Safety Guide: Traveling with Dogs in Cars | Animals Matter

How to Travel with a Dog in a Car

Getting to bring your beloved pup on adventures can be one of life’s greatest joys. A companion for the road, especially on long journeys, keeps you alert and happy. Plus, your dog gets to enjoy new sights and smells.

But long periods of travel with dogs in the car can get tricky, and it’s important to travel together safely to ensure the wellbeing of your dog and yourself. Dogs can get up to mischief, get anxious, or get carsick. Keeping them secure while maximizing their comfort will make the journey smooth and safe for both of you.

What is the Safest Way to Travel With Your Dog in a Car?

The safest way to travel with a dog in the car depends, in part, upon your dog’s size and behavior. However, there are certain rules of the road that all dogs should abide by. The majority of states in the U.S. have laws regarding pet travel in vehicles because frankly, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The main tip is to keep your dogs secured in the backseat, away from airbags. Airbags can prove fatal to dogs because they open with such force. A pet car seat secured by seat belts, the use of crates (along with crate cushions of course), and hammock barriers between the front and back seats can keep your pet safe.

24 Tips for Traveling with Dogs in the Car

Anticipating physical needs, following safety precautions, and comforting your dog can make learning how to travel with a dog in a car fun and worry-free.

Anticipating Physical Needs

  1. Provide a comfortable dog bed for cars or a crate with a soft cushion.
  2. Have enough food, treats, and water on hand. Remember to bring enough water to refill the bowl several times a day if the car trip is long.
  3. Bring toys and bags to pick up waste.
  4. Some dogs love the car and leap in immediately. Other dogs might love it, but have arthritic hips or legs, and need help getting in. In that case, getting your dog in and out of the car might require a mobility harness. Lift your dog (with your legs, not straining your back). It might be a two-person job.
  5. At the end of the trip, some dogs might not want to leave the car. This can be due to a multitude of reasons, ranging from anxiety or a love for car rides. That's when treats come in handy to coax them out.
  6. Make sure the temperature of the car is comfortable: not too hot, and not too cold. Ensure that the heat or air conditioning isn’t blowing directly on your dog.
  7. Bring your dog’s medication, vaccination records, and your vet’s phone number.

Ensuring Safety

  1. The backseat is the safest place for a dog. Cars like Jeeps and station wagons have trunks that can accommodate dogs while providing a barrier and their own space. However, this is not optimal for your dog’s safety in case of a collision. For the same reason, don’t put your dog in an open truck bed, either.
  2. Make sure your dog can’t hop into your lap while driving. Yes, it’s cute, but it’s not safe. Sudden movements by your dog could put you both in danger.
  3. Put your dog in an easily installed dog booster seat. Your dog will stay safe and snug by attaching his harness to it and strapping the seat in with a seat belt.
  4. Using a hammock bed to create a barrier between your dog’s backseat bedding area and the front seat. This is ideal for larger dogs who don’t like car seats.
  5. Although they love it, allowing your dog to stick his whole head out of the window is dangerous. Cracking the windows allows him to breathe in all the new scents while still being safe.
  6. Do not leave your dog alone in a parked car. 31 states have laws against leaving dogs in cars unattended. It can quickly turn into a life-or-death situation if your dog is left in a hot car. If you absolutely must leave your dog briefly, leave the window cracked, park out of direct sunlight, and leave a note in the window saying you’ll be back in a matter of minutes. Traveling with a road trip buddy is a smart method for how to travel with a dog in the car. That way, they can watch your dog while you hop in a gas station or use the restroom.
  7. Schedule rest stops no less than the frequency at which you let your dog outside at home. Every two to three hours is a good benchmark.

