So You Want to Take Your Dog to Canada, Eh?
This post is for all of my crazy dog peeps out there who love traveling with their pups, but don’t know where to start as far as crossing an international border with them.
In my last post, I shared some pictures of our trip to Canada and talked about why we chose to drive our van from Florida to Alberta instead of just taking a plane. A huge part of why we ultimately chose the method of transportation was so our dogs could come with us.
I’m sure to some people it may seem utterly ridiculous that we would be so determined to bring our dogs to a foreign country with us just to do some camping and exploring that we easily could’ve done with them in the States. And to those people I say, hey howdy hey and welcome to the world of crazy dog people.
Although it may seem more than a little crazy, Troy and I don’t have kids right now, don’t want kids right now, and are honestly still on the fence about having them in the future. So come into this post with the understanding that our dogs are like our children. They are one hundred and ten percent members of our family. We kept them in mind while looking for a new house in Tallahassee, we budget for their food, vet bills, and grooming costs just as we do our own food, medical, and personal upkeep costs, we know their favorite places and things, we know their least favorite places and things. They have personalities, preferences, and an insatiable desire to explore the world alongside us. Although I didn’t give birth to them, my dogs definitely inherited the adventurous spirits of their human parents.
Even though I know they would’ve been just as happy camping somewhere that didn’t require thousands of miles of driving and an international border crossing, I also know that they live such painfully short lives and I promised them as many adventures as I could pack into their days. Taking them to Canada was one of the ways I felt like I could make good on that promise.
Of course at this point, this all sounds very poetic; this is the Presley family lore of harrowing, foreign adventures, lifelong bonds, and reconnecting with nature alongside our beloved, fluffy companions. But that’s only the super G-rated version of what traveling with dogs is really like.
To be quite honest, a lot of times traveling with dogs is a monumental pain in the ass.
There’s the constant stress of worrying about where your dog is and isn’t allowed, if certain Canadian provinces have what breed restrictions, leash laws, encounters with wildlife…the list of struggles solely related to handling our dogs on our travels is probably almost as long as the list of places they’ve traveled to with us.
There are two ways that we’ve found to mitigate some of the logistical challenges of traveling with dogs and those methods are: research what you can and then just go for it and hope for the best. This may seem kind of counterintuitive to say in the middle of a “how-to” type post, but no “how to” guide will really prepare you for every possible variable that arises while traveling and especially while traveling with dogs. In this family, we’re pretty big proponents of the “adapt and overcome” method of traveling…and living for that matter. I promise, if you do a reasonable amount of research and then just jump in with both feet and all four paws, you will figure it out on the fly.
If you’re still in the “research phase,” the rest of this post should serve as a loose guide for you to use in preparation for your Canadian adventure, but most importantly this should serve as a springboard for the “adapt and overcome” phase. Sure, read about it and prepare as best you can, but then gas up that car, clip on that leash, and go do it.
Granted, I’m not an expert on Canadian or American laws, but I did manage to get our dogs safely into and out of Canada. This post is going to be based solely on our personal experience and the little bit of research I did prior to going to Alberta. The research I did and the experience I had is based on a lot of factors that might differ slightly for you, in turn making your trip slightly different than ours. The variables I’m talking about include: we drove across the border, our end destination was Alberta, we were only going to be there for a few days, we are American citizens and we have valid U.S. passports, our dogs are all older than one year, our dogs are all vaccinated, our dogs all are and appear to be healthy, we entered Canada through a point of entry in Saskatchewan (Portal US 52/SK 39), etc. Your experience may differ slightly, but this is my own personal account of what we did and how we did it.
Step One: Driving from Florida to Canada with dogs
Objectively, our trip was a long one. Luckily, this trip came at the end of our time living in our van for several months so our dogs were already well acquainted with #vanlife. If your pups aren’t too accustomed to long trips, you may want to take them for shorter rides to get them comfortable in the car before you take on a trip of this length. Driving to Canada from Florida took about three days and we camped along the way. Our first campsite was a state park along our route in Illinois and our second campsite was a KOA in a state I honestly don’t remember. Minnesota? Iowa maybe? Either way, it was just a KOA that happened to be on our way there. Both campsites were dog friendly. Actually, we had the first campground totally to ourselves so the dogs had plenty of room to run around and be off leash. I read somewhere that that campground is mostly only in use during hunting season, so that’s probably why it was so quiet during our stay. The KOA had a little dog park and plenty of room to walk the dogs on leashes around the grounds. If you’re driving from anywhere but the panhandle of Florida, your route will obviously be slightly different. I recommend using websites that use your location to find a campsite along your route to help you figure out where to camp on the way up. Staying in hotels is totally an option too. Most Super 8 locations as well as LaQuintas are pet friendly. Wherever you plan to stay, I recommend calling ahead if possible to confirm the pet policy.
