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How to holiday as a pet owner

A pet psychologist tells all

According to a recent study, one in three Aussie pet owners won’t travel for fear of upsetting their fluffy companions. But here at HWK, we don’t believe in missing holidays – so here’s how to do it right.

We all love holidays, and with good reason. There are bundles of evidence to support that they are essential for boosting your physical and mental health, and more than that, they provide important bonding and educational opportunities that your family will remember for life. So when we learnt that a recent study by TrustedHousesitters found that 30% of Australian pet owners won’t go on holidays, we knew we had to do something about it.

Pet psychologist Dionna Newton has more than 12 years of experience working with the emotional and mental wellbeing of pets, and specialises in helping owners to understand their pets’ behaviours and positively direct those behaviours to overcome issues. Dionna came in to meet with our resident office pup, Lily, and talk us through looking after your pets while holidaying – whether they come along, or stay behind.

Pictured: Lily assisting our Production Manager, Grace, with some important business.

Lily sometimes struggles with anxiety behaviours such as barking through the night, and Dionna quickly identifies this as a common hurdle for pet owners: “The same as you get different personality types with people, you can get some different personality types with dogs.”

Dionna explains that communicating with pets to soothe their mind is more difficult than with humans, and sometimes the soothing actions we take can actually positively reinforce those unwanted behaviours.

In particular, Dionna acknowledges that travelling can be a major source of anxiety, both for pets and owners: “A question I get asked a lot is, ‘I don’t want to go on holiday, my pet’s anxious’.”

Here are a few ways for pet owners to decrease anxiety and stress when they holiday.

Top tips for tackling anxiety when holidaying with pets

Should they come along?

Dogs often love coming on holidays with the family, and if your pooch is well suited to foreign situations and extended periods of travel, we say by all means – bring them with you! Holiday parks in particular are a great option for road-trippin’ puppers. However, it’s good practice to consider questions such as ‘how well does your pet play with others?’ and ‘how well does your pet handle stress?’. Make sure you are prepared for how your pet is likely to respond to the new situation, so that you can accommodate their needs.

If your pet does experience some anxiety in unfamiliar situations, this is exactly the type of situation Dionna can help prepare for. Dionna speaks with us about Lily’s fear of other dogs following a recent trauma: “What we need to put in place is a way for her to deal with her nerves when she’s approaching other dogs … For instance, we can teach her an exercise using a treat, and reinforcing that over time is what we call a conditioned response.”

Strategies such as this can help to manage the pet’s emotions, elicit a more positive response in stressful situations and, ultimately, improve behavior and coping through positive experiences. Enlisting strategies such as these can help prepare your pet for the stresses of travel, including foreign environments and experiences.


If you're leaving them at home

If your fluffy friend is not well suited to the stresses of travel, it may be what’s best for them – and you – to let them stay behind. No doubt this can be an intimidating idea for devoted owners, but there are ways to ensure your pet will be looked after in your absence.

If you’re considering using a boarding facility, be sure to visit the facility in person before booking in. Check that you’re happy with how much space and care will be given to your pet, and ask questions about feeding, exercise and companionship. Make sure the facility has a vet in the area who they can contact in case of medical issues.

However, a great option for leaving your pet at home during holidays is to enlist the help of a housesitter. “There are platforms out there where you can get your pet looked after at home, which people don’t realise,” says Dionna. “They can be free of charge, as well, which is an added bonus for saving costs on kennels.”

Dionna mentions that this can be less stressful for pets, as they are able to stay in an environment where they already feel safe and comfortable. She refers to TrustedHousesitters, which connects owners with animal-loving travellers. Owners can organise face-to-face interviews to find the most appropriate sitter for their pet’s needs, and yearly memberships are affordable, especially compared to the cost of boarding facilities.

Other useful tips

1. Accommodation

Seek out accommodation that not only welcomes your pet, but also provides some decent facilities for their comfort. For example, an off-leash area in a holiday park is a plus, or proximity to great walking tracks and pet-friendly beaches. Make sure you check in with staff to determine what the accommodation provides and what you will need to bring yourself.

2. Road tripping

If you’re hitting the road for extended periods of time, be sure to take regular bathroom breaks and give your pets an opportunity to stretch their legs. If your dog is not inside the cabin of your car, also be mindful of the weather; like humans, dogs experience heat stress. Best practice is to always leash or cage your pets appropriately during travel, and in many states, serious fines apply for failing to do so.

3. Microchipping

Whether your pet is coming or not, it is essential to make sure that they are microchipped and the details are up to date when you holiday. An ID tag on the collar with your contact details is also recommended.

Families looking to enlist the help of an Animal Behaviourist such as Dionna can visit the Animal Behaviour Australia website.

This article is a Holidays with Kids digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter here.

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