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Messenger bag carrier for a small dog

photo-3Chloe’s messenger bag, the PetEgo Contour Messenger Black Label Bag, is my secret weapon. Without it, I could not sneak her into a fraction of the places she goes. It comes in two sizes, and she fits in the larger one (13Hx20Lx10W). That’s the one illustrated on PetEgo’s page for the product; please note that their human model is petite, and the bag is less imposing in real life. It also comes in a sporty orange-and-grey color combination, but I think the all-black option looks more like an computer bag and doesn’t highlight the mesh ventilation panels.

It has many good features, but the ones I care most about are the mesh “tower” and a small, zipped hatch in the top panel. The tower can be raised solidly into place with a couple of interior struts. However, I choose not to use them, but to leave the tower zipper open so that Chloe can push the top panel up with her head and look out through the mesh if she wants to. When she’s done gazing and lies down, the top lowers again, returning the bag to its normal shape.

The hatch in the top panel could allow her to stick just her head out of the bag (though right now she’s small enough that her shoulders soon follow). I use it instead to poke treats into her bag from time to time. We like her to feel that when she’s in the messenger bag, goodies fall from the sky.

Other nice features are the removable pad that lines the bottom of the bag (it tends to get scuffed up while she’s in the bag, but at least once it’s served as a mat for her to lie on at a restaurant’s outdoor seating area) and the poop bag dispenser built into the tiny pocket on the front of the bag. An overarching nice feature is that the bag is very well made (which it should be, at that price).

The fact is, owners of really small dogs have it easy. There are lots of stealth bags out there for dogs under 10 lbs., and many of them are very discreet indeed. Look, for example, at the Mia Dog Carrier [no longer available, as of 6/11], Trixie & Peanut’s Tailways Pet Tote, or the unaffordable Charles Nantucket Carrier — who would ever know there was a dog inside? Larger small dogs don’t have as many choices. Maybe I’ll buy a second black messenger bag and save it for when Chloe’s current bag wears out. What if it were discontinued??

Amazon link:
Petego EGR Contour Messenger Black Label Bag. Size-Large 20

Collapsible food and water bowls for small dogs

We initially used collapsible bowls for Chloe’s food and water at her on-the-road home base (that is, the place where we set up her travel crate and a bowl of water). I’ve moved away from that, because I think small stainless steel bowls provide more stability — Chloe, playing, sometimes bounces perilously close to her soft-sided collapsible bowls. Now I have one tucked into my purse and another in the car’s glove compartment, for emergency use during an errand trip. When we’re visiting a dog park we’ve never been to before, I make sure I have one with me (along with a bottle of water) because the Gulpy I use at home is too bulky to pack for most trips. (I first decided to carry my own water bowl when I saw dog owners at a park in Florida washing their dogs’ paws off in the only water bowl provided — fixed to the ground, so I couldn’t rinse it out.)

I’ve bought (or considered buying) a lot of collapsible travel bowls. Most are just too darned big — Chloe will never weigh much more than 13 lbs., and she eats maybe a half cup of food at a time and only laps briefly at her water. She just doesn’t need a 2.5 qt. bowl. Other collapsible bowls, with more reasonably sized bases, are too deep — she doesn’t want to stick her head into a dark well to reach the modest amount of food or water she needs — but you can sometimes get around that problem by folding the rim of the bowl over.

The one that has worked best for us is Canine Hardware’s Hydro Bowl. Folded, it’s small enough to fit in my purse or a pocket. Unfolded, it’s sturdy enough to stay reliably upright, it’s shallow, and its opening is wide and holds its shape pretty well. (Chloe gets spooked when her bowls close their jaws shut on her muzzle.) It’s also definitely waterproof. The other one we use, Bison Design’s Fold-a-bowl, is deeper, but not too bad; after it has held water for a few hours, though, it feels damp. We use it for food instead.

Here are two more travel bowls that I would order in a heartbeat, if I didn’t already have too many: Trixie & Peanut’s Port-o-bowl, and How’s Your Dog’s “Fold ‘n’ Go” travel bowl. They’re small and shallow, they fold up neatly and they have a handy clip. [8/4/10 I finally broke down and bought the How’s Your Dog “Fold ‘n’ Go” travel bowl, and I’m happy I did — it has the unexpected benefit of being able to enclose Chloe’s dinner in its folds (you can’t zip it closed with food in it, but it folds up around the food well enough to contain it), so I can tuck it, loaded up, in my purse, and then put it down next to Chloe if we’re out during dinnertime. My usual go-to bowl, the Hydro Bowl, can’t do that.]