Step 2: Border Crossing and Documentation
In order to legally cross the Canadian border from the U.S. as a human (U.S. citizen), you’ll need a passport and a valid photo I.D. The process for us was a little more involved than it was for the dogs but still, in the grand scheme of things, not complicated. We crossed the border in Saskatchewan and we answered a few quick questions from the border patrol officer at the gate like where we were traveling from, if we had any plants with us, what the purpose of our trip was, where we were ultimately going, and how long we were staying. Then we were instructed to bring our passports and I.D.s inside the building while the pups waited in the van. They weren’t alone for long. A border patrol officer just looked over our passports, asked us a few more questions, looked up our passports/names on a computer and then we were free to go.
As far as the dogs went, we were asked at the gate if they were vaccinated and they are so we said yes and that was it. Even though the border patrol never asked to see the rabies certificates or any other proof of vaccinations/health records, I wouldn’t suggest traveling without them.
Per the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website, if you are traveling with your dog who is eight months of age or older who is not coming into Canada for commercial (breeding, being sold to another person) or assistive (service dog) purposes, you are required to have proof that your dog received the rabies vaccine. The specific requirements for the proof of vaccination are quoted from the CFIA’s website below.
“Domestic or pet dogs may enter Canada if accompanied by a valid rabies vaccination certificate, which is issued by a licensed veterinarian in English or French, and which clearly identifies the dogs and states that they are currently vaccinated against rabies.
This certificate should identify the animal’s breed, color, weight, etc., and indicate the name of the licensed rabies vaccine used (trade name), including serial number and duration of validity (up to three years). Please note that if the duration of validity is not indicated on the certificate, the vaccine will be considered to be valid for one year.”
As far as paperwork goes, that’s all you’re legally required to have, but of course, there’s the disclaimer on the CFIA website that says that dogs may be subject to extra searches or precautions if deemed necessary. You almost certainly will not have any problems crossing the border with your pup, but bring the rabies certificate in the event you are asked to produce it.
As I mentioned earlier, while we were crossing into Canada, our dogs were healthy and appeared healthy so that was never an issue for us, but if you think that there might be any kind of question about the health of your dog, you’ll want to bring a health certificate from your vet as well as your dog’s rabies certificate.
Also, a note about dog food: obviously, your dog needs to eat while you’re traveling together and there are certain requirements for bringing dog food with you from the U.S. to Canada. Per the CFIA website, the requirements for dog food are:
- No more than 20 kg (44 pounds) of dog food may be transported
- Packages of dog food have to be unopened, commercially packaged, and from the U.S.
- The food you are transporting has to be with you and your dog at the point of entry and it’s to be used for the purpose of feeding only your dog for the duration of your trip
Full disclosure though, we were never asked about the dog’s food at the border at all. To be safe, you could buy smaller bags of kibbles that are individually sealed and travel with those. If your dog eats raw, I’d go with something sealed and dehydrated for convenience.
My mentality was, if they confiscated our dog food at the border it wasn’t the end of the world. I was ready to buy a small bag of food in Canada if we had to, but it never came to that.
Step 3: Canadian Adventures – Camping, Hiking, and Swimming in Alberta
This is the fun part; now I get to tell you how rad Alberta is and all of the awesome adventures we got to experience with the pups. The reason we chose to go to Alberta and not a different province was because we wanted to explore Banff and Jasper National Parks.
I’ll start off by saying that both of these parks are BEAUTIFUL. Pictures really don’t do them justice. The lakes are so clear and so blue, the glaciers are stunning, and there’s a ton of wildlife to see. Both parks are also extremely dog friendly. If you’re used to taking your dogs to National Parks in the U.S. you know that dogs are usually only allowed in a few areas like paved roads, campsites, and sometimes one or two trails (but usually no trails). I’m not bringing this up to fault American National Parks, the rules are the rules for a reason. But it is SO NICE to just be able to explore all of the trails with your dog in these beautiful Canadian Parks. That said, please follow LNT principles and always, always, always clean up after your pup and yourself regardless of what country you’re in.
We were traveling during the year of Canada’s 150th birthday which meant that all of the National Parks were free! YES, REALLY. All we had to do was stop at any number of locations listed online to pick up a free park pass. We ended up picking ours up at an MEC (kind of like a Canadian REI) in Calgary on our way to Banff. It was super easy and totally worth it. We really lucked out on that one.
We split our trip between Banff and Jasper National Parks with two days in each place. In Banff, we explored town a little bit (pups are welcome there too), and then we went to our first campsite at the Two Jack Main campground. Like I mentioned earlier, we’re all kind of the “adapt and overcome” type people, so we didn’t make any campsite reservations in advance. All of our campsites were awesome, but you may want to reserve a spot if that makes you more comfortable. Also, all of our camping was car camping. We didn’t do any backpacking on this trip.
