If you’ve been planning a road trip, you’ve probably thought about bringing your best buddy along. After all, we love our pets, and leaving them in the hands of even the most qualified sitter breaks our hearts. Most dogs are adaptable when they’re with their favorite person and, as long as your pup is suited for the outdoors, will love adventuring with you.
And with the right considerations in mind, taking a road trip with dogs can go smoothly. You’ll simply need to take the proper precautions, prepare them for the trip, and pack some dog trip essentials, and you’ll be surprised at how well Max (the dog) does.
Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know to prepare for a road trip with your pet and make the journey comfortable for both of you.
First Thing’s First: Is Your Dog Suited for a Road Trip?
The first thing you need to do is make sure your dog is suited for a road trip. While most dogs will thrive with the proper precautions, there are some instances when it’s best not to bring them along, such as:
- Your dog has extreme motion sickness.
- Your dog has social anxiety and doesn’t do well in new places.
- Your dog is reactive, and keeping them under their threshold is hard.
- Your dog isn’t fully vaccinated and may pick up diseases.
If your dog has any of these issues but bringing them is unavoidable, speak to your vet about possible solutions, like medication. Only a veterinary professional can tell you what to give your dog for a long road trip if something is needed.
On the other hand, if your dog is happy to be in new places and does well with people, then a road trip is a great experience to have with your fluffiest friend. There are many advantages to bringing your dog on a road trip, including:
- No anxiety about leaving them behind and wondering how they’re doing.
- A new experience for them, which can help with socialization.
- Constant entertainment at all the new sights.
- The awesome company of your best bud.
How to Prepare for a Road Trip With Your Dog
The last thing you want to do is wait until the night before your trip to prepare to bring your dog along. Traveling with dogs in the car for a long distance can become a nightmare if things are put together at the last second. Planning ahead helps ensure that the journey is hassle-free for you and your fur baby.
The best plan includes desensitization, pet-friendly accommodation, and the right supplies and dog-traveling know-how.
Desensitizing Your Dog Before the Trip
If your dog is a frequent companion of yours on the road, they’ll already be used to the car. If you have a pet who isn’t a big fan of loud engines and fast speeds, you’ll need to do some work to ensure they’re comfortable hanging out in the back seat.
In this case, the best thing you can do for your pet is take them on short trips and give them positive experiences. Does your dog associate car trips with vet visits? Try taking them for some doggy ice cream instead. Try to create a positive association with the car.
Here are some tips for getting them used to the idea:
- Go places you know they’ll like, such as a trail, dog park, or a friend’s house.
- Build up the length of your car trips slowly.
- Try not to overstimulate your pet. If they get anxious, don’t push through; instead, keep them under the threshold of their breaking point.
- Buy some treats that they only get on car rides.
Finding Dog-Friendly Accommodations
Chances are, you will need to stop somewhere along your trip or plan to stay somewhere at your destination. It’s essential to make sure anywhere you go is dog-friendly.
Many hotels, Airbnbs, and vacation rentals allow dogs, but they may charge an added fee, so be sure to ask. There may also be rules about what rooms your dog is allowed in and if you’re allowed to leave them unattended. Choose a place with rules that are feasible for you and your pup.
Packing: Your Dog Road Trip Essentials
While you’re packing your phone chargers, toiletries, and an outfit for every possible scenario, you’ll also need to know what to pack for a road trip with a dog. Your entire checklist will depend on how long your road trip is, but make sure to bring the following for your pup:
- Water and a travel water bottle or bowl
- Some tasty treats. Human food is okay in moderation if you’ve made sure it isn’t toxic for them.
- A leash and harness
- Poop bags
- Towels or a waterproof car cover in case of accidents
- Toys to keep your pet amused
- Their favorite dog bed or blanket
- A dog coat or booties to protect them (depending on your destination’s weather)
- Potty pads, if you have a puppy. (It’s not safe for unvaccinated dogs to use pet relief areas at rest stops, as they could pick up a disease.)
- Any grooming supplies you’ll need
- Medical records and any medications they take
- Equipment to keep them safe in case of a car accident, like a crash-tested safety harness or travel carrier
- A dog life jacket if they’ll be going on water adventures with you
- Updated dog tags and GPS collar
How to Travel With a Dog in the Car (Safety First!)
Traveling with dogs in the car can be overwhelming, especially if you have pups who get excited and want to roam all over the vehicle. And while you may want to give them freedom, it’s safest to keep them in one place. Tens of thousands of accidents happen every year because owners don’t restrain their dogs.
That said, there are two safe ways to travel with dogs in the car.
- With a crash-tested crate: The first method is to put them in a crate in the back of the car. If your dog is crate-trained, a crash-tested crate is the way to go. This method will help them settle, but you should stop every few hours to give them a break.
- With a crash-tested safety harness and seat belt: The second method is to use a crash-tested safety harness for dogs. You can plug these in just like you would a regular seatbelt. Just make sure you never attach these to your dog’s collar. Instead, you should make sure your dog is wearing a comfortable harness that can more safely take the force of a collision.
While driving, it’s also crucial to take your dog’s leash off so that it doesn’t get tangled while it’s still attached to their collar.
And if you ever make a stop for yourself, never leave your dog unattended in the car.
Day 1 of the Road Trip: Before Heading Out
The day has come! You’ve done all of your prep, and you’re finally ready to take on the road trip. Next up: setting your pets up for the day ahead.
For a Short Trip
If the road trip is only a few hours long, consider skipping breakfast the day you leave. Some pets are prone to motion sickness, and most of them will be okay with skipping a meal. It should help keep the vomit down if there’s any brewing.
You might also be able to give your dog Benadryl, but you should check with your vet before giving your vet any new medications or foods.
For a Longer Trip
If you’re taking a long road trip with a dog, take them for a walk beforehand to help them burn off some energy. Dogs are much more likely to sleep on the journey if they exercised that day.
Mental enrichment is another good strategy. Try giving them a puzzle game to interact with so they’re ready to nap on the ride.
Most importantly, regardless of trip length, always double-check the safety equipment in your car before heading out, and never cram a bunch of items in the backseat with your dog.
The Road Trip Itself
At this point, you should have everything you need for a successful road trip with a dog. All that’s left is to practice a couple of in-car behaviors that will contribute to a stress-free ride:
- Stop off every three to four hours to give your dogs a break. Dog-friendly road trips include rest stops, and, if you like, you can even look for dog parks along your route. Puppies and senior dogs may need rest stops more often.
- Check on your furry friends periodically. Even the most social dogs can get overwhelmed and require some reassurance.
Overall, road trips can be a lot to handle—especially when you have fur babies to consider. But if you do the proper prep work, make sure you secure your pets in the car, and stop off regularly when they need it, you might be surprised at how great of a decision it was to bring them along.