Amazon links:
Canine Hardware Hydro Bowl Medium, 5 Cup
How’s Your Dog “Fold ‘n’ Go” bowl

Dog paw booties

Chloe in booties

I jeered at dogs wearing booties, until the day we found ourselves stranded in NYC by a winter storm. Chloe frolicked out into the snow, but as soon as she hit the salted sidewalk (and I mean within a second or two) she started crying with pain and tried to lift all four paws off the ground at once. Happily, there was a pet store nearby selling these disposable rubber booties. She was initially dismayed, as you can see, but after only a few steps learned to ignore them. I’ve contemplated buying her real boots, but these are thin enough to give her good traction and allow her to feel the ground beneath her paws. And the disposable part is great — after a morning on NYC streets and in the dog park at Union Square, her feet were filthy and I was happy to toss her booties in the trash.

Amazon links:
Pawz Durable All Weather Dog Boots (Small)
Pawz Rubber Dog Boots (Extra Small)
Pawz Natural Rubber Dog Boots (XX-Small)

Collapsible travel crates for a small dog

Even those of you who share a bed with your dog will care about this, because a crate is a godsend for a traveling dog. There will be times when you have to leave the dog behind while you go to a museum that checks bags, or to dinner in a place with short tablecloths or strong lighting. A pet-friendly hotel may not require a crate for dogs (though some do!), but you’ll feel more secure about housekeeping coming in to do nighttime turn-down knowing that your dog is in her crate and can’t slip out the door. With a young dog, it’s great to have the option of crating her while you take a shower. Your hosts may be willing to keep an eye on the dog while you’re out, but they won’t be as alert to potential dog perils as you are. They may have plans of their own, and no matter what they say, they’ll be happier (and your dog will be safer) if your dog is kept from roaming freely in their house.

Photo by Suzette Franck

Photo by Suzette Franck

Your dog isn’t crate-trained, you say. Consider crate-training, for all these situations and for others outside the realm of traveling for fun. Here’s an article talking about the benefits of crate-training and providing directions on how to do it. Besides, dogs love their crates just as much as you love your man-cave. Same instinct, same need.

The first travel crate we bought was The Roof Box Company’s DogBag. We got the medium size, which turns out to be more than a Cavalier needs — the small size would have been sufficient. Although it’s pretty large, it folds up (with a complicated maneuver akin to the one you may already be using on your car windshield sunscreen) and fits into a normal-sized backpack (provided by Roof Box). It has plenty of mesh netting so your dog has good ventilation and fairly good visibility. The only reason it was our first travel crate and not our only travel crate is that it’s lightweight and Chloe can tip it over and half-collapse it around herself. Not a safety issue, but her bedding ends up sideways. It has been repurposed as her sleeping crate, and will soon get repurposed again as a crate we keep in the back of the car for when she visits my husband at work. It has numerous straps and tie-downs meant to stabilize it on the back seat or in the trunk of a car, so we could use it as a safe car carrier if we chose to. Roof Box also sells an “open air kit” that includes a sun shade and 4 pegs, making the crate useful for camping or picnicking, or as a beach hut.

Our second and deeply beloved travel crate is Creature Leisure’s Den. We own the medium size, which is perfect for Chloe, and just about exactly the size of her usual day crate. We love it because, assembled, it is sturdy and solid; and it collapses with the simplest of approaches — the four aluminum poles that provide structure at the four long seams of the crate slip out of their sleeves and are stored in one of the end panels, allowing the mesh side panels to collapse between the two end panels. The resulting 4″ deep rectangle has a strap to hold it closed, and the whole thing fits perfectly into a 28″ suitcase I bought at Tuesday Morning. The included floor pad is minimal, so I have purchased a separate, washable pad (Fetch Dog’s Eco-Friendly Napper in a size medium) that also fits in Chloe’s suitcase. The crate comes with a shoulder strap, which I’ve never had a reason to use, and the company also sells a fairly durable soft bag for the collapsed crate, with enough extra room to fit a supplemental floor pad and some extra bedding. I used it on a couple of plane trips, but eventually decided that a suitcase with a tougher exterior and enough volume to carry all of Chloe’s stuff at once would work better for us. Now we use it for car trips, where we don’t need the protection and bulk of the big suitcase.

My only complaint about the Den is that it does not include a clip designed to secure the two tabs of the zipper closing the front panel. Chloe has learned how to scratch the zipper tabs apart and make her escape. I have learned, in turn, that a really sturdy safety pin will hold the two zipper tabs together.

Dog food kit: Packing food and treats for a long trip

On our first trips, I packed food, treats and training kibble in separate Ziploc bags, and put them in Chloe’s suitcase along with a couple of collapsible travel bowls. They sloshed around in the suitcase with her toys and blankets and grooming supplies and everything else on her checklist and on at least one occasion, the Ziploc bags suffered. Not a crisis, but when I saw a tidy-looking food kit in one of my favorite catalogues, I considered buying it. The parts I liked: a super-sturdy bag into which all food-related items went, 2 stainless steel bowls (collapsible travel bowls are great in a pinch, but I like the stability of metal), and a folded-up spill mat (no more borrowing a placemat from our hosts). The parts I didn’t need: a flying disc toy, a plastic water bottle, and a nylon food bag that only cinched closed.

