What to Do With Your Dog When You Travel

It’s a challenge to find someone trustworthy to care for your pets when you go on vacation – but don’t let it stop you from traveling! Do you board your dog, kennel your cat, or hire a house sitter to feed your fish? These alternatives to kenneling or boarding dogs when you travel will help you find the best care for your beloved pet. Then — if you’re lucky enough to be traveling to the beach — you can focus on packing what you need for a beach resort vacation :-) 

These pet care options revolve around dogs. We have two dogs and a cat; finding dog boarding or house sitting services when we go on vacation is more difficult than asking a neighbor to feed our cat. We don’t have fish or birds as pets, though right now I can hear a woodpecker trying to drill his way through our metal chimney! This is makes my dog Georgie anxious and restless — and so does the thought of being boarded while we travel. 

If you decide to take your dog, cat or other pet on vacation with you, research the required vaccinations and rabies shots. When we took our dogs on a road trip to Washington, Oregon and California we needed proof of rabies shots. (We brought the rabies proof and the rabies dog tags but neither the US or the Canadian border guards asked to see them).

In this article I’ll focus on various questions and alternatives to boarding dogs. Whether you’re going on vacation for the first or tenth time as a dog owner, you may have questions:

  1. What do I do with my dog when I go on vacation?
  2. What if I can’t afford to board my dog but have to travel for work or family? 
  3. Is boarding stressful for dogs? 
  4. Will my dog miss me if I go on vacation? 
  5. Should I board my dog at a kennel with a veterinarian and 24 hour care?
  6. How much does dog boarding cost?
  7. Does my dog need rabies shots or other vaccinations before going to the kennel?
  8. Will I miss my dog when I go on vacation?
What to Do With Your Dog When You Travel?
Me and Tiffy, Bruce and Georgie

Weirdly, the answers to those questions change over time — even for the same dogs and dog owners. For example, I missed my dogs and cat a lot when I was traveling through Croatia. We stayed in AirBnBs and private apartments, and had little contact with other travelers. Being in other people’s homes made me lonely for my pets. I don’t know if my dogs missed me while I was on vacation, but I sure was homesick for her.

But I didn’t miss my dogs or cat at all when I went to Nepal, Dubai and Hong Kong a couple months ago. I think this was because my husband stayed home that time and took care of the pets. I didn’t have to worry about my dogs stressing out at a kennel or feeling confused at home with a dog sitter. In general, boarding is stressful for dogs — which is why I’m always looking for alternatives to kenneling my pets when I travel.

Alternatives to Boarding Your Dog in a Kennel When You Travel

Feeling guilty and sad for putting your dog in a kennel while you travel is normal. It’s also hard to relax and have a good time on vacation if you’re worried about your pets! It wasn’t until I wrote about coping with guilt and grief after rehoming your dog that I realized how attached we are to our pets.

Our attachment to our dogs — who love and trust us unconditionally — is why it’s so important to explore all pet care options when you’re going on vacation.  

1. Ask a close friend or neighbor to pet sit at your house

Ten years ago I volunteered to be a mentor through the Big Sisters Big Brothers Mentoring Program. I was matched with an 11 year old Little Sister; today she’s 19 years old! We still see each other every two weeks — unless I’m traveling in Nepal or she’s on a short-term French exchange program in Quebec. 

My Little Sister has taken care of our dogs and cat about five times. She was 16 the first time we hired her to house sit, and I have to admit that it was a leap of faith. She’s smart and curious, but a little daydreamy. Just like my dog Georgie! Both my dog and my Little Sister tend to wander, forget what they’re doing, and drift off into dreamland. But we took a chance on her to house and dog sit, and she came through. 

2. Expect mishaps if you hire anyone – even a professional dog sitter – to house sit

We hired our professional dog walker to house sit our dogs and cat when we went to Peru. We also hired her when we went to Vietnam, and then again for our trip to Israel. She charges $40 per day for two dogs — and I have no idea if that’s a good deal or not! But I’m more comfortable with her dog sitting than any other house sitter, dog kennel, or boarding option. My dogs know and love her, and she is a professional dog walker. She knows and loves dogs.

That said, however, accidents happen. I used to say that as long as my dogs are alive and healthy when I get home from vacation, I can forgive anything. Broken items, lost objects, misplaced jewels — nothing matters but coming home from vacation to two happy dogs and one healthy cat. And no extra animals, please! 

Now that I’ve shared my home and heart with dogs for eight years, and a cat for 15 years. I’ve taken them to the vet for scratched eyeballs, open wounds, bloody diarrhea, and diseases like pancreatitis and stomach ulcers. I know how fragile life is, how vulnerable dogs are. My little dog Tiffy almost got scooped by an owl once! We’ve been tracked by wolves, and bark at deer and bears in our forest. So now I don’t even ask my professional dog sitter or anyone to make sure my dogs are healthy and happy when I return from vacation. I ask her to do the best she can to take care of my dogs, and then I travel in faith.

