Take Your Dog on the Trail!

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

Thinking of taking Fido with you on the Jeep run or backcountry vacation? Many of us consider our dogs as our children and travel everywhere with them. However, there are some special considerations for Jeeping or overlanding with pets.

Aside from the usual concerns about plenty of nature stops, food, and water, having a safe and secure place to ride in the vehicle is of special concern on rough and steep terrain. Many people recognize that all human occupants in the vehicle should be wearing seatbelts, but consider what happens to Fido when you start down a steep descent or bounce over a rocky crossing. We have seen dogs get launched off the back seat and actually crack the front dash components on impact—extremely unpleasant for the dog, I am sure. And since many of us like to take our top and doors off, it adds an extra level of danger to your fur baby. Consider the dynamics, but also consider your dog’s behavior. I had a dog who would launch himself out of the Jeep if he saw a rabbit, whether we were moving at 5 or 50 mph. We learned to travel with the windows on with him. Pet experts recommend that if you don’t travel with your dog in a crate, large dogs should be restrained in a doggy seatbelt harness, while doggy car seats are ideal for small- to medium-sized dogs.

As with people, some pets are more prone to motion sickness than others. My dog gets sick every time we travel more than 45 minutes between stops. Since sometimes these regular stops don’t happen in time, this is one of the reasons why I prefer leather interior—easier clean up. Although it is always recommended to consult your vet, Dramamine and Benadryl are over-the-counter medicines that can be given to dogs.

After settling the issues of safety and comfort, attention must be paid to where you can take your dog. The amazing and expansive national parks, national forests, and other public lands that we have in the West are popular destinations to explore, but before taking Fido along, make sure your travel plans are congruent with the various pet-related regulations. In all U.S. national parks, pets must be on the leash at all times and are not allowed off of paved trails. This is different from national forest laws, which state that pets must be on leashes only in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails. Most other areas within the national forests do not require dogs to be on a leash, but they should be under control at all times. At any archaeological sites, pets are not allowed due to the sensitivity of fragile materials in such locations.

Of course, there are exceptions for service animals. However, with the prevalence of various support pets these days, expect to have to show your service dog certification papers upon request.

A last thing to consider is to ask in advance, not only at hotels or campgrounds, but also with Jeep clubs or groups you may be joining. Ask if there are any concerns about bringing your dogs, just as you would ask about kids, trail conditions, etc.

Unfortunately, the limitation on pet access to some locations has also caused many people to lock their pets in their vehicles. Many states now have laws about leaving pets in cars, such as: It is illegal to “leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.” Some states even have a Good Samaritan law that permits breaking car windows to save an animal locked inside. The best thing is to plan your trip around pet-friendly stops so that your dog never has to be locked in the Jeep.

As with most things, just a little advance planning and research can save you and your dog a lot of stress and difficulty.