How to Comfort An Anxious Dog On the Road

  1. If your dog is more of a homebody and experiences anxiety on car trips, try playing soothing music.
  2. Talk calmly with your dog to remind them that you’re with them and that they’re safe with you.
  3. Give them a CBD dog treat.
  4. Give them a comfort object, like their favorite toy or a familiar blanket.
  5. A Thundershirt, though intended for anxiety reduction during thunderstorms, may help travel anxiety as well.
  6. Every dog has a unique personality, and adopted dogs might have previous traumatic experiences in cars. If your dog truly does not like the car, it’s best not to take them on road trips or joy rides. Find an at-home dog sitter, or take them to a boarding spa if they can handle the journey.
  7. Monitor your dog for symptoms of motion sickness. Ideally, you’ll identify when your dog is feeling carsick before she physically vomits or experiences diarrhea. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, signs your dog might be feeling car sick include: licking lips, drooling more than usual, whining, or being immobile. If you can, take a pit stop to let your dog off his carsickness. It is okay to withhold food up to twelve hours before travel to prevent vomiting or diarrhea. Just be sure to always have water available in a travel-friendly container. If problems persist, ask your vet about anti-nausea or anti-anxiety prescriptions and over the counter options.

And don’t forget:

  1. Separate dogs if they rile each other up, or keep them together in a large crate if they calm each other down.
  2. If the weather is nice, crack open the window so your dog can sniff the fresh air.
  3. Bring plenty of dog blankets to keep them cozy.

How to Teach a Puppy to Travel in a Car

Adult dogs can be difficult to travel with, so you may think that traveling with a puppy would be incredibly challenging. However, nailing down how to travel with a puppy in the car is a similar process:

  • Be prepared to make rest stops more often.
  • Bring your adult dogs with you to model good behavior and keep your puppy calm and in check.
  • Crates might be necessary to contain a rambunctious puppy as she gets used to the car.
  • Don’t start puppies off immediately on a multiday, cross-country trip. Allow them to get acquainted with the vehicle on short trips in town first.
  • Ensuring your puppy has all her vaccinations before embarking on an adventure is one of the most important safety tips for traveling with a puppy in a car.
  • It never hurts to pack extra towels and paper towels to protect your car in case of accidents, or if you get caught in the rain. Bring pet-friendly cleaning supplies. Disinfectant and puppy pads to soak up accidents are two handy tools for maximum confidence in how to travel with a puppy in a car.
  • Allow and encourage your puppy to run around and get her energy out before a car ride.

Traveling With Dogs in the Car: Mapping Out Your Next Trip

The best way to travel with a dog in a car is to have tools, resources, and a plan.

  • Before you hit the road, be sure to check the state laws for car travel with pets. Some states have more lax laws, while others require your dog to be fully secured while traveling.
  • Make sure your dog’s collar or harness fits well, with his name and your contact information legible on his tags.
  • If you haven’t already microchipped your dog, do so. That way, if they run away, you can track them and have a better chance of being reunited.
  • For planned multi-day trips, locate dog-friendly lodging options on your route beforehand.
  • For spontaneous trips, there is less planning involved, and that’s okay. Just make sure you are able to contact an emergency vet if needed. Have reliable cell service and GPS. It’s also helpful to know canine CPR. Hopefully you’ll never need it, watching a quick tutorial could save your best friend’s life in case your dog suddenly stops breathing.
  • Give them a chance to get their energy out before and throughout the trip. (It’ll give you a chance to stretch your legs, too.)

Travel with Your Pup, Safe and in Style

Whether you’re just learning how to travel with a dog in a car or are a seasoned pro, luxury companion products offer maximum security and comfort. From secure dog car seats to comforting blankets for dogs, we’ve got you covered for your next road trip or joy ride with your dog!

Whether you’re traveling with a puppy in a car or have an arthritic dog that needs extra care, you’ll see why our options are travel essentials. Browse our collection of travel must-haves today!

Also in Pet Education

Dog walking up the Mini Companion Stairs to rest on a blue chair

7 Signs It's Time to Get Your Dog a Set of Dog Stairs for the Furniture

Dogs may love jumping, but it’s not always best for their health. Here are 7 signs it's time to get some dog stairs.
Read More
Dog in the tub with owner and Animals Matter soap bar

The Ultimate Guide to DIY Dog Grooming

How often should you groom your furry friend? Here’s everything you need to know about DIY pet grooming.
Read More
anxious dog staring at owner

6 Ways to Effectively Reduce Dog Anxiety

Like humans, dogs can suffer from anxiety which can be expressed in a variety of ways. Here are a few ways you can help your pup deal with anxious feelings.
Read More