Where we camped with our dogs in Banff and Jasper:
Two Jack Main Campground (Banff): Two Jack Main was an awesome place to stay with the dogs. The campsites were spaced out generously and we were walking distance from Two Jack Lake. The pups really loved swimming in the lake and it was pretty quiet compared to some of the other more crowded lakes in the area.
Tunnel Mountain Village I (Banff): This is a huuuuuuuge campground (almost 700 campsites) right next to Tunnel Mountain. Our site was slightly less secluded than at Two Jack, however, we never felt cramped or crowded and no one was close enough to us to make the dogs bark all night. Our neighbors were very pleasant at every campsite we were at. The two things I loved most about Tunnel Mountain were the amenities of the campground which included clean, hot showers, flush toilets, and free firewood as well as the trails. There was a trail that ran right around the campground and we did a few hikes near where we were camping that were absolutely beautiful. I will say for Tunnel Mountain, though, you may want to bring one of those tailgating canopies for some shade. It’s a wooded area, but our campsite didn’t have much tree coverage to keep us out of the sun.
Icefields Primitive Campground (Jasper): Icefields was my favorite campsite and it was also the most primitive. Full disclosure, Jasper was also my favorite park. Our campsite in Icefields felt more private because there were trees on either side. The campsite itself was a little small, but it fit our two tents, our big ass van, and all of us perfectly. A really awesome feature of this campsite is the waterfall that cascades behind it. We hiked up the waterfall with the pups and they had a blast. We could even hear the waterfall from our campsite which was so freaking cool. What this campground lacked in hot showers and flush toilets, it totally made up for with seclusion, waterfalls, and proximity to Jasper.
A note about camping and hiking in Banff and Jasper:
BE AWARE OF WILDLIFE ESPECIALLY WITH DOGS. My dogs are generally pretty good off leash, but I kept them leashed almost the entire time we were in Alberta. The one time our youngest pup, June Bug, was not on a leash at our Two Jack campsite, she stumbled upon an elk. Luckily, the elk wasn’t threatened by her and mostly just ignored her, but don’t take the rangers’ warnings lightly. There are bears. We saw several. There are elk, deer, goats, sheep, coyotes, foxes, moose, caribou, etc.; we saw a bunch of those too. Dogs and wild animals do not mix and it’s not worth it to put their lives in danger when keeping them on a leash is so simple.
Bring bear spray, bear safe containers to keep human AND dog food in, and have some general knowledge about how to avoid bears/what to do if you see one. All of the campgrounds we stayed in had bear proof trash dumping areas. Use them and never leave any food out at your campsite. Also, keep your toiletries locked in a vehicle or in a bear safe container. You don’t want any remotely strong or appealing smells coming from your campsite.
Leave No Trace. Please keep these spaces wild and beautiful for generations to love and appreciate in the future. Your goal should be to leave campsites better than you found them and, wherever you go, leave only footprints and take only pictures. I get that dogs add a little bit of messiness to our outdoor adventures (and life lol) but make sure you’re cleaning up after your pups. Not only is it the right thing to do for the environment and other people who are enjoying these spaces, but it will be one less thing that could attract wildlife to your campsite.
Step 4: Going Home
We were truly sad to leave Alberta. All the humans and pups had a great time on this trip, but when the time came to head back to Florida, we had one more border crossing with the pups. Much like leaving the U.S. and entering Canada, crossing back into the U.S. was quick and painless.
We were stopped at the point of entry and asked for our passports, how long we were in Canada, what we did there, if we had any plants or food with us, and if we were all U.S. citizens. We didn’t even have to leave the van going back to the U.S.; just a quick glance at our passports after we answered those few questions and we were good to go.
If you are planning on traveling to Canada at some point with your dogs, know that this was our experience and yours might differ slightly. If you feel more inclined, you can do more research on things you’re worried about like breed bans where you’re traveling to or the different guidelines if you’re traveling with a young puppy. Research is all good and well and if being prepared will make you feel more at ease, than by all means, Google away.
However, the thing that I really want to stress is that traveling with dogs will always be an adventure and there has to come a point when you decide you’ve done all the research you can do and it’s time to just go. Life is short, and for dogs it’s even shorter. Don’t freak yourself out over what’s required to get across the border and then just pin a bunch of pictures on Pinterest and never get around to going. Getting to Canada with our dogs was really straightforward, easy, and totally worth it. Yeah, traveling with dogs can be a pain in the ass, but oftentimes the most rewarding parts of life have some degree of difficulty to them. All of my crazy dog people out there get me when I say that the most rewarding thing for me is keeping my promise to them to give them a lifetime of adventures. So get those rabies certificates printed out, and get to adventuring.
Are you planning a trip to Canada with your dogs soon? Let me know in the comments where you’re headed and what you’ve got in the works! I’d love to follow along with your adventures.