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How to Travel with Your Retriever

Tips for making your next road trip with your duck dog run smoothly.

How to Travel with Your Retriever

Plan ahead of your trip to avoid any headaches and hiccups that could otherwise ruin a good time. (Photo By: Mike Clingan)

So, you’re planning a waterfowl hunting trip and you want to take your retriever; let’s look at some ways to make sure that you set yourself and your retriever up for a successful trip. I’ll share a few lessons I’ve learned from traveling across the country with my chocolate Lab, Crosby, while on photography assignments. In this article I’ll share some of our successes and failures and if you take this information into consideration, it should make your next trip memorable for all of the right reasons.

We all know that a retriever does best when in a consistent routine, but traveling is going to disrupt that routine. By incorporating as much as possible from their day-to-day life while on the road, we can help reduce the stress of traveling in the new places, people, and other dogs that they’re sure to encounter.

The Basic Gear & Equipment

Food – We all know the importance of feeding your retriever a consistent diet for maintaining their gut health. It’s important to take the proper measured-out amounts of food on your trip or have a large enough food container that is adequately stocked. A lack of preparedness on your part could lead to running out of food and not being able to find your dog’s regular food. A sudden change in diet could possibly lead to a dog with an upset stomach and an unexpected 3am wake-up or a retriever that doesn’t perform to it's potential because it’s not feeling well. 

man feeding chocolate lab in hotel room
Bring plenty of your dog's normal food and their food bowl to help them feel comfortable eating while on the road. (Photo By: Mike Clingan)

Water – Don’t overlook taking an adequate supply of drinking water that your dog is used to; their hydration is important and water taste and quality can vary greatly from one area to the next. I’ve been in locations where Crosby has turned his nose up at the tap water. We now travel with a large supply of water from home to avoid this problem. Don’t forget to take along their food and water bowls too!

Kennel - Keeping your prized retriever safe while trying to get to and from the hunt should be a priority. It’s unfortunate that vehicle accidents happen every single day and the investment that you’ve made into training your retriever should be enough reason to make sure they are stowed safely in a quality dog kennel.

Leash & Collar - At home you might be able to let your dog out without a leash, but in your travels, I’d highly recommend leashing your dog at every pit stop, while going to and from a hotel room, and even when doing their business in the yard of a VRBO. New places, smells, traffic, and the presence of other animals are all good reasons to have your retriever leashed, no matter how obedient they normally are. 

Dog Bed – If your dog normally sleeps on a dog bed, I’d highly recommend bringing it along as it will be something from their normal routine that they will appreciate. Somehow, I got into a routine of when we travel, Crosby would get to sleep on the bed with me because he was so restless on his dog bed in new places, which then adversely affected my sleep. Now, at least Crosby gets a good night’s sleep while I’m left with a quarter of whatever sized bed we’re in—he still knows he’s not allowed on the bed at home.

man laying on bed with chocolate lab in a hotel room
Plan to bring a dog bed or consider sharing your bed with your retriever. (Photo By: Mike Clingan)

Retriever Accessories ­– Your dog is going to throw up in the truck, it’s not if it will happen, but when. You’ll thank me later for being prepared to clean up a mess alongside the interstate, so keep paper towels and sanitizing wipes on hand. Speaking of cleaning up, be a good dog owner and have a way to clean up after your dog does his business while traveling.

Bumper – Depending on the length of your drive, you might need to stop and burn some energy off that high-drive retriever. Make sure to find a safe place to do this and be prepared with a whistle, e-collar, or both, as a new place could lead to your dog not listening as well as normal. Getting them active also usually helps speed up the process of them relieving themselves.  




Considerations For the Hunt

Dog Blind/Stand/Tie-Off – Bring what your dog has trained with. Keeping that retriever steady, hidden, or out of the water will set you both up for a great hunt. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen a retriever thrown into a new situation and have them do stuff they wouldn’t normally do. Training with your dog in as many hunting situations as you think you might encounter and in as many places as possible is the best way to avoid problems, but be prepared to deal with them on a hunt if a situation arises. Having a way to keep a dog from breaking is essential. Crosby is trained to honor and not go until released, but on a few occasions early in his career we were on hunts where there were other dogs that weren’t steady, and Crosby had the idea that it was ok for him to do the same. He was immediately tied off and given a bunch of denials. Being able to nip that problem early on has created a super steady retriever.

chocolate lab duck hunting sitting on dog stand
If you normally place your dog on a stand during the hunt, bring it on the road to keep them steady in a new location. (Photo By: Mike Clingan)

Dog Gear – You know the stuff you and your dog use on a normal hunt back home—don’t forget it when hitting the road! Make sure the e-collar is charged, and for an extended trip, take the charger along.

First Aid Kit – A well-stocked first aid kit like the one GunDog Outdoors sells is my go-to, as not being prepared for an emergency in the field is not a good plan and could cost your retriever their life. It’s best to have a medical-grade field kit that will treat cuts, abrasions, bleeding, puncture wounds, sprains/strains, eye injuries, thorns and quills, hyperthermia (heat exhaustion), and hypothermia (cold weather exposure). Depending on where you are hunting, the nearest vet could be hours away, or not available at the time of an emergency. This item falls under the motto of “Be Prepared,” but hope that you never need to use it. 

Recommended


Medications – Don’t forget to pack any medications your retriever might be on. Also be mindful if your trip falls when you normally administer their flea/tick and Heartgard treatments.

chocolate lab retrieving a dead drake mallard in water
If you do your part to keep your duck dog comfortable on your road trip, he'll be sure to do his job for you the best he can. (Photo By: Mike Clingan)

Hotels/VRBOs/Hunting Lodges

  • Don’t just assume your retriever is welcome, always confirm that the location is pet- friendly and can accommodate your retriever in a manner you’re comfortable with.
  • Planning ahead with your accommodations can save you a bunch of headaches and money, and there are a few motels that don’t charge extra pet fees.
  • Most hotels already do this, but I always request a ground level room near an exit This reduces chances of accidents or unwanted encounters with people that might not like dogs as much as you do.
  • Bring along or request some extra sheets to keep excess dog hair from getting over everything.
  • Be very mindful of and vigilant with dealing with barking; I highly recommend not leaving your retriever unattended in any of these places.  

I can’t stress the importance of place training a retriever; it goes so much further than steadiness on the hunt. Prevention is the best way to avoid your retriever from getting into something they shouldn’t and it’s super rewarding to see a dog put on place and not come off until released. This allows you the ability to do other things like clean birds, bring guns in from the truck, or take a shower and not worry if your dog is destroying something, marking where another dog has marked, getting unruly with other dogs, or being pesky with other guests.  

Other Travel Considerations

  • Look up veterinarians in the area you’re going ahead of time, especially the nearest 24-hour clinic and have a list ready just in case it’s needed.
  • Traveling with your retriever on an empty stomach should help prevent additional potty breaks.

I hope this information helps alleviate any concerns that you might have about traveling with your retriever, and with a bit of luck, prepares you for a successful adventure with your best friend. Always remember that even though your dog might be versatile and adapt well to new situations, being prepared for the worst-case scenario is always your best bet.

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