So I assembled a food kit of my own, with 2 small stainless steel bowls from Petco, a measuring cup, a spill mat made from a piece of oilcloth (sold at larger fabric stores, oilcloth is waterproof and does not require hemming), and a sturdy waterproof 8 liter sack from West Marine. I still use Ziploc bags for kibble, treats and chews, but in the sack the plastic is protected from snags. And in a hotel room or guest room, where our belongings quickly become jumbled, I appreciate having everything to do with food in one designated place.

Temporary dog ID tag

This is not my idea, but it’s brilliant. Petco and PetSmart both have machines that allow you to make, quickly and cheaply, an ID tag for your dog’s collar. Before you leave for a trip, make a tag showing the address where you will be, including a local telephone number, and clip it onto your dog’s collar with her regular ID tag. That way, if your Seattle-based dog is lost while you’re traveling in Southern California, the person who finds her in Long Beach will be able to reach you right away. Traveling to more than one address? Make more than one tag — they’re pretty cheap.

Even cheaper? Buy a pack of those round, metal-rimmed tags people use to identify keys. They’re small, but you can just fit the crucial information onto them. Be sure to use a permanent pen, like a fine-tipped Sharpie marker. [10/3/10 This idea only works for a short getaway, it turns out. I put a metal-rimmed tag of this kind on Chloe’s collar on a Thursday morning, and by Sunday night it was so worn that the text I’d written was nearly illegible, and the hole had been battered wide. I’d take this approach only for a weekend trip, or I’d carry a supply of the tags with me, so I could replace them as necessary.]

Dog safety harness for car travel

Half of my car’s back seat is occupied by Chloe’s Snoozer (medium) Lookout Model I, which she and I both like. It’s too bulky to travel with, however, and for trips where we plan to rent or travel in a car, I pack a safety harness for her. Finding one that worked, however, took some doing.

I first bought a CanineFriendly 3-in-1 vest harness, and while I liked the harness part (padded with fleece and sturdy but not weighty), it gave Chloe no slack to lie down. The seat belt passes through a slot in the harness itself, and Chloe only weighs 10 lbs., so she was pretty much pinned by the middle of her back to the seat back of the right rear seat. She could only be comfortable if I pulled a length of seat belt out and trapped it behind the flip-down armrest which, of course, largely defeated the goal of ensuring her safety in an accident.

The CanineFriendly product is not alone — the Ruff Rider Roadie is another example of a good-looking car safety harness that just won’t work for a small, light dog. On the other hand, Watson’s Canine Seat Belt Harness is just the ticket, with an attached strap that allows some movement — but it’s meant only for dogs 20 lbs. and up.

Happily the CanineFriendly vest harness also includes a sturdy D-ring. (It’s meant to allow the harness to be used with a leash, but I think it’s too chunky a harness for everyday use. Chloe’s normal harness is the light, mesh Airness harness from PetEgo.) I ended up buying a PetBuckle seat belt harness kit and using the strap from it with the CanineFriendly vest (the PetBuckle harness, though allegedly for dogs 10 lbs. and up, is incredibly heavy). The strap is beautifully sturdy and has a connector that clicks onto the latch bars people normally use for child seats (there is also an adapter through which the seat belt can pass). The combination gives Chloe some range of motion, but is certainly sturdy enough to protect her.

It was expensive, however, buying two products and combining them to create my ideal product. If I was starting all over again, I think I’d try ordering Snoozer’s product, the Snoozer Super Safety Dog Car Harness, which I’ve only seen in pictures. The vest portion looks substantial but not cripplingly heavy, and the strap would appear to allow a small dog to lie on its side. I’m also intrigued by Hunter K9 Gear’s Pet Vehicle Harness, which looks nicely-designed and is more reasonably priced.

I am not enthused about another Hunter K9 Gear product, the Pet Seat Belt with Strap, though it is very reasonably priced. I worry that a serious crash would be too much for the plastic quick-release buckles, and the narrow straps don’t pad and cradle the chest the way other products I’ve mentioned do. I would also not rig up a solution using your dog’s everyday harness and leash, since the stitching and hardware on these products are not designed to stand up to the force of a car crash.

Welcome to Dog Jaunt!

Dog Jaunt is for people who want advice on how to take their small dog along with them, on trips of any length. Chloe, our young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, keeps me company on daily errand trips and travels with us around the country. I report on activities and events you can enjoy with your dog, review dog-friendly hotels and list restaurants where we have successfully eaten with Chloe. I also provide lots of information about preparing for travel, driving and flying with your dog, and keeping your dog healthy and happy away from home.

I first started gathering all this information for my own use, but soon realized that there must be other pet owners out there who have the same questions I did. I hope that Dog Jaunt will answer your questions and motivate you to bring your dog with you on your next trip — whether it’s on a picnic in the neighborhood park, or across the country!

I would love to hear about your experiences traveling with your small dog! Please send your comments, reviews and tips to me at [email protected]. I also invite you to subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss a thing.