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Why travel with a dog at all?

I’ve touched on this topic from time to time, but for some reason a relatively harmless article posted on suite101.com prompted me to crack my knuckles, fire up a new page on WordPress, and come to grips with the question. Perhaps it’s because the author’s tone was so reasonable: Why, he asks, would you want to bring your dog to Oaxaca, Mexico? Traveling with a dog, Mr. Starkman says, will restrict your hotel choices, will prevent you from doing a lot of the things you’ll want to do, and will be hard on your dog, who would much prefer “being boarded in a quality facility back home where he can frolic with his own race.”

I’ve seen these arguments before, but usually they’re phrased less elegantly — people who dislike dogs can be truly venomous. Mr. Starkman has a dog of his own (a brindle boxer named Tito), so we can be pretty sure he’s not a dog-hater, and he raises some good points. At the end of the day, I reach an entirely different conclusion than he does, but it’s worth talking through his concerns.

It’s true that not every dog likes to travel. After reading my friend Edie Jarolim’s recent series of posts on Will My Dog Hate Me? about her efforts to address her dog Frankie’s reservations about car travel, I understand that traveling is not the joyous romp for all dogs that it is for Chloe. I do not believe, however, that dogs generally prefer to be in “a quality facility back home.” On the contrary, I believe that most dogs like best to be with their humans, even though some tolerate, and some even enjoy, the company of other dogs. For some dogs, and I include Chloe among them, contact with their humans is crucial to their well-being.

Even Frankie has a fine time once he reaches his destination — it’s just the car he dislikes. As Edie’s posts demonstrate, travel anxiety can be removed or soothed with considerate training and calming scents and sounds. Consult your veterinarian, if you have an anxious dog but think you might like to travel together. Please note that you and your vet may conclude that your dog’s health precludes some forms of travel — a senior dog with health issues and a snub nose, for example, would not be a good candidate for air travel, if he couldn’t fit in an in-cabin carrier.

I also agree that you can’t bring a dog with you to every destination. Dogs aren’t allowed in Antarctica, they aren’t typically welcome in Muslim countries, and I wouldn’t dream of taking Chloe to Thailand — I barely survive there in my wispiest clothing, for heaven’s sake. I have not yet been to Oaxaca, so I cannot offer personal experience to contradict Mr. Starkman’s report that local attitudes towards dogs, and visitors with dogs, are negative. I find it hard to believe that Oaxacans would fear Chloe (though they might fear a brindle boxer), and I have no problem with being considered eccentric. That said, I agree that it’s worth doing research ahead of time to make sure that bringing a dog to a particular destination is not likely to harm the destination, unduly inconvenience your hosts, or endanger your dog.

I do not agree that my vacation will suffer because I will be compelled to choose a substandard hotel. Even in Oaxaca, TripAdvisor lists six dog-friendly hotels. They all sound like fine choices; the top-rated one is #2 out of Oaxaca’s 101 listed hotels, and sounds terrific. That doesn’t surprise me — typically, a destination’s pet-friendly hotels will include both high-end hotels and more modest hotels. I’ve never had to stay someplace dirty or unsafe or poorly located because I was traveling with Chloe. We stay in exactly the same kind — and quality — of hotels we stayed in before we had a dog.

I also do not agree that my vacation will suffer because I will be prevented from visiting attractions that do not welcome dogs. In Oaxaca, we are told, a dog will not be welcome at Monte Albán, Mitla or a market. Presumably, dogs are also not allowed in local museums or churches. This is not news to dog owners. Traveling with a dog is not the same as traveling on your own, but with a bit of planning you can see all the sights you want to see. You want to visit the ruins at Monte Albán? Then wake up early, work off your dog’s morning energy with a long walk through town, and visit Monte Albán — or the Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo, or the Cathedral — while she’s napping in her travel crate.

Photo by curran.kelleher

The fact is, it’s fun to travel with your dog. With a dog, you’ll walk through neighborhoods you’d only see in passing from a bus or a taxi, and at a leisurely pace. If your dog is attractive and approachable, you will meet locals at every turn — and at their warmest, goofiest best. It’s a hoot to seek out pet-friendly bakeries, shops and restaurants, and in the process you’ll find yourself learning about parts of the city that tourists don’t typically visit. Worried about culture shock or isolation? It’s difficult to be depressed, and impossible to be lonely, with a dog — even if you feel like curling up in a ball, your dog needs to get out at least a couple of times a day. Other kinds of traveling are an even easier sell, since hiking and camping are much more fun with a dog, as are road trips. And sailing? Do a search for “dogs sailing” on Flickr and see for yourself.

