It is perfectly safe to travel on a long road trip with your dog, so long as you plan ahead, pack well and prepare for every eventuality on your journey.
Get everything right and you and your furry friend can have a joyful, relaxed, and lovely long car trip.
Some dogs absolutely love being in the car and others need a little more persuasion, but that being said, with some handy tips and training, you can confidently prepare any dog well for the ride!
When I take long road trips with my own and family members dogs, the biggest challenge I face is remembering to take everything I need! So I created this Ultimate Guide to Planning a road trip with dogs. It includes a Dog Road trip Packing Checklist and lots of useful advice.
If you’re wondering how to travel with a dog in the car, read on for everything you need!
8 Tips On How To Road Trip With Your Dog
First, we will start with my 8 Tips on how to road trip with your dog. Read this to ensure you have everything you need for your travels! Planning and preparation is the key to having a fun, safe and worry-free journey.
Plus if you haven’t already, our general Road Trip Tips are essential before you set off!
1. Choose the best way to transport your dog safely.
There are many options to secure your dog safely into the car, including a carrier (for small dogs), a back seat hammock, a travel harness, a crate, or a boot barrier (perfect for multiple big dogs). Check out our suggested products to select yours.
It is dangerous to have them roaming around freely on the seats or on somebody’s knee. They need their own safe, secure, familiar car space, with room to move, but not too much so they can be thrown around.
When you have chosen, familiarise your pooch with it! For instance, let them play in the crate in the house for a month before.
2. Alleviate travel anxiety by getting your dog used to the car
When planning road trips with dogs, they need time to get used to the car (to ease any travel anxiety they may get), so incorporate car journeys into your routine for at least 1-2 months before your long road trip.
You need to make being in the car a fun, rewarding, and relaxing experience for both you and your furry friend, and they need to be comfortable with any length car ride.
Check out my advice below on how to train your dog to get used to the car.
3. Learn the symptoms of motion sickness and use these tips to prevent it
Motion sickness is most prevalent in young puppies and/or anxious dogs, especially if your dog isn’t used to the car and only associates it with a stressful visit to the vet.
Symptoms are whining, pacing, vomiting, lethargy, excessive drooling, and diarrhea.
Top tips to prevent motion sickness:
- Introduce your dog to the car at a slow pace
- Have them securely fastened and feeling safe
- Keep the car cool
- Keep a calm car environment to reduce anxiety
- Withhold food for a few hours before the trip (up to 12 if your pooch gets severely sick)
- Visit your vet to discuss anti-anxiety/sickness medication if it persists
4. Follow a packing list and keep your dog care essentials accessible
You can see our essential dog road trip packing list below, but having all your food, water and treats tucked away in the boot where you can’t access them isn’t going to be ideal!
Prepare a bag with bowls, water, food, poop bags, and a towel to have handy for stops.
5. Pack your dogs important documents and items
Your dog(s) will have their own important documents and needs, including:
- Medical insurance
- Up to date flea and worm treatments
- Up to date vaccination certification
- Medication that they regularly take, and plenty to cover the whole trip
- Get them microchipped if not already!
See the ASPCA for advice on the core vaccines required for your dog.
Note: Some US States require rabies vaccine as mandatory, so check before travel. This handy website has an interactive map for checking state law and requirements of Rabies vaccinations for your dog.
6. Walk your dog before taking a long road trip
Before you head off on your dog road trip, take a long walk with your pooch to tire them out.
This will relax them on the journey and ensure they’ve had plenty of time to go to the toilet before you head off; preventing accidents and anxiety!
7. Pack a first aid and breakdown doggy kit
If your dog has an accident, you will want to be prepared. We love this ARCA FDA Approved Pet First Aid kit which includes 100 items from tick removers to dressings.
Take a list of vets along your route, just in case of emergency.
I recommend a high visibility vest for your dog plus extra blankets in case you break down and are waiting at the roadside in the cold/dark.
8. Locate pet-friendly hotels to stop at on your dog road trip
I’m a huge fan of Airbnb for a dog road trip, because when you search for accommodation, you can use the filter tool to only display select pet-friendly places to stay in your search.
Now, let’s get on to some FAQs!
Road Trip With Dog Planning Advice
By ensuring you follow this road trip with dog planning section you can ensure you have the answers to a variety of frequently asked questions. Being prepared is so important so that you can react to anything that happens on your trip!
What is the safest way to drive with a dog?
Your dog must be securely fastened to a harness or in a hammock, dog crate, carrier, or car boot. Using a well-fitted harness that secures your dog safely in your vehicle is considered the safest way to drive with a dog. The car also needs to be cool, with the windows slightly ajar, but not enough for the dog to fit their face through.
