On the Road with a Dog: What Works for Us

Rufio at the summit of a mountain in Arizona.

Greetings, from Rainy Arizona! Today we wanted to talk about our most asked about subject: traveling with a dog, in our case, The World’s Best Boy™; Rufio. Living on the road, or even a roadtrip can be tricky when you have a dog, and by tricky, I mean it takes sacrifice, and a willingness and eagerness to make those sacrifices, because it means having your best friend by your side. We took Rufio on his first long roadtrip when he was just 5 months old, and to date, he probably has been on over 50 long trips. Even cooler than that, he has touched every corner of this country and almost every state in between.

Before we jump into what we found works best for us, let’s go over all the obvious things first. It is imperative that you know your dog. Know how they communicate; when they are exhausted but can keep going, and when they are exhausted and can’t. We don’t recommend just jumping into long trips in the car with your pup, if it has only been for rides to the vet. It takes practice and repetition for them to get used to it and even longer for them to like being in the car. Make sure your pup is up to date on shots and takes heartworm medication, on time every month- even if it’s not a *big* (not the point) problem in your area, it may be where you travel. Lastly, talk with your vet before any major travel to make sure there aren’t any other precautions you can take to protect your 4-legged best friend.

Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, let’s dive right on in. Here’s what we found that works not only best for us, but best for Rufio too.

The first thing we do before starting any long car ride is to make sure Rufio gets a little more exercise and running in then usual. Time has taught us that he is a better co-pilot when he is thoroughly exhausted. For us, that means the day before we leave we run him multiple times throughout the day, and on the morning of, we wake up early and give him one last run before we get in the van to go. On the ride, it always helps us to have a comfortable place for him to lay, we use both a dog bed and a blanket and it keeps him still for longer and out of Sean’s lap. On long trips, making the most of stops can make all the difference. Often times, we will find a park to stop at instead of a rest area; it gives Ruf a chance to run off some of that pent up energy and a little space from the noise and chaos of a gas station.

When we get to our site, whether we are staying for 1 night or over a week, we have a routine (visual clues for Rufio) that we try to do before anything else. First, we lay out a large blue rug right outside of the van, put his bed, blanket, food and water bowls out, and find a stick or two for him to play with. This habit let’s Rufio know that this is home for now and he can relax, play, or wander- whatever he wants. Though, he is usually asleep 5 minutes after we setup.

Rufio is always communicating in one way or another, even more so now that we live on the road. We try our best to always listen, even though sometimes what he is saying, is that he is not up for what want to do. A handful of times, we have been eager to go do a hike and Rufio was just not having it, so we all take a nap, even though he is the only one sleepy. This ties into knowing your dog and being confident in those listening skills, understand when they need a break and facilitate it, it builds trust between you.

Rainy days have proven to be the toughest days yet, but we are starting to figure out how to manage them without Ruf getting too stir crazy. Rufio is not a fan of the rain, so we try to keep him active by walking around local pet stores. Each trip can last an hour easy, and we get to inspect every last living creature in the store while Rufio smells every last treat, win-win. Book stores and coffee shops can be another way to beat the rain, just ask first and you’ll be surprised by the amount of eager “yes please do!”‘s you’ll hear. When Rufio starts to get smelly, we’ll take note and use the next rainy day to hit up a nearby self dog wash station, we (not Rufio) have so much fun and (bonus) are usually the only ones there. Finding a balance on these days is part of the fun, lean into it.

If you’ve read our other blog posts, you know that we travel verrryyy light, and when it comes to Rufio, we don’t stray from that principle. We eliminated all toys aside from 1 small frisbee we keep in case we can’t find his real toy- a stick. We found that it was just too much clutter traveling around with multiple dog toys when they are just as happy with a stick and you throwing said stick. Get at it!

Benadryl is a van staple. Rufio has very reactive skin, and can in an hours time, break out in what looks like chicken pox all over his body. Both plants and insects can cause the reaction, and when it happens, we cram 2 pills down his throat (literally), and when he wakes up from that deep slumber he looks brand new. Our vet recommended 1 MG per pound, but consult YOUR vet before administering any OTC medication to your dog (obviously!!).

Lastly, a common question theme we frequently get always surrounds safety: cactus, coyotes, mountain lions, chasing after animals, and every last thing in between. The long story short, no we aren’t worried about him (not in that sense at least). The first few times Rufio hiked around cactus he stepped on what felt like, every single one in sight. Yanking those fishhook needles out of his paws (over 20 once) was no fun for any of us, but he quickly learned not what they looked like, but what they smelled like. It is so fun to watch him run through the landscape that is a littered with cactus so carefully, and much to our dismay, narrowly, missing each and every one. Our boy is learning how to survive in this harsh environment just like we are. He needs the freedom and our confidence to do that, so we let him learn the lessons. When it comes to large dogs and cats in the wild, we respect them, but aren’t afraid of them. Rufio is almost always off leash and you can still find him right at our side. He does not chase after livestock or large animals (sorry rabbits, beavers, and chipmunks), which is important on the land we are often hiking. When we see a plethora (and it happens) of mountain lion tracks, we take caution for all 3 of us, watching behind us, listening closely, and staying alert. Wild Coyotes are just not something we are worried about, they are well fed in the desert, a 75 pound dog with 2 humans is not something a coyote would typically attack. Know your dog and respond accordingly.

Living or being on the road with your dog has a learning curve for you both. It takes time to establish best practices, routines, and to really feel like you have a rhythm, but you will get there with consistency. Seeing the world through your dogs eyes can completely change your perspective and teach you an entirely different way to explore a new place. Sure, we can’t hike every National Park trail, or check out a museum on a whim, but there is so much that we can do, that we don’t care about missing a few things, that often cost money anyway. As long as Rufio is by our side, we are delighted- everything else is just a bonus.

Rufio in his bed on the blue rug

4 Comments on “On the Road with a Dog: What Works for Us

  1. I DO worry the most about wild animals, and particularly mountain lions, after the recent stories about attacks. Glad to hear about the precautions you take. Ruf looks so happy in his bed and out and about off leash! What about extreme weather changes, like snow?

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    • Cheryl, you aren’t alone in your concern! Where we are, wild animals have a bounty of food. Animal attacks are historically prevalent in developed areas where the animal’s habitat has been disrupted or destroyed and food sources become short. Coyotes eat small rodents, reptiles, and berries, a 75 pound dog would be quite the risk for them, same risk for mountain lions. This is not to say we are ignorant when it comes to animals- we respect that we are in THEIR space, but to be fearful of them is just not realistic. Rufio hardly knows what the leash is any more, we are all wild and free out here 🙂 Extreme weather adds to the fun! We have been in a 3 day rainstorm that has flooded the entire area, so we have been posted up in a big shopping center, trying to make the most of it! As for snow, well we avoid it all together by staying where it’s warm (that’s why we are in rain now, up north is getting hammered by snow!) Thanks for reading!

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  2. Love reading about your morning rituals, my mornings are my favorite part of the day although I wish I could get up earlier haha

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