That’s where Mr. Starkman misses the boat. He sketches a dismal picture of pet travel — undertaken by self-indulgent owners at the expense of their dog’s happiness, and resulting in a disappointing, suboptimal vacation experience — when the reality is so very different. Anyone who sees Chloe snorfling happily through the streets and parks of New York, or Friday Harbor, or Columbus, sees a dog having the time of her life, and sharing her pleasure with her owners.

10 comments

  • [email protected]

    Well said. Well written. Well put. Well done!

    Substitute “children” for “dogs” in Mr. Starkman’s post. With the exception of the quality of the hotel issue (which you point out is not really an issue), the same thing could be said:

    Why, he asks, would you want to bring your [child] to Oaxaca, Mexico? Traveling with a [kid], Mr. Starkman says, will restrict your hotel choices, will prevent you from doing a lot of the things you’ll want to do, and will be hard on your [child], who would much prefer “being boarded in a quality facility back home where he can frolic with [kids his own age].”

    But the fact is that people bring their kids/pets on vacation because they can and because they want to. If there are any compromises to be made because of that, so be it. You do it because you wouldn’t dream of doing the trip without them!

  • It’s true, Rod, that parents face a lot of the same issues that pet owners do — sure, little ones can get in to Monte Albán, but once they’re there how long do you have before they’re worn out and bored? Traveling parents plan very carefully, and dog-owning travelers can learn from them. (Parents, of course, don’t have the option of leaving their babies snoozing in a travel crate, though I bet at times they wish they could!)

  • Mary Haight

    I read that article and am glad you responded with the truth of the matter. Mr. Starkman seems to be thinking at the shallow end of the pool on this topic. We can all be guilty of this, of course, and hopefully he is not of this mindset in other matters regarding dogs.

    You are so right that you see things you would never see in places you take your dog – you get closer to what it’s like to live in the place you’re visiting, talking to residents becomes as easy as talking to someone in your own neighborhood (if you know a little of the local language) and you can get all kinds of wonderful off the beaten track inside information and suggestions on restaurants, shops, and places of interest.

    Hope he takes your enlightenment session to heart.

  • It’s so true, Michelle, that having a dog makes you less of an outsider when you’re visiting a new place! Mr. Starkman’s article attracted my attention because it was well-written and used reasonable language — perhaps it would have been more fair to thump one of the people who just rant about dog travel, but usually their language is so intemperate that I pass it by in disgust. Mr. Starkman’s article, by contrast, stands a good chance of being read all the way through by sensible travelers, and of persuading them to leave their dog at home.

  • Michelle Maskaly

    Great post!

    I love traveling with my dog. Do I always get to go to the fanciest restaurants all the time? No. Have I eaten many nice dinners in my hotel room with my puppy snuggled up next to me and a bottle of wine? Yes. But, many of the places will do their dishes as take out when you say you have a dog. And, because of Toby, I’ve found amazing restaurants that I normally wouldn’t have done to for the simple fact they were willing to do a takeout place or I only went there because they were dog friendly.

    If you dog doesn’t like traveling, then keep him/her home, but there are many dogs that love it. Toby enjoys the whole experience – packing his bag, gathering his toys, packing the car, the ride itself, getting out at rest areas and meeting other dogs, staying in hotels, meeting new people who want to pet him. He’s even been on boat tours and other attractions with me — and he doesn’t stay in a bag, so he’s literally traveling with me, like a second person, just with fur. His tail is always wagging (yes, that’s actually what sparked the name of his blog) and he’s always strutting down the streets of where ever we are.

    And, if there is a place you want to go and your dog can’t, many hotels say you can’t leave your pet alone in the room, so you just hire a certified pet sitter.

    I love traveling with Toby, and when I couldn’t take him to a college graduation last weekend I actually felt guilty because I knew he would’ve loved all the attention and the trip.

  • Michele C. Hollow

    Well said! I had two dogs, one hated travel because whenever he got into the car he wound up a the vet. Can’t blame him for that! The other loved being in the car because we took road trips and spent time with him.
    Now I have a cat, and would not take him on the road. Cats are territorial and I truly believe prefer to be at home with a good cat sitter who he knows and who knows him.

  • I hear you about the cats, Michelle! We have four (replacing the two that I married, oh, so long ago), and of the six cats I’ve known well, only one travels — and even he would really prefer not to. No, we don’t compel the cats to travel. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons we got Chloe — we wanted a travel companion.

  • Timi

    Very well written article and really good blog in general with a lot of useful information. Will keep in mind when traveling with our dog next time. Thanks for sharing

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