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Don’t Make These Mistakes When Staying at a Hotel With Your Dog

After my dog’s first hotel stay nearly ended in disaster, I decided to ask pet travel experts what I should have done differently.

Few experiences have humbled me—and my self-proclaimed “expert traveler” status—more than bringing my dog to a hotel for the first time. My baby Dasher is a 12-year-old toy poodle with fluffy, gray, white fur, deep black eyes, and a gap-tooth smile just like me. He is friendly with absolutely everyone and was not new to overnight stays away from home, so I was excited to check out the Dogs Are a Girl’s Best Friend package at the W Fort Lauderdale and treat Dasher to his first little staycation.

I figured he’d be perfectly fine in a hotel, but incessant barking, a bathroom accident, and ultimately his escape from the room while I was away all proved that pet travel was its own artform—one that I had yet to master. From what I got right to my silliest errors, please heed my newly gained words of wisdom, along with advice from actual pet travel experts, before bringing your pup on their first hotel stay.

Choose a Pet-Enthusiastic Property 

There are two types of pet-friendly hotels: those that tolerate your furry friend’s presence and those that welcome them with arms wide open. The W Fort Lauderdale definitely falls in the latter category.

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There’s an old proverb that says idle hands are the devil’s playground, and apparently, the same idea applies for paws.

Unlike “pet-friendly” hotels that require beloved fur babies to remain in the room at all times, pets staying at the W Fort Lauderdale are allowed in most public areas. Then, of course, there were the perks of the Dogs Are a Girl’s Best Friend package. Dasher was gifted a stylish bandana, bacon-flavored ice cream, and Dög Pawrinon (a canine-approved rosé), while I had tons of snacks and champagne for my own indulgence.

This vacation package may be all about pampering you and your pup, but the amenities at other pet-friendly properties help owners lighten their packing load by providing supplies such as water bowls, pet waste bags, mud towels, paw wipes, and more.

Picking the right hotel is also all about the destination itself. Are there parks nearby? Places where you can take your pup for a walk? Dog-friendly establishments? Luckily for me and Dasher, the sidewalks of Fort Lauderdale Beach are lined with restaurants and shops that welcome dogs.

Jessica Poitevien

Acclimate Your Dog to the New Environment Before Leaving Them Alone

In hindsight, I don’t know what possessed me to think that I could leave Dasher behind so quickly upon arriving at W Fort Lauderdale. I was running late for Sea Cycle, the hotel’s rooftop cycling class, so I rushed to the room, covered the floor in pee pads out of fear that Dasher would have an accident somewhere (more on this later), and then left. I could hear Dasher’s high-pitched yelps as I power-walked towards the elevator. It broke my heart, but I had to keep moving. Mistake number one.

“It’s a good idea to plan your trip so that you don’t have to leave your dog immediately after arriving,” says Janice Costa, owner, and founder of Canine Camp Getaway, adding that pet owners should take their dogs for a walk and spend the night with them before ever leaving them alone. “[This way], they’re more likely to start feeling comfortable in the new place and less likely to bark or cause a disturbance. Once they are settled, go out for breakfast, and come back a few minutes later. [Doing this will] help them understand that when you go out, it’s okay because you will be coming back.”

As I reached the elevator, I bumped into a housekeeper and told her not to worry about Dasher’s barking. He was fine, I assured her, just unaccustomed to hotels.

“Did you leave the balcony door open for him so he could at least go outside?” she asked. “Can I do that?” I responded with a healthy dose of skepticism. “Of course. Where could he possibly go?” Following her advice was mistake number two.

Jessica Poitevien

Prepare the Room and Your Dog for Your Absence

Beyond leaving Dasher alone way too quickly, I didn’t do enough to set him up for success while I was away. Paola Cuevas, an animal behaviorist and in-house veterinarian for modern pet furniture company Hepper, suggests “pet-proofing” the room in multiple ways: making sure all windows and doors are closed (oops), placing a “do not disturb” sign on the door, informing the front desk about your absence in case of emergency, turning on the TV or music to drown out the sounds of passersby, and leaving a T-shirt that smells like you along with your dog’s bed from home. Requesting a room far from heavily trafficked areas like the elevator or ice machine can also go a long way in keeping furry travelers calm.

If you have a particularly nervous dog or want to go the extra mile, Cuevas suggests setting up pet-monitoring cameras and diffusers that fill the room with dog-appeasing pheromones that soothe both puppies and adult canines. “For this to be effective, start using the pheromone diffusers in your home at least a month before traveling,” she recommends.

There’s an old proverb that says idle hands are the devil’s playground, and apparently, the same idea applies for paws.

“I always bring in-room distractions like toys or a snuffle mat filled with healthy treats,” says Lottie Gross, a travel writer and author of a guidebook about dog-friendly trips around Britain. “No one wants to hear you telling your dog off for barking, so distract them instead with enriching activities. It’ll help keep their brains engaged, tire them out, and keep them quiet for a while.”

I did very few things for Dasher, but it still came as a surprise when, in the middle of my Sea Cycle class, one of the receptionists told me that my dog had escaped from the room. Enter: major panic.

I fumbled to unclip from the bike, thinking of the absolute worst-case scenario for about 30 seconds of sheer terror until a manager came over and told me not to worry. They had Dasher in the lobby and would take care of him until I was done with class.

Jessica Poitevien

Train Your Dog Well and Early

When class ended, I found Dasher having the time of his life, playing with everyone in the lobby. I also got details on his grand escape. Although I had thoroughly inspected the balcony to make sure there was no way he could fall, I didn’t notice the tiny space in the wall that divided mine and my neighbor’s balconies. To this day, I’m convinced Dasher somehow liquified his bones to sneak into my neighbor’s balcony. Ironically, it was the housekeeper who found him.

I’m not saying all of this could have been prevented with better training, but probably a lot of it. As my family’s first pet, Dasher was our guinea pig, and we admittedly did not put enough effort into training him.

That bathroom accident that I was trying to prevent? Well, he had one anyway. Luckily, it was on the tile and not the carpet so cleaning up was easy. It was more than likely an act of protest, but building up your pup’s tolerance to staying alone for long periods and going to the bathroom outside only are key parts of training that should start at a young age.

“Any dog who will be traveling should be trained to be comfortable in a crate, and this should be done long before heading off on the trip,” says Costa, who hosts getaways with 50+ canines and their humans in attendance. “In truth, a crate provides a safe place for a dog to den up and relax, which can be appreciated when they are dealing with the stress of traveling and being in a new place.”

Some hotels even require that unattended dogs be placed inside a crate. Dasher certainly wouldn’t have had that little adventure if he were inside his crate.

Tire Your Dog Out

Besides choosing a great hotel with an accommodating staff, the only other thing I did right on this staycation was to absolutely tire Dasher out before leaving him alone again. After “the incident,” Dasher and I took a long walk, went window shopping, and had lunch at a seaside restaurant. By the time we got back to the hotel, he was so worn out that he didn’t say a peep when I left him behind to go to dinner. In fact, I think he was more than pleased to cuddle on the bed for some alone time. As the saying goes: a tired dog is a happy dog.