How To Drive Safely With Your Dog

Here’s how to keep you and your pup safe on that long-distance car trip 🐶❤️️

With the holiday season fast approaching, millions of people and their pets will be hitting the road.

But no matter how many miles you’re logging this winter, dog owners should make sure their canine passengers are safe and secure during the drive.

A dog sticking his head out a car window
Wikimedia Commons/Almonroth

Before leaving on a long-distance car trip, there are steps you can take to ensure your pup will be comfortable for at least the next few hours. If your dog has a tendency to get carsick, it’s best to avoid feeding her before the drive (or only give her a small meal).

Like traveling with small children, a dog can get antsy in the car, so make time for exercise before she hops in. Plan out regular water and bathroom stops on your route to give your dog time to stretch her legs, Melissa Pezzuto, a behavior consultant with Best Friends Animal Society, tells The Dodo. At a minimum, dogs should get breaks from the car every four to six hours.

It’s impossible to predict every bump in the road, sudden stop or accident (let’s hope not!). To keep you and your pup safe, drive with your dog secured with a dog seat belt, dog car harness or restraint or carrier, according to Pezzuto.

Without one of these features, a dog can roam freely, which can be dangerous for everyone on the road. “Tens of thousands of car accidents are caused by drivers who were distracted by their unrestrained pets,” Dr. Lisa Lippman, a New York City-based veterinarian, tells The Dodo. “Even worse, dogs that aren’t safely restrained in the car are much more likely to be hurt or killed in the event of a car accident.”

Bo Obama rides in a police cruiser
Wikimedia Commons/Chuck Kennedy

Determining which device is best for your pup depends on the situation, Pezzuto notes. “Crates are great, and usually the easiest, as many dogs already know a crate from their home. You can start with crate training outside the car and then eventually move it into the car,” Pezzuto adds. “Having the familiar space may help some dogs settle down on the ride.”

If you’re pressed for space in the car, a bulky crate might not be your best option. There are many other products on the market that can protect and restrain your dog, such as a car harness that attaches to the seat belt (and has been crash tested), or a car seat/booster seat, for smaller dogs. Make sure you choose one that attaches to a harness, not your dog’s regular collar, to avoid potential neck injury, and that everything is securely attached before starting the engine.

While most of us would love to have our dogs snuggle on our laps during a road trip, both Pezzuto and Lippman stress that dogs should always ride in the back seat, as the passenger airbag may cause them harm. If you want your pup to ride up front, you can also disable your passenger-side airbag before the trip. And never put the crate (or any dog in general) in the back of an open pickup truck.

“Another safety tip is to turn off your power windows so dogs can't accidentally roll the window down,” Pezzuto adds. “If you do want to let in some fresh air, you can open the windows slightly. Don't roll them down too far as dogs will jump out.”

And, most importantly, never leave your dog in the car unsupervised.

Safe travels!