Dylan has been my copilot on several long road trips over the years—an eight-hour plus drive to Canada for a weekend, three-hour trips to the mountains, and our 10-hour plus move from NJ to NC. He is a good boy in the car and mostly lays down and sleeps which makes life easier. While you may be able to spontaneously decide to take a short car ride with your dog with minimal effort or planning, it’s important to prepare for longer trips. You want to be sure that you and your dog are happy and safe while in the car. Here are some tips on how to take a road trip with your dog.
Table of Contents
- 1 Before you leave on your road trip with your dog
- 1.1 Pack well for your road trip
- 1.2 Consider a kennel or harness for the car
- 1.3 Do your homework
- 1.4 See the vet and the mechanic
- 2 On the road with your dog
- 3 At your destination with your dog
Before you leave on your road trip with your dog
Pack well for your road trip
Have up-to-date dog tags
When you are packing for your road trip, make sure you consider what your dogs will need as well. Double check that their collars have up-to-date contact information on them. You may want to consider packing extra collars and leashes. Also consider packing an emergency kit to bring with you on your road trip with your dog.
You may also want to consider investing in a long lead leash. These are great if you are going somewhere unfamiliar but want to give your dog some extra freedom to explore. I find these leashes handy to have especially if we are near bodies of water as Rainey loves mucking around in water but we don’t always want to get wet. You should always remember to be aware of, and follow, any local leash laws to avoid any unforeseen trouble.
It’s always important to remember to pack some old towels or blankets whenever you go on a road trip with your dog in case your dog spills anything or has an accident. Ooh and poop bags. Don’t forget to pack lots of extra poop bags.
Vaccination records and medication
Be sure to pack any medication (e.g., heart-worm pills, flea preventative) that your dog might need during your road trip. It’s always a good idea to pack extra medication particularly if your companion happens to be a skilled strategic spitter and/or dodger!
Also, bring vaccination records with you in case of an emergency. If you are traveling out of the country, you may want to bring any and all documentation that you have for your pet.
When I first got Dylan, I took him on an eight-hour plus road trip to Canada for the weekend to visit some friends. Thankfully, I keep all of his records in a folder and brought that with me. Being a rescue and a mixed breed, his paperwork had different breeds listed on it and the border patrol wanted to confirm that he matched the paperwork. So, I had to show them everything and not simply his vaccination records. If you’ve had your dog for a while this probably won’t be an issue, but because he was newly adopted, I’m glad that I had everything with me.
Plan your feeding
The last thing you want to do is try out a new food or treat while on the road (trust me on this one). Make sure to pack more food/treats than you think that you will need.
Dylan and Rainey are fed a homemade raw food diet. Obviously, this isn’t always a travel-friendly option especially on longer trips. If you think that you will need to change up their diet, do so a week or so before your trip. It’s easier to deal with the effects of transitioning to a new diet in the comfort of your own home.
You may also want to pack some cans of 100% pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix). This is great for helping with both diarrhea and constipation.
Consider a kennel or harness for the car
Make the space comfortable
Depending on how long your road trip is, you may not need to bring as much stuff with you. But it’s important that your dog is comfortable in the car (and at your destination). Make sure your dog has enough space to get comfortable. Also remember to have a bowl with plenty of fresh water handy.
If possible, bring their favorite bed (we all know most dogs have more than one bed to choose from at home) or blanket with you so that they can be comfortable wherever you end up.
Get a crash-test certified car harness and practice with your dog
It’s important that your dog is safe and secure while in your car. I once transported a large mastiff who decided that he wanted to try and sit on my lap while I was driving. So he climbed over the back seat into the front and tried to then lay on my lap. That certainly scared me and from then on, I don’t drive with an unsecured dog in the car.
An excited dog can potentially become a hazard or distraction to you while you’re driving. And should you get into an accident, he/she could become a projectile and fly through the windshield. Sorry to be graphic, but it’s true.
If you have a small dog, you can put them in a travel kennel secured with a seat belt. But what about larger dogs? Well, at a minimum, using a canine seat belt could work but do not secure this directly to your dog’s collar, as it could cause severe damage to your dog in an accident. Instead get your dog used to a harness and secure the seat belt to it while traveling.
The best option, the one Dylan and Rainey both use, is a special car harnesses that secures your dog using your car’s seat belt. You should invest in a good car harness (these aren’t really going to be designed for every day dog walking) that have passed third-party crash and safety tests from a certified test center or certified by the Center for Pet Safety.
I found this SleepyPod harness works best for Rainey while Dylan uses one by Ruffwear. It’s important to get your dog used to wearing these harnesses in and out of the car. I found that while the SleepyPod probably would offer better protection for Dylan in case of a car accident, he struggled so much with it, that it would have taken an excessive amount of training to overcome the issues. In the end I found that the Ruffwear harness worked better for us and still offers good protection.
Do your homework
Get your dog used to the car
Not all dogs naturally love car rides. Some, like Dylan, will just sleep. Others, like Rainey, can get quite anxious in the car even though they may love going for rides. Rainey will sometimes shake or get overly excited trying to watch the world whizz past her. So, it’s important to start really slowly to get your dog used to being in the car.
This training may start with something as basic as giving treats when your dog is standing near the car. Then you would progress to standing near the car with the doors open. Next simply hopping into the car. Following that would be getting into the car with harness and seat belt on. Finally all of that with the car turned on. Then slowly increase from just idling to taking the car out of the driveway and ultimately progressing to longer trips.
Depending on your dog this can all take a matter of minutes to several weeks/months. But it’s really important to stick to it and set you and your dog up for success. You want your dog to enjoy being in the car. And you don’t want to stress out just thinking about having to get your dog into the car. These should be happy experiences.
