14 Tips For Taking A Road Trip With Your Dog

How to make road trips with dogs go smoothly.

dog in the car

Road trips with your dog can be a ton of fun.

It can definitely get stressful at times, though, so you’ll want to be prepared.

The Dodo interviewed veterinarians and dog trainers to learn their top tips for taking a road trip with your dog so the car ride can go as smoothly as possible.

Check in with your vet

Before going on your trip out of state, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure your pup has what he needs to travel.

“Dogs may need new vaccinations or protection against different types of parasites when they travel,” Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian from Pet News Daily, told The Dodo. “Many states require that incoming pets travel with a current certificate of veterinary inspection, which indicates that your pet was healthy at the time of examination and is up to date on required vaccines.”

At your appointment, ask your vet for a copy of your pup’s medical records to bring along with you, just in case — “especially if your dog is being treated and/or monitored for a condition by your veterinarian,” Dr. Sarah Nold, a staff veterinarian at Trupanion, told The Dodo.

If your pup has any travel anxiety or motion sickness, now is also a good time to check in with your vet about treatment options (more on that below).

Make sure your dog has proper identification

Losing your dog in a location you’re unfamiliar with can be really scary. So before your trip, make sure your pup is microchipped and has an ID tag, which will make it easier for you to find your pup in case he gets lost.

“Have your dog microchipped to help with identification if they should get lost,” Dr. Nold said.

And if you’re looking for an ID tag, try this GoTags Stainless Steel Pet ID Tag from Amazon for $7.95.

Take practice trips

“Traveling can be stressful for pets,” Dr. Coates said. “Expose your pet to as many of the trip’s experiences as you can prior to leaving.”

Start by taking short practice trips in the car that end at places he enjoys, like the dog park, for example. And “feed them treats while they are inside,” Dr. Coates said. That way, your dog will start to associate car rides with positive experiences.

You can also train your dog to be calm in the car by reinforcing relaxed behaviors while on the road. “Proactively reward your dog and give him loads of attention and appreciation when he's being calm and relaxed in the car,” Siddhika Bhat, a professional dog trainer and founder of Wag a Bond, told The Dodo.

Get him used to his crate (if he’s using one)

Crates are a safe and popular way to travel with dogs in the car. If you plan on securing your pup in a crate for a road trip, though, you should plan to get him familiar with it long before you leave.

“Get him used to extended, positive and well-engaged crate time starting at least two weeks in advance,” Bhat said.

If your dog’s never used the crate before, you can start exposing him to it slowly in your home. “Get pets comfortable with spending time in their crates at home,” Dr. Coates said.

Place the crate out in plain sight in an area in your home your dog likes to hang out in. Keep the door open and throw treats inside to entice him to walk in. You can even feed his meals from inside the crate. If he starts feeling more comfortable, you can shut the door little by little until you can close it completely without any fuss from your dog.

It’s important to take it really slow when introducing your pup to a new crate and make the experience really positive for him. That way, he’ll have no problem hanging out inside during your road trip.

Once your dog’s comfortable being in the crate at home, take practice drives in the car with him in the crate before leaving for the longer drive. “Make sure those trips end up in your dog's favorite places,” Bhat said.

Address car sickness or anxiety

It’s possible for dogs to feel car sickness and experience anxiety during car rides. If your pup is showing signs like restlessness, shaking or panting before or during car rides, he could have either condition.

Luckily, prescription medications can help in these cases. “Your veterinarian can prescribe medications that will help keep your pet relaxed and relieve nausea,” Dr. Coates said. “Talk to your veterinarian about whether this is an appropriate option for your dog.”

If your pup gets nervous in the car, nutritional supplements and pheromone sprays or collars can also help, Dr. Coates said.

Try the Finn Calming Aid supplement from Finn for $28 (We tested this product on our own dogs and gave it our Paw of Approval!)

Try Adaptil Calming Spray For Dogs from Amazon for $16.50

Make sure your destination is dog-friendly

Before taking your pup for a long car ride, you should make sure any place you’re staying at will welcome your pup.

So if you’re staying at a friend’s house, make sure they’re 100 percent aware and comfortable that you’re bringing your dog along with you.

And “if your final destination includes a hotel, make sure you understand and are comfortable with their pet policy before booking in advance,” Dr. Nold said. It’s a good idea to call ahead of time and speak to someone to ensure your arrival goes as smoothly as possible.

Plan ahead for messes

Pups make the best travel partners, but they can make things a little dirty. You’ll thank yourself later by bringing along products that can protect your things and clean up any messes.

Car seat covers are especially effective at making sure the interior of your car stays protected.

“There are seat protectors that drape between the front and back seat to help protect your car from fur, vomit or any accidents your pet may have,” Kayla Block, a dog trainer and owner of Understanding Dog Training, told The Dodo.

