As regular readers know, ours is a two-dog household: Between 15-month-old Brontë, the bouncy yellow lab, and 15-year-old Chaucer, the famous fox terrier, we strike a daily balance between chaos and quiet. Brontë is up for a hike, a run, or swim anytime, anywhere, making her a great traveling companion for our more active adventures. But after a year's worth of day trips and cross-country treks with both of them, I've come to the conclusion that senior dogs truly make the best road-trip companions!
#1 Older dogs turn a deaf ear--literally, in many cases--to your choice of road-trip music and the sound of you singing (perhaps tonelessly) at the top of your voice.
#2 Older dogs are not ready for their next 45-minute break running around a park two minutes after their last romp. (They do require regular breaks to stretch their legs and relieve themselves, but a cozy patch of grass is all that's necessary--not an extensive walking area or leash-free dog park.)
#3 Older dogs let you drive in peace and quiet when you want to. Chaucer now uses his favorite car toy as a pillow rather than for incessant squeaking.
#4 Older dogs are more flexible about mealtimes. Brontë's internal clock tells her it's time for dinner at six o'clock regardless of what time zone we're in--and then she subtly lets us know. Chaucer snoozes until the car stops, only then looking around as if to say, "Well, hello there! Snack, anyone?"
#5 Older dogs have more delicate stomachs, so you can enjoy that great roadside meal all on your own guilt-free. Ever try savoring an In-N-Out Burger with an alert hound's eyes fixated unblinkingly on you, oh-so-trustful that you are just moments away from sharing the delicacy with your very best friend?
#6 Older dogs are easier in hotel rooms. If they're no longer able to jump on furniture, there's no need to drape the bed and chairs with coverings from home. (A waterproof pad beneath your dog's own bed or blanket is a good idea, however, if he's ever had a nighttime accident.) And while Chaucer's nose still works quite well, he's no longer able to sniff out the scent of every single cat and dog and sticky-fingered child that's been there before him, which means he settles down for a relaxing night's sleep much more quickly.
#7 Older dogs are a great way to meet people. Can a true dog lover ever resist asking permission to pet a senior dog when they spot the tell-tale grey muzzle or arthritic limp? I can't. On more than one occasion during our latest cross-country camping trip, we actually had people cross entire parking lots to scratch Chaucer behind the ears. Some immediately recognized him as a dog of mature years from his faded coloring; others saw him walking stiffly and wanted to know if he'd gotten hurt. And all had their own story of a beloved old dog to tell, before we parted ways with wishes for safe travels on both sides. If you like meeting people when you travel, there's no better ice breaker than a gentle old hound!
#8 Which leads me to the next point... Traveling with an older dog is an effective way to promote the adoption of older dogs! I can't count how many times we've been asked incredulously, "He's 15--and he travels everywhere with you?!" (Honestly, some people almost seem to be looking around for his portable oxygen tank....)
Chaucer is actually a great example for explaining the differences between traveling with an older and a younger dog, because he was such an energetic and mischievous scamp until just a few years ago. (Scaling eight-foot chain-link fences... rattling the cheap windows in an apartment I once had until they popped loose and he could escape... the list goes on...)
So we share a few Chaucer stories and talk about our on-the-road adventures today, and people start nodding their heads, saying things like, "You know, my parents travel a lot in their RV and would really like to have a dog, but say they're not active enough for one. Maybe they should adopt a senior."
#9 Older dogs offer an additional level of personal protection. Well, at least Chaucer does! Reposing quietly on his blanket, so still as to appear asleep until you notice his eyes taking in everything, he apparently gives off the impression of being as latently lethal as a crocodile--slow and sluggish until dangerously aroused. I say this not because the little guy looks the slightest bit threatening (more like a stuffed animal, actually), but because on multiple occasions we have witnessed his surprising effect on strangers who approach our campsite, car, or picnic area. They stride up, spot him, come to a dead stop, sometimes step back a foot or two, and ask warily, "Does he bite?" (Of course not--unless you actually are a ne'er-do-well threatening one of his people; he simply feels there is no point for a famous literary dog to expend energy getting up when most people quite happily come down to his level to rub his ears or tummy and tell him how sweet he is.)
When approached by a stranger, dogs are either friendly (bouncing around, tail wagging, et cetera), noncommittal (they sit or stand at attention but because they're waiting for the release command from their person you can't gauge their friendliness level), or protective (a move, low growl, or some other sign makes it clear you should keep your distance). My theory is that since Chaucer falls into none of these categories, his cool, quiet stare at newcomers must unnerve some of them!
While we'll certainly never exclude Brontë from our travel adventures, road trips with active dogs like her require a little more planning in advance (printing lists of dog parks from the Dog Fun Directory, for example) and less driving time per day to accommodate her long exercise breaks. Chaucer's needs are simpler--and what's more, at his age he'd rather be cruising the highways and byways of America with his people than trying to keep up with the young pooches at places like Taming Anubis or Camp Canine. Which brings me to my final, and most important, reason why older dogs make the best road-trip companions:
#10 Taking an older dog along as your road-trip companion makes him happy! Dogs are pack animals who like the security and comfort of their dens. What is more den-like than a comfy nest of blankets in an enclosed car in the company of the leader of their pack--you!
Whether you've had your faithful friend since he was a pup, or adopted him in his golden years, there's no kinder act for an old dog than making him feel he's still an important part of the family.
So if you're an avid traveler who's been considering a new canine companion, please note that there are non-profits nationwide that specialize in helping dogs who've reached their golden years. Senior Mutt Match, for example, has links to rescue organizations around the country where you can find a new, slightly less active, but no less loving four-legged friend just right for you.