Helpful Tips

How to Travel with Your Dog in the Car


dog air

If you carefully plan your next vacation, then bringing along your dog for your road adventure can be a lot of fun for the whole family. However, if you’re a new dog owner then you may not know how to travel with your dog in the car, how to safely secure them, or how to keep them calm and happy during the entire trip. Before you head out for your annual trip in the family car, there are some important tips you should follow, to ensure you and your pet enjoy your latest outdoor adventure.

Riding in the Family Car

Whatever your reasons, whether your dog isn’t deemed safe for air travel, you’re on a budget and traveling to your vacation destination by car is much cheaper, or you want to spend time with the whole family on the road, if you plan on bringing the family dog along for the ride, there will be plenty of preparation involved, especially if their only experience in your car is going to the vets or the groomers. Some dogs will naturally love riding in a car, while others are somewhat terrified. Because of this, practicing and planning ahead will go a long way towards a successful trip with your dog. By following the tips I’ve included in this guide, you can ensure your dog is healthy, happy, and well-cared for during your next family adventure.

A Trip to the Vet

Woman and her labradoodle

During the planning process, it’s always wise to get a quick check up for your pup before your vacation, especially if you plan on being on the road for several days. Make sure your dog has all of their vaccinations up to date. Since you’re driving, you won’t need to worry about getting a health certificate, which is typically required for air travel.

Food and Care

In order to ensure your dog remains happy and healthy on your trip, make sure you bring along a large supple of their regular food. Whatever you do, don’t change their dog food brand at this time, since doing so can cause digestive upset, which is the last thing you’ll want to deal with on your vacation.

You should also bring along plenty of bottled water and any medications he or she may need.

Always be prepared for an emergency. Based on your destination, find the number for a local vet or an urgent care facility, which you can rely on in the event of illness or injury. If possible, try to find a twenty-four hour facility. This way, if your dog needs medical attention, you’ll have a place to take them, day or night.

Are Dog Crates a Good Idea?

A crate can be a great way to keep your pet safe and secure in the car. For air travel, it’s definitely a requirement. If you have a large vehicle, then using a crate can also be a great option since it can prevent an otherwise hyper dog from climbing all over the seats. Another option is to use the best dog car harness. I recommend the Mighty Paw Car Dog Harness. It is highly adjustable and will allow you to secure your pet comfortably in the appropriate spot in your car and allow them to rest easy with the kids in the backseat.

If you decide to opt for a crate, then make sure you find one that’s large enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, and lie down in. A crate that’s not large enough can be incredibly uncomfortable for your pet.

The crate should also come equipped with strong grips and handles and should not have any interior protrusions. It should also be covered with absorbent material and come equipped with a leak-proof bottom. There must also be ventilation on each side of the crate, and plenty of space around each side to prevent blocked airflow.

Leash and Harness

Make sure you purchase a good fitting harness for the trip, complete with a strong, new leash. The harness should come with a D-ring that you can use to attach your pet’s identification tags. The tags should include your home and cell phone number, your name, and your pet’s name. It should also have proof of your pet’s last rabies shot. If you plan on being on the road with your pet for days, then you may also want to consider purchasing a second ID tag that provides the location and number of where you’ll be vacationing.

Your Car Adventure

If your dog hasn’t spent much or any time in the family car, then you’ll need to prepare them well in advance of your trip. You can begin by allowing them to sit with you in the car, with the car parked in the driveway. Allow the dog to smell the interior and become accustomed to the new smells. After you’ve tried this for a few days in a row, you can use a car harness or see how it goes with your dog sitting unrestrained in the backseat of the vehicle. Go on short rides around the neighborhood and note how your dog responds to the movement and vibrations of the car, the new sights and smells, and what their energy level is like. You can progressively lengthen the car ride, based on how your pet responds. Some dogs will take to riding in a car right away, while others may be understandably frightened. If your dog simply can’t calm down, then I recommend using a dog car harness to keep both your dog and you safe since a hyper dog in a car can be potentially dangerous.

Before the trip, it will also be a good idea to teach your dog commands including come, sit, stay, and down. Learning these commands is especially important if you have a young, hyper dog. It’s crucial that your dog follow your instructions when you’re parked at a rest stop, hotel, or giving them a quick potty break. Some dogs who are terrified of riding in cars may try to bolt the minute you open the door, which can be very dangerous for your dog, you, and other drivers on the road.