“They can help protect upholstery in case it’s raining or snowing during your breaks outside of the car,” Dr. Nold said.

Try the dog seat cover for dogs from Orvis for $149+ (We tried it with our own dogs and gave it our Paw of Approval.)

Bringing extra towels and trash bags can also help keep your car tidy when traveling with a pet. “I never travel with pets without at least a roll of paper towels and a small trash bag!” Block said.

Secure your dog in the car

“It's important for dogs to be safe in the event of a crash,” Block said. “A dog that isn't secured in some way can become a flying missile and even fly out of the car.”

According to Dr. Coates, a dog crate is the best way to travel with a dog, though a pet seat belt with a harness can also keep your pup safe.

“Dogs are safest and usually more comfortable if they travel by car in a crate,” Dr. Coates said. “Secure the crate so that it can’t move around. Line the crate with some comfortable bedding that smells like home.”

Try the Amazon Basics Portable Folding Soft Dog Travel Crate Kennel from Amazon for $40.98

“If a crate isn’t an option, make sure your dog wears a pet seat belt,” Dr. Coates added. “Crates and seat belts help keep dogs safe in case of an accident and prevent them from escaping the car or interfering with the driver.”

Try the Kurgo Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength Dog Harness from Amazon for $44.95

“Any of these options will also keep your dog out of the driver's lap, and that helps keep everyone safe,” Block said.

Bring enough food for the trip

“If possible, bring enough food to last the entire trip, as a change of food can cause stomach upset in some dogs,” Dr. Nold said. “It may help to separate food for each day/meal into separate containers.”

Keep your dog hydrated during the drive

Your pup should always have access to fresh water, even during road trips. “Collapsible bowls and a supply of fresh drinking water will help keep your pup hydrated on the road,” Block said.

Try the SLSON collapsible dog bowls from Amazon for $5.99

Take a long walk before leaving

Exercising your pup before the long car ride will help get rid of any pent-up energy that would cause him to feel restless.

“It's a good idea to take your dog for a good, long walk before the road trip begins so that he's in a naturally calm and relaxed state,” Bhat said.

Make frequent pit stops

“Frequent pit stops are the best way to keep dogs happy and calm during a road trip,” Dr. Coates said. “Plan out your route in advance so that every few hours you will be able to take your dog out for a walk to burn off some energy, get a drink of water and take a potty break.”

And if you’re stopping at a gas station to take your pup for a walk, don’t take your pup out near the pumps. “You may want to drive to the side before taking your dogs out for a potty break,” Block said. This is because your pup might find antifreeze on the ground near the pumps, which could make him sick.

Keep your pup occupied on the road with toys

Long car rides can get super boring for pups, but bringing a toy that can keep his attention for a while will help.

“Carry a LickiMat with some peanut butter or your dog's favorite treats in semi-liquid or paste form,” Bhat said. “Licking is an excellent self-soothing activity that calms your dog's nerves and keeps him engaged.”

Try the LickiMat Slow Feeder for Dogs from Amazon for $14.95

The Classic KONG is also a great interactive toy that will keep your pup occupied during a road trip.

“You can give him a frozen KONG toy with his favorite stuffing inside,” Bhat said. “This will keep him engaged for a longer time and will encourage chewing, licking and biting, which are all stimulating activities for a dog.”

Try the Classic KONG from Amazon for $10.99

Keep in mind that some long-lasting chews for dogs can be dangerous, so it’s probably a good idea to stay away from them — especially during a road trip when you can’t keep a close eye on him.

“Avoid giving bones or chew sticks to avoid accidental ingestion or possible injury to your dog's mouth when the car hits a bump,” Bhat said.

Take it slow

No matter where you’re going on your road trip with your pup, make sure you’re not in a hurry.

Taking your pup along with you will naturally make the trip take longer than normal. Having to speed things along can add to the stress and potentially jeopardize the safety of you and your precious cargo!

“Don’t expect to make record time on your road trip if you have your dog with you,” Dr. Coates said. “Use your dog as an excuse to take a lot of breaks and explore areas along your route that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

Dog road trip essentials

“Start planning for your trip by making a list. This will help assure you don’t leave home without something important,” Dr. Nold said.

Here’s a checklist of supplies that will come in handy on a road trip with your pup:

  • Dog crate or seat belt with a harness
  • Dog food (enough for the entire trip)
  • Dog food storage containers
  • Dog treats
  • Fresh water (enough for the car ride there)
  • Collapsible dog water bowl
  • Poop bags
  • Interactive dog toy
  • Dog car seat cover
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Leash
  • Harness
  • Collar
  • ID tag
  • Medical records/proof of vaccinations
  • Anxiety or motion sickness medication (if using)

Going on a road trip with your dog is a great way to travel long distances with your favorite companion. It can get stressful at times, but with some preparation and the right products, you and your pup will have a smooth, fun trip that you’ll always remember.

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