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Doggies on the Go

When Rod and Amy Burkert visited the Finger Lakes this April, they made sure to book a table for four. The couple, currently of Weatherly, PA, wouldn't imagine traveling without their best buddies – Buster, a German shepherd, and Ty, a Shar-pei.

"I'd rather be with my dogs than without them," Amy Burkert explains. "Being with them is a happier vacation for me."

And though they can't say so in words, Buster and Ty feel the same way. As Amy explains, "The dogs think of us as a pack, and they don't want to be separated from the pack. When they are left behind, they find it hard to understand. They're happier and more relaxed when they're with us."

Keeping the "pack" together is so important to Rod and Amy, they sold their Philadelphia home and bought a Winnebago so the entire family could travel around the country. They now spend 80% of their time on the road, exploring the best the country has to offer all four of them.

"There was a wonderful dog-friendly trolley ride in Savannah," Amy says. "And the four of us enjoyed a wine tour in the Finger Lakes. Many of the wineries had a pets allowed policy."

Learning the policies – not only of the wineries, but of the local restaurants and lodging as well – is key to enjoyable travel with your favorite dog. Wonderful vacations can be enjoyed in a variety of locations, but it is essential to plan ahead and know what to expect. Sites like WagWorld.com share reviews of various locations, letting readers know where to find concerts, ball games, beaches and parks that welcome the four-legged members of the family.

"Dogs enjoy the opportunity to check out new things, meet new people, and walk different paths," says Amy. "They're usually happy in any location, as long as they're with you."

Even though they're eager to go, dogs shouldn't go on a long trip without preparation. If you're planning to travel by car, acclimate your dogs with short day trips before heading out for a cross-country trek.

"We use harnesses in the car, similar to car seats for children," Amy says. Her dogs are accustomed to riding while buckled in, and enjoy riding in this manner. Other dogs may not be as calm, and may need to ride in a car carrier on longer trips. Put treats in the carrier and let the dog explore the space while still at home. Let him get comfortable staying inside, placing a favorite blanket or plaything in with him.

Amy advises stocking the car with other safety measures – just in case. "We have everything we need in the car, so we're prepared if there is an accident," she says. She packs a first aid kit, the phone numbers for poison control, pictures of her dogs and shot records. She also has a DVD with medical records that she can share with hospitals or veterinarians as necessary. They also keep a variety of toys and snacks in easy reach while they're driving.

Vacationing with your dog may be the best of times, but you need to prepare for the worst for your own peace of mind. You should have a list of veterinarians in the areas you'll be staying in case the dog gets sick. Have pictures printed out so you can quickly put up posters if your pet gets lost. Also network with the local shelters and animal associations by friending them on Facebook and following them on Twitter. That way, you can spread the word quickly if you do get separated from your dog. "Use a hash tag with the name of the locale you're in to get local attention," Amy suggests.

Dogs love exploring new locations, so any pet-friendly park, beach, hiking trail or even winery tour can be a great choice for a "full family vacation." For the Burkerts, it's the only way to travel. "We always have the best time whenever we're together," Amy says.

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