Car Sickness

Car sickness in dogs happens. Because of this, if you’ve never traveled with your dog before, I recommend having them travel on an empty stomach. Car sickness in dogs is more common than most dog owners think and it can be miserable for your pet to feel extremely nauseous and stuck in the car. If you’re not sure whether or not your dog will experience car sickness, try feeding them at least a few hours before they get in the car and only feed them half of their usual portion.

Backseat Riding

Obviously, the backseat is the best place for your dog to be when you’re driving. This can prevent them from distracting you and trying to jump in your lap, and it will also provide more protection for them in the event of a car accident, due to the front-seat airbags. However, some vehicles may not have a backseat, in which case, you should secure your pet in a carrier or crate in the passenger seat and shut off the passenger side airbags. If you have a larger dog, then a carrier or small crate isn’t going to be an option, in which case, you’ll need to purchase a dog car harness and work with your dog prior to the trip to get them used to the harness. Whatever you do, never allow your dog to ride in the bed of a truck. This is very dangerous since some dogs have been known to jump out of a moving vehicle. Additionally, if you have to slam on your brakes, this can cause the dog to go flying.

Safety First

Avoid allowing your dog to ride with their head sticking out of the window, regardless of how cute they look and how happy it makes them. Doing so can lead to a serious injury to the head or eyes. It can also be a huge mistake if your dog is anxious, since some dogs have been known to jump out of a moving car.

Additionally, if your dog has any type of dog aggression, then they may jump out of the car if they see another dog in a vehicle close by or on the street. So, for safety reasons, avoid allowing your dog to ride with their head sticking out of the window at all costs.

Potty Breaks

Dog on the toilet

How old is your dog? Are they under a year old? Are they over the age of eight? Regular stops to allow your dog to take a potty break and stretch their legs will be crucial, especially if you’re traveling with a younger or older dog. I recommend stopping once every two hours for a fifteen minute break. In some cases you may not have to stop as often, especially if you limit their water intake when you’re on the road, they’re around two to six years of age, and they’re spending most of the car trip sleeping. However, if they’re traveling in a crate, then you’ll still want to allow for these frequent breaks in order to prevent soreness and stiffness that can come from being curled up in their crate asleep for more than a couple of hours, especially if you have an older dog. When you’re making this type of pit stop, offer your dog water, then encourage them to go to the bathroom. You can also offer them a little food at this time, but don’t offer a full portion.

If it’s possible, take your dog for a short walk. Rest stops are a great choice since many will have large grassy areas where your dog can run around and stretch their legs. Make sure you bring along a small bag to clean up after your pet.

Never Leave Your Dog in the Car

If you and the family want to stop for a hot meal, then be prepared to have someone remain with your dog. Never leave your dog unattended in your car, especially in cold or hot weather. It only takes a few minutes for a dog to die from overheating.

Motels and Hotels

Finding a place to sleep for the night is much easier when you’re not bringing along your furry friend. Unfortunately, not many hotels and motels are dog friendly. Because of this, I recommend calling around in advance before your trip and compiling a list of motels and hotels along your route that are dog-friendly. This will save you from the hassle of driving from one place to the next late at night in an attempt to find a place to lodge that accommodates dogs. When you do find a place that’s dog-friendly, make sure you speak with the staff to find out where you can take your pet for potty breaks and a little exercise. Never leave your dog in your motel or hotel room untended, at least not loose. If you have brought along a crate and your dog is crate-trained, then leaving your pet in their crate for a couple of hours should be fine. If they’re not crate trained, then you can expect to get a call from management as your dog howls and cries to get out. If possible, plan ahead and work on crate training your dog before the trip.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to travel with your dog in the car is all about ensuring that they remain comfortable and happy throughout the duration of your trip. Riding around in a car is a dream true for some dogs, but others are very prone to car sickness or they can become anxious due to being stuck inside a car for several hours. Because every dog is different, it can be hard to determine how your pet will handle a longer trip. Remember, if your dog has never spent any or much time in the car, then it’s very important that you practice with them before your trip to get them accustomed to the sound of the engine, the movements, and the sound of other drivers on the road. With plenty of preparation, it’s totally possible to get your pet used to life on the road, so you, your pet, and the whole family will enjoy your next cross country adventure.