Their face hanging out of the window is dangerous as it could be hit by passing traffic or objects, or knocked on the window rim if you need to suddenly brake hard. Consider that in the event of a crash and your dog not being secure; they could fly through the windscreen or cause themselves or you some damage.
Finally, dogs must not be left in cars, especially hot cars. This is a fatal error as dogs can overheat. Check out this American Veterinary Medical Association article regarding how dangerous hot cars are for dogs.
Dangers also apply to leaving dogs in very cold cars. My advice is never to leave your dog in a car.
We advise a sunshade for your windows in hot weather (see product list below).
What To Pack When Travelling With Your Dog
Our comprehensive packing list for your dog road trip is here. Take a look at the image for all of the key items you need to remember!
Note that we suggest doubling up on the essentials in case you misplace or lose things along the way!
Check out our complete Road Trip Packing List for all your other essentials!
Best Products For A Road Trip With A Dog
Introducing our favorite useful products for a road trip with a dog.
-We love this back seat waterproof dog hammock, especially for large dogs and if your boot is tight on space for a grate or boot gate. Nonslip, and protects your dog and your back seat.
For small dogs, a pet carrier is perfect and cozy. Place this on the back seat securely or in the boot.
If you are going to have your dog in the car boot, a car boot gate/barrier is perfect to keep them separate from the main seats. Perfect for multiple dogs.
A seatbelt harness can be easily attached to the back seat, the dog has more movement, but is well secured.
In hot weather, sunshades for the windows are very useful to prevent your dog from getting too hot.
When traveling with a dog in the car, seat covers are always handy. Even just for those times you have been on a walk, dogs jump about and when full of mud, this will keep your seats protected and clean!
How To Train A Dog To Ride In A Car
If your dog is totally new to the car, you will need to spend some time training them to feel at ease and comfortable on-road trip journeys:
- Begin by playing with them in a turned-off car, getting them used to the surroundings.
- Next, play in the car with the engine on but stationary.
- Then (with your chosen transportation method) begin to drive around the block
- Then a little longer to the dog park or to a friends house
- Add on each time, building up to 10-20 minute journeys at a very minimum.
- Reward with treats, praise, and happiness until your dog seems relaxed.
- Any new products (such as a crate) spend time with it in the house, getting them relaxed with it
Some dogs only go in the car a couple of times a year to the vets, and this could be associated with some stress or anxiety, so training at their pace is very important. Begin well in advance of your dog road trip (1-2 months!).
Don’t forget your own essential Road Trip Accessories!
Can Dogs Go On Long Car Rides?
It is perfectly reasonable for dogs to go on long car rides, so long as they are trained, comfortable, secure, and relaxed. Take your dog on a big walk before you leave on your car journey and plan regular stops, just as you would on a long journey without your dog.
Keeping your dog topped up with water, keeping the air cool, and keeping the environment calm will help you and your dog to enjoy the road trip experience.
Are Road Trips Bad For Dogs?
Road trips are not bad for dogs, so long as you have trained them to travel in the car, addressed any anxiety before you set off, and ensure they are cool, well-hydrated, and secure. It is your responsibility to plan and keep them happy!
How Can I Make My Dog Comfortable In A Long Car Ride?
Your dog will be comfortable in a long car ride when they are secure in their bed, carrier, harness, crate, or hammock, surrounded by their favorite home comforts.
- Stop on your dog road trip for at least 30 minutes every 2-4 hours, to walk your dog and allow them to stretch their legs and go to the toilet.
- Offer your beloved pooch water at least once every two hours (always have the dog bowls and bottled water within reach).
- Keep the car environment calm on the road trip, offering your dog regular praise and treats (if they can manage food without motion sickness).
Should I Feed My Dog Before A Long Car Ride?
If your dog is used to the car and travels with no problems, then it is perfectly ok to feed them before you leave.
However, if your dog has or begins to experience sickness or motion sickness as you are on your road trip, the next time you embark on your journey, leave it at least two hours, and even as long as up to 12 hours if the sickness is severe.
Always carry treats and water with you, long-lasting chew toys can keep your dog occupied along the way.
This article on responsible pet ownership is also really useful!
How To Calm A Dog Down On A Long Car Ride
There are plenty of ways to calm your dog when on a long car ride.
- Your dog’s favorite usual toys
- Your dogs normal blanket
- An old worn jumper of yours in their bed so they can smell your scent as comfort
- Keep noise low/ music off to reduce stimulus.
- Drive calmly to keep your precious furry friend calm
- Keep yourself calm and offer praise to your dog regularly
- Stop often for toilet breaks
- Kong toys and long-lasting chews to keep them entertained