sure he gets along with the other animals there.

You'll also want to look into local leash laws and pet restrictions. For example, many beaches restrict when and how dogs are allowed to visit. And certain cities have outlawed specific breeds altogether.

There are plenty of websites devoted to helping pet parents plan successful trips, including BringFido, DogFriendly, PetFriendly Travel and Pet Hotels of America.
Riding in Cars with Dogs
Car travel is by far the most common mode of transportation when vacationing with a pet. Most dogs enjoy car rides and will do well as long as they get enough pit stops to stretch their legs and take care of business. But it's not a good idea to just toss your pet in the back seat, roll down the window and go. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States cautions that the only safe way to drive with a dog is using a crate that has been secured to the vehicle. Not only will this prevent the dog from trying to climb into laps or otherwise distract the driver, but it's the only proven way to protect an animal in the event of an accident. They also caution against ever leaving your dog alone in the car, even with the windows rolled down. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise to 120 degrees in only a few minutes during the warmer months.
Taking to the Skies
The Humane Society of the United States also strongly advises against letting animals fly in the cargo hold of an airplane, if at all possible. During the last seven years (the time for which information is available) 241 pets died, 109 were injured and 44 were lost during cargo hold air travel. Of the deaths, 195 were dogs. The incidents are attributed to "excessively hot and cold temperatures, poor ventilation, scarcity of oxygen and rough handling," according to The Humane Society. Little dogs might be able to travel on board with you if they're small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you. If you must transport your pet in the cargo hold, make sure to take a direct flight at a time when the weather is least likely to be at its most extreme (for example, morning or evening in the summer).
A Place to Rest Your Head
Luckily, it's getting easier to find pet-friendly hotel accommodations, so if you're not going to visit friends or family (or they'd rather not have an animal in their house), you can still find a place to stay. Boutique hotel chain Kimpton Hotels has the most dog-friendly reputation with no fees and no weight limits on canine guests, plus special perks like pet beds and treats. Other top-rated pet friendly chains include W hotels ($25 daily fee, $100 cleaning fee, 40-pound weight limit), Loews hotels ($25 per-stay fee, no weight limit) and Hilton hotels ($75 per-stay fee, 75-pound weight limit). Most major chains have pet-friendly options, though it varies among properties. Check the website of each location to find specific pet policies. Request pet accommodations in advance of check in, as related fees, availability and policies can be subject to change at any time.
Dog-Friendly Destinations
Naturally, the most dog-friendly vacation choices involve the great outdoors. Check for local laws and regulations ahead of time. Not all parks, beaches and lakes welcome animals. Here are some things to keep in mind depending on your destination:
  • Cities: Before you go, make sure your dog is OK around lots of strange people and other dogs on leashes. Take him to a local restaurant with outdoor dining and make sure he's well behaved. Plan to start your day at a dog park so your pet can run off excess energy, which will make him easier to manage throughout the day. Ask the concierge at your hotel (or a local friend) to recommend restaurants with outdoor dining. Dogs are often welcome at outdoor fairs, festivals and farmers markets, but double check ahead of time. There are sometimes restrictions against animals if the focus of the event is food. Check DogFriendly's Top 10 Dog-Friendly Cities list to get destination ideas, including the top-ranked Portland, OR, Chicago and San Diego, CA.
  • Beaches and Lakes: Many dogs enjoy water--just be sure that yours is a strong swimmer or that you've invested in a canine life preserver. Not all beaches allow pets, and the ones that do usually have rules, including specific hours of the day when animals are permitted. No matter what, bring plastic bags to collect your pet's waste. The most dog-friendly beaches include Jupiter Dog Beach in Jupiter, FL, Ocean Beach Dog Beach in San Diego, CA, and Duck Beach in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Lakes that welcome dogs include the Norman F. Kruse Park Dog Beach on Lake Michigan in Muskegon, MI, Montrose Dog Beach in Chicago, IL (also on Lake Michigan) and Lake Kegonsa State Park near Madison, WI.
  • State and National Parks: Most national parks only allow pets in very restricted areas. They might be allowed to camp with you but not allowed to accompany you on a hike. Check the specific restrictions of any park you plan to visit before you head out. State parks usually have fewer restrictions, but you'll still want to research while you're planning your trip. Overall, you can find the most dog-friendly state parks in Michigan, Minnesota and Washington.
For the Pampered Pooch
If you and your dog like to enjoy a little luxury while on vacation, look into dog-friendly luxury spas and resorts. You'll find many that accept small dogs, but there are several that go above and beyond to spoil you and your pet. Here are three of our favorite dog-friendly options:

1. Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Southwestern Pennsylvania: This large resort accepts dogs up to 50 pounds in its pet-friendly rooms. Larger dogs can be boarded on the property at the Wooflands Pet Resort & Spa. The resort offers daily pet-friendly activities, water facilities for dogs who like to swim, onsite care and grooming services, waste cleaning receptacles throughout the property, a special pet menu and more.

2. Inn By The Sea in Crescent Beach, Maine: This beach destination features 61 guest rooms, suites and cottages. There is no charge for pets and no weight limit. The Inn offers grooming services, pet messages, a gourmet pet menu and dog walking and daycare services, along with water bowls, towels, blankets and night time treats.

3. The Benjamin in New York City: This Midtown Manhattan luxury hotel offers the Dream Dog service that includes an appropriately sized dog bed, food and water bowls, a doggie bathrobe, treats, extra sheets, waste bags and information about nearby pet services and amenities. The hotel also offers grooming services and even a pet psychic. There are no weight limits and no additional pet fee.
So whether you want to take your dog on a hiking trip, a road trip or a luxury vacation to the big city, there are plenty of options to suit your tastes and budget. Just remember to include your pet's favorite toy!
AAA, "Do You Take Your Pet Along on Vacation,", accessed on July 24, 2013.

Animal Planet, "Top 10 Pet-Friendly Vacation Spots,", accessed on July 24, 2013.
Fodor's, "The 7 Best Pet Friendly Hotel Chains,", accessed on July 24, 2013.
PetMD, "Pet Travel,", accessed on July 24, 2013.
The Humane Society of the United State, "Traveling by Car with Pets,", accessed on July 24, 2013.
The Humane Society of the United State, "Pets and Air Travel,", accessed on July 24, 2013.
Third Amendment, "Airline Animal Incident Reports,", accessed on July 24, 2013.

U.S. Travel Association, "Travel Facts and Statistics,", accessed on July 24, 2013.