How Can I Travel In The Car With My Dog Safely?

Dog car travel 101

dog in the car

Traveling with your dog can be so much fun — and it’s super comforting to know he’s by your side enjoying the moment instead of at home alone.

But taking your dog for a long car ride can definitely present some challenges that you’ll want to be prepared for.

To travel with your dog safely in the car, you’ll need to secure him to the seat, get the right supplies and make sure he’s comfortable — or else the trip might not go as smoothly as you’d like.

To help guide you on your next car trip with your dog, The Dodo reached out to Irith Bloom, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of The Sophisticated Dog in Los Angeles, who shared nine important tips for traveling with your dog in the car.

  1. Secure your dog

You should always keep your dog restrained in the car to prevent accidents, and to keep your dog safe if one does happen.

“All dogs should be secured in the car,” Bloom said. “Securing your dog in the car both keeps your dog safer in case of accidents (or even just sudden stops) and reduces the odds you will be involved in a traffic collision in the first place.”

According to Bloom, crates and carriers are the safest option — when placed in the right locations in your car.

“If your car is large enough, keep your dog in a crate or carrier in the car, making sure to set up the crate or carrier so it is safe in the event of a collision,” Bloom said. “For carriers, that means you put them on the floor of the backseat (behind the driver’s seat or front passenger seat). For crates, you need to secure the crate to the car in a safe way (SUVs sometimes have hardware to which you can hook a carabiner, for example).”

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If your car is too small to hold a dog crate, try a dog car harness instead.

“If you can’t fit a crate or carrier large enough for your dog in the car, get a CPS-approved harness,” Bloom said. (The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) is a pet safety advocacy organization that researches pet products and promotes safe travel conditions to reduce the risk of injury to pets.)

Bloom recommends the Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness, the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain harness or the ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack.

Try the Sleepypod Clickit Sport dog car harness from Amazon for $83.24

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Try the Rocketeer Pack from ZuGoPet for $105

While there are some dog booster seats on the market, Bloom says to avoid those if safety is your primary concern.

“Booster seats will not protect your dog in a collision,” Bloom said.

And as tempting (and adorable) as it is, you should also do your best to avoid letting your dog sit on your lap while driving.

“Don’t drive with your dog in your lap. If the airbag deploys, your dog may be seriously injured or killed,” Bloom said. “Dogs in laps are also a distraction (and can interfere with your ability to steer), and if your dog slips off your lap as you are driving and winds up by your feet, that makes it difficult to accelerate or brake.”

  1. Take practice car rides

If you’re planning on taking your dog on a road trip, and he’s not used to long rides in the car, you can try taking shorter drives to fun locations to help him feel less stressed in the car.

“Practice short car rides with your dog before going on a longer road trip,” Bloom said. “Pick fun destinations. If your dog only ever goes to the vet in the car, they may not like the car much.”

  1. Stop for potty breaks often

Long road trips with your dog means taking plenty of potty breaks.

“Give your dog regular potty breaks — at least once every couple of hours, more often if your dog is small, young or old,” Bloom said.

Make sure you keep a leash handy for the trip, and keep your dog leashed at all times during the potty break or any other stops. You don’t want to lose him while you’re miles away from home!

If you’re traveling in a hot climate, you should also check the temperature of the ground before taking your dog out of the car by placing your hand on the pavement. If it’s too hot for your hand, opt for grassy areas or apply paw wax to keep his feet protected.

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And since you’ll likely go to several unfamiliar rest stops, be sure to keep an eye out for potential hazards, like broken glass in the parking lot or wild animals.

  1. Bring lots of water, food and treats

You’ll want to be sure you pack plenty of water, food and treats for long car rides with your dog.

“Travel bowls are great for this. You can also consider bottles with a bowl built in, and plastic bowls with lids,” Bloom said.

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Some dog travel bags come with bowls or water bottle holders as well as insulated food storage compartments to make carrying all those supplies around super easy.

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You’ll also want to bring enough water to sustain your dog for the duration of the car trip, especially if you’re unsure about the quality or availability of water on your route, or if your dog is particularly sensitive.

“Bring enough water to transition your dog from your hometown water to the water wherever you are going,” Bloom said. “Different municipalities process water differently, and some dogs are sensitive to the differences.”

Water can quickly get warm in the car on hot days, so consider bringing a cooler along to keep it cold.

You should also remember to pack enough of your dog’s food to cover the entire trip, and some extra just in case your plans change.

And don’t forget the treats!

“Bring treats so you can reward your dog for good behavior during potty breaks, etc.,” Bloom said.

  1. Make his spot super comfy

You’ll want to make your dog’s spot in the car extra comfy so he actually enjoys the ride.

Depending on what your dog likes to sleep on at home, consider using something similar in the car.

“Keep your dog as comfortable as possible, whatever that means for your pup!” Bloom said. “For example, some dogs like a cushy blanket to lie on in their carrier, while others prefer lying on the plain bottom of the carrier.”

  1. Address signs of carsickness

Like people, dogs can get carsick during car rides.

Signs of car sickness in dogs include whining, drooling and vomiting.

If you’ve ever noticed signs of car sickness in your dog, talk to your veterinarian before you give him motion sickness medication, which can help reduce his symptoms.

In addition to medication, if your dog suffers from motion sickness, it’s helpful to slowly get him used to being in the car by going on shorter trips first before the longer ride.

And if it shows up for the first time during your big drive, pay attention to your dog’s body language.

“Don’t keep driving if your dog seems to be in distress (and make sure to have your veterinarian’s contact information handy),” Bloom said.

  1. Make sure your dog is microchipped

All dogs should be microchipped — but it’s especially important when traveling with your dog to an unfamiliar location.

Microchipped dogs, as well as dogs with ID tags, are way more likely to be returned to their owners if they get lost. And having that piece of mind is priceless while on vacation.

“Do make sure your dog is microchipped and wearing a collar with ID tags throughout your trip,” Bloom said.

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  1. Don’t leave your dog in the car

Leaving your dog in the car alone can have fatal consequences, so always have someone stay with your dog in the car if you need to make a quick trip to the store or leave the car for any other reason.

“Don’t leave your dog in the car alone,” Bloom said. “For one thing, parked cars heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly at warmer times of the year, even in the shade. For another, someone can break into your car to steal your dog.”

With these tips, you can have a stress-free driving experience with your dog every time, and enjoy traveling with your dog even more.

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