You may also need to plan for car sickness. Your dog can potentially outgrow this but it’s good to plan in case it happens. Make sure to not travel on a full stomach. Make sure to give your dog some good exercise to try and tire them out a bit beforehand. Potentially driving with the windows open a bit will help.
You can try natural remedies such as ginger, lavender, or Bach’s Rescue Remedy. A compression garment, like a Thundershirt may help too. Alternatively, speak to your veterinarian about prescription medication that can help with motion sickness.
Find places to stop while on the road with your dog
If you are making stops along the way, make sure to plan ahead as to where you will sleep. You should call ahead to confirm that a hotel/motel is pet-friendly and perhaps book in advance as well as rooms could potentially be limited. You will also want to check if they have any regulations concerning number of pets, size, and breeds.
Be aware that some hotels/motels do require a refundable pet deposit. While others may require a non-refundable fee—sometimes flat and sometimes per dog. Shopping around sometimes can save some money. And often the places with the lowest fees, or no fees, have the most pet-friendly folks in terms of personality.
Some places do require that dogs be kept in a crate, so be prepared to pack a collapsible crate for the hotel. Some places are okay with you leaving your dog alone for a brief spell if you want to go out alone. While others require someone to be in the room with a dog at all times (crated or not).
I should mention that if you are traveling with multiple dogs, make sure to be mindful of how they enter new spaces. You want to make sure that they will be calm with each other. There is the potential for them to behave in atypical ways compared to being at home.
You should also consider looking up animal hospitals and noting their locations and numbers. You should find the nearest one to your destination as well as along your travel route. The last thing you want to have to do in an emergency is frantically search for a place to bring your dog.
Also, you should look up the locations of where highway rest stops are and plan on using them for breaks. Many of them have designated pet areas and some green space to allow your dog to do his (or her) business and explore. While you’re at it, maybe find some nature parks or other fun places to explore with your dog along the way.
See the vet and the mechanic
While you can’t anticipate all of life’s little emergencies, you can help prepare yourself for them. Before heading off on a long trip, make sure that your dog isn’t due for a checkup. If they are due, it might be a good idea to get it taken care of before you go away.
The same goes for your car!! Nothing like going on a long trip with your dogs in the summer and realizing your air conditioning isn’t working (yes, that has happened). It’s a real pain if you break down somewhere, but imagine the extra difficulty if you have dogs with you (believe you me, it’s not a fun experience). So, it just makes sense to have your car checked out before you leave.
On the road with your dog
Make sure that you take your dog for a nice walk before your hit the road. This will help tire them out and make sure you don’t have any potential accidents in the car. In case they might get car sick, plan on feeding them at least two hours before you head off.
Stop every few hours
If you have space and a good travel bowl, you can keep it filled with fresh water near your dog. But is this is not possible without constant spillage make sure to stop frequently to give them a drink.
You will want to stop at a minimum once every two hours. And plan to spend some time at each rest spot. Let your dog roam around and explore. Go to the bathroom. Maybe play fetch or some other games.
Don’t leave your dog alone in the car for long. Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to leave them alone at all but if you travel alone, like I do, sometimes you don’t have a choice. If you want to eat, you can get food from the drive-thru. But if you need to go to the bathroom, and can’t just go “in the wild,” you will need to stop and go inside somewhere. But this also means that your dog will be unattended.
In the summer, it only takes a few minutes for a car to get really hot. So, if you must leave them alone, especially in the summer, park as close to the facility as possible and be super quick (like run as fast as you can). Ideally, you will leave the car running with air conditioning on. But if you can’t then lower the windows as much as safely possible and leave water for your dog.
You may want to keep a spare set of keys to avoid returning to an inadvertently locked car and a potentially costly (in time and money) locksmith call.
If you have a forager, make sure to be aware of any food/drink left in your car within reach of your pet while you step out.
Give your dog an activity while on the road
Some dogs simply sleep in the car, but you should still bring their favorite toys to play (or snuggle) with. And a bone to chew on. These items might also be helpful at your destination as well.
I know it’s cute driving along and seeing a dog with his/her head out of the window, but please don’t allow your dog to do this especially on the highway. They can get hit in the face and eyes with debris (like rocks, bugs, twigs, whatever is laying on the road) and potentially hurt their necks or throat on the window in case of sudden car turns or braking.
If taking a road trip with more than one dog
You will need to consider the logistics of taking a road trip with more than one dog (or multiple different pets) to avoid any potential issues.
My car isn’t really big enough for both Dylan and Rainey to be in the back seat. Plus while Dylan is relaxed, Rainey gets very excited and tends to fidget a lot. This could potentially certainly cause a fight. So, Rainey gets the front seat. I push the seat all the way back so she’s as far away from the dash as possible (thankfully she’s just under the weight which sets off the airbags). And I make sure she wears her harness. She is actually calmer next to me in the passenger seat.
At your destination with your dog
Once you arrive at your destination, make sure to spend some time allowing your dog to explore both the outside and inside. Give your dog lots of praise and love. Make sure to unpack their favorite bedding or blankets and set up a cozy area for them.
There will also be a flurry of activity when you are unpacking. So, make sure that your dog is safe and secure inside. The last thing you want, is for your dog to run off and get lost in an unknown area. It’s a good idea to always keep their collars on them (even if you don’t normally at home) while you are traveling. And keep their leashes (or even better use an extra-long one) on them until everyone is settled, so it’s easier to grab them if needed. Ideally your dog will be trained not to bolt through doors and to have a strong recall, but things happen, so it’s best to be prepared.
Taking a road trip with your dog is a great way to bond and give them and you some fun and memorable adventures. So, plan to spend extra time getting to your destination and enjoy exploring all the places you stop along the way. The most important thing to remember, have fun and take lots of pictures!!