And yes, I often see bears, deer, wolves and owls in the forest across the street. I live in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. If you’re coming to Vancouver for your vacation read What Is the Best Thing to Do in Deep Cove? Ask a Local.

3. Take your dog with you on vacation

fun things to do in deep cove
Time for a Vacation in Deep Cove, Vancouver!

When I asked my Travel in Faith Facebook Group members what they do with their pets when they travel, the number one answer was “I take my pets with me.” One member even said “If my pets don’t go, I don’t go.”

There are pros and cons to taking your dog on vacation with you. It depends on the type of vacation (camping in dog-friendly parks versus flying to Florence to see the magnificent Uffizi Gallery), the type of dog and vehicle (a huge hairy sheepdog in a VW beetle?), and how adaptable your dog is to travel (my Bichon Frise Tiffy loves road trips; my terrier Georgie is anxious in the car).

But my cat? On a road trip? Never in a million years! She’s a homebody. She owns the house and controls everything in her immediate area. Especially the dogs.

4. Swap dog care services with dog owners in your neighborhood

If you walk your dog even just once a day (but more walks are better), it’ll be easy to befriend other dog owners. Ask your fellow dog owners questions: When was their last vacation? Where do they board their dogs when they travel? Who house and pet sits for them? What would they do if they were traveling and needed to board or kennel their dogs? Do their dogs miss them when they go on vacation?

One of the biggest problems with dog and kennel boarding is the expense. What if you can’t afford to board your dog but have to travel for work or family? Ask your dog-friendliest neighbors to swap dog sitting stints. Maybe there’s even a Dog Boarding or Dog Sitting app for owners who want to go on vacation.

5. What pet kennel or boarding options have I missed?

There must be other alternatives to boarding or kenneling your dog when you go on vacation…but I can think of none. Can you? If so, please comment below and I’ll add them to this space. Are you a pet sitter or veterinarian who has creative ideas?

Hey, I just thought of another idea: Co-own a dog with someone you know and trust. Dog share? I would love to co-own a dog for part of the year, and not just so I could travel freely. My dog Georgie (who freaks out every morning when the woodpecker hammers at our metal chimney) gets anxious and destructive when I leave the house. I’m a writer, I work from home full-time. I rarely leave the house, and almost never go anywhere without the dogs. But sometimes I like to go for walks alone, without my dogs. They’re slow and sniffy, dreamy and distracted. Georgie cries when I go for a walk – even when I try to distract her with a kong or hidden treats.

A Quick List of Alternatives to Boarding Your Dog While You Travel

what to do with your dog when you go on vacation
My dog does not like kennels when I travel!
  • Ask your veterinarian to recommend or even kennel your dog. This is especially good if your dog has health issues, needs insulin needles, or has high needs. Ask your vet what he or she does with her dogs when she goes on vacation.
  • Join a local community group, either online or in person. Deep Cove has a Facebook Group; Bowen Island has a community forum; many big cities have neighborhood groups, both online and in person. Ask for tips and alternatives to boarding or kenneling your pets when you travel.
  • Ask your family to dog or cat sit while you travel. Give them something in return — and not just a souvenir from your travels! Try to return the favor in a meaningful, practical way. If they have dogs or cats, offer to pet or house sit for them while they go on vacation.
  • Take your pets with you. We drive from Edmonton to Vancouver twice a year, through the Rockies and Jasper, Alberta. We leave the cat at home (a neighbor feeds and waters her), and romp with the dogs through the Rockies.
  • Co-own a dog with someone you know and trust. Do you know anyone who shares a dog or cat, fish or rat? To be honest, I can’t imagine my dogs living with someone else. If I’m traveling I don’t mind someone else loving and caring for them, but my daily routine would be sad and lonely without my dogs. I’ve heard of divorced partners co-owning a dog (like co-parenting), but have no personal experience with pet sharing.

What do you do with your dog, cat or pets when you travel? Feel free to share your thoughts and experience with kennels, dog boarding or pet sitters when you go on vacation.

And if you have any tips or tools for travel that transforms you, please do share those. We love tips and tools :-) 

Travel in faith, and be transformed.


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4 thoughts on “What to Do With Your Dog When You Travel”

  1. This is really helpful ideas! Unfortunately, some dogs tend to get restless when they can’t see their master for quite some time. God forbid, what if your dog unleashes itself and runs away to find you when you are not home? It’s better to stay prepared. Make sure to clip in an updated identity card to your dog’s collar with your name, phone number, and address.
    I share more tips like this on my blog post “Going on Vacation Without Your Dog” https://thepettown.com/going-vacation-without-your-dog/.

  2. Thanks for these ideas about what to do with your dog when you go on vacation. Co-sharing a pet with a close friend or family member is something my wife and I never considered. Very creative! Having someone you know and trust is always best.

  3. When I travel, I always leave my cats at home with a friend who comes in twice a day to play. But dogs are different. I hesitate to get a dog because I travel a lot, and don’t know what to do with a dog when I leave. I’ll save this post in case I do get a dog one day :-)