Dogs in Cars

Taking a road trip with a dog is a lot like traveling with a toddler in tow. There’s extra prep involved, you’ll need to be on your toes, and car-sickness can strike at the most inopportune times. 

But while it’s a touch more complicated than cramming your dog into the car and heading on your whirlwind adventure, that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful—and fun! With patience, a fair amount of planning, and a good sense of humor, you’ll be well on your way towards creating lifelong memories with your dog and family. Lets go over some tips on how to prepare for a road trip with your dog!

How to prepare for a road trip with your dog

A little preparation goes a long way towards ensuring a safe and enjoyable vacation with your dog. Like young children, dogs have particular needs (*ahem*…frequent bathroom breaks) that you’ll need to consider before setting out on your epic car trip. Get ready for your grand adventure with the following steps.

Dog in Window

1. Master basic commands beforehand

No need for your pup to be a straight-A pupil, but a basic understanding of the following commands will prevent some major stress headaches along the way:

  • Train your dog to wait in the car until you give permission for him to jump out.
  • Make sure your dog is comfortable walking on a leash (ie: no pulling.)
  • A well-socialized dog will be much easier to deal with at busy rest stops. 
  • Teach your dog to come on command. If he gets loose while you’re pulled over on the side of the road, this is absolutely essential.

2. Practice car travel ahead of time

The fact is, some dogs are better travelers than others. And if your pup only associates car travel with stressful vet visits, you could be in for an unpleasant trip. 

Start small, and gradually acclimate your nervous pooch to the car with short trips to innocuous places like, say, the local dog park. As he becomes more comfortable with car travel, build up his tolerance by taking longer day trips somewhere fun—a lake or favorite hiking spot are good choices. Over time, he’ll identify the car with good times, instead of something to be feared. 

Once he stops equating car rides with unpleasant destinations, he’ll be much more relaxed when it’s time to take that 10-hour family road trip you’ve been planning.

3. Make sure your dog’s health is up-to-snuff

If time allows, take your dog for a physical to confirm he’s in tip-top shape before you trek out to a new place with vets who are unfamiliar with your dog. Some states require a health certificate, so it’s wise to pick one up if you’ll be crossing state lines. And last, but certainly not least, make sure that your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations.

4. Check your dog’s ID tags and microchip

A lost dog is much more likely to be returned to his owners if he’s wearing an ID tag. Make sure your contact info is up-to-date and clearly legible. Boost your odds of a happy reunion by getting your dog microchipped as well. Microchipping is a painless and affordable safety precaution that prevents the tragedy of a permanently lost dog.

5. Consider your choice of car

If you have options when it comes to your mode of travel, choose wisely. A teacup-sized puppy can ride comfortably in a teeny sedan. A burly German Shepherd? Not so much. 

6. Don’t feed your dog right before your trip

No one wants a carsick dog minutes into a long road trip. Feed your pet a few hours before you plan to depart, and avoid feeding him during the drive.

What to bring for your dog

Dog next to car

Image by Kazuo via Pixabay

Your bags are packed and ready to go. But what about Fido? He’ll require some different items on your journey, so bring the following:

    • Food and water with bowls: consider collapsible bowls for easy storage.
    • A dog water bottle: these are specially designed to avoid spills.
    • Vaccination records: if your dog requires medical attention during your trip, you’ll be relieved to have these. Keep records dry in a sealed zip lock bag.
    • Meds: if your dog takes them, bring along enough to last the vacation. Benadryl is a good thing to have handy as well, in case your dog has a sudden allergic reaction.
    • Leash: anytime he’s outside of the car, your dog should be leashed.
    • Favorite toys and chews: these will help him pass the time—just leave the obnoxious squeaky times at home.
    • Creature comforts: a favorite blanket and comfy pillows will make your dog feel more at home.
    • Favorite toys and chews: these will help him pass the time—just leave the obnoxious squeaky times at home.
    • Creature comforts: a favorite blanket and comfy pillows will make your dog feel more at home.
    • Treats: reward your pooch with a tasty snack. (They’re also useful for luring a loose dog back to safety.)
    • Poop bags: Please be considerate—pick up after your pet.
    • Pet first-aid kit: You can find fully stocked kits at most pet stores.
    • A recent picture of your dog: this will come in handy if your dog goes missing.


9 Tips for a pleasant car ride

Dog in back seat

Image by StockSnap via Pixabay

So you’re prepped, you’re packed, and you’re ready to go. Keep things flowing smoothly with these 9 travel tips.

1. Use restraints

It may seem like an unnecessary inconvenience, but using a harness is infinitely better than letting your dog have free reign of the vehicle. An unrestrained dog can be injured in an accident. Plus, he can be a major distraction to whoever’s driving. Keep everyone safe by outfitting your dog with a harness that attaches to your car’s latch hardware. 

If you have space, keeping your dog in a crate that’s strapped down is a smart way to travel. Choose a crate that’s well-ventilated, and watch where the sun hits as it can overheat your dog.

2. Take regular bathroom breaks

Plan to stop for potty breaks every few hours. While you’re outside, tie in a solid walk to burn off your dog’s excess energy—he’ll be happier and more relaxed if you do.

3. Stick to your dog’s normal routine

You don’t need to be militant about it, but try to maintain your dog’s eating schedule as much as you’re able. If dinnertime is normally at 5 PM, plan to take a meal break around that time.

4. Keep your dog’s head inside the car

Keep dog inside car

Image by Jay Heike via Unsplash

It’s tempting to let your dog enjoy all the exciting new scents, sounds, and sights with his head out the window. They look so happy! Unfortunately, this is a big no-no. Bugs and debris can damage your dog’s eyes, and worse—he could fall out.

Equally unsafe is allowing your dog to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. Keep your dog safe and sound inside the vehicle at all times.

5. Give your dog his own space

Designate one special area of the car for your dog. Cozy things up with familiar blankets, pillows, and toys to make “his spot” one that he’ll be happy to occupy for the long haul.

6. Be realistic about your travel itinerary

As we’ve already mentioned, not all dogs are the best travel companions. Add in all the extra potty breaks and walks you’ll need to squeeze in, and you’re looking at a slightly different travel agenda than you may have originally anticipated. Give yourself enough time to reach your destination without feeling pressure to rush things. An extra day of driving, while not ideal, might be the way to go to keep frazzled nerves at a minimum.

7. NEVER leave your dog unattended in the car

It takes only minutes for a car’s interior to reach dangerously high temps. Opened windows and ample shade are no match for the summer’s blistering heat. Protect your pup from heatstroke, which can lead to serious health complications and even death.

8. Pick up after your dog

Don’t be that guy. Please, please pick up after your dog relieves himself.

9. Understand (and accept) the fact that your car will get dirty

There’s no getting around it—dogs aren’t the tidiest creatures. If you’re traveling by car with your dog this summer, you’ll have fur, slobber, and dirt to contend with. If you’re something of a neat freak, pack some Lysol wipes and a few quick-drying towels in case your dog gets wet. Waterproof seat liners are perfect if you plan to take future trips with your dog (which we hope you do!)

No matter what challenges you face while traveling by car with your dog, keep in mind: this is meant to be fun! As long as you do your homework and prepare well in advance, you and your dog will go off on the adventure of a lifetime.