The Ultimate Guide to Traveling in the Car With Your Dog

5 min read
The Ultimate Guide to Traveling in the Car With Your Dog - Animals Matter, Inc.

Are you planning an epic road trip with your dog? We've rounded up all the information you'll need to make it the safest, most comfortable, and most fun trip ever for you and your four-legged travel companion.

Here's a Quick Checklist Before You Hit the Road with Your Dog

Your first priority for a dog-friendly road trip is to keep your dog safe and healthy. Here is a list of what you'll need to accomplish that.

  • A check-up and/or a health certificate
  • Proof of vaccinations (especially rabies)
  • Dog first-aid kit
  • A dog car seat from which to comfortably watch the road
  • Safety harness (like a seat belt for dogs) A sturdy leash and properly-fitted collar and/or harness with ID tags A list of pet-friendly hotels along your route

We'll discuss many of these essential items in the ultimate guide to road tripping with your dog in more detail below.

Keeping Your Dog Comfortable During a Long Car Ride

The right pet-friendly accessories can turn your pup from a traveling distraction to a road trip pro. Iron Doggy suggests the following for the best dog-friendly road trip ever.

  • Food and plenty of water from home (strange water may discourage drinking or upset your pooch's stomach)
  • Collapsible bowls
  • Poop bags
  • Portable dog ramp for dogs with mobility issues (also good for small dogs or giant breeds)
  • Favorite toys, chews, and treats
  • A travel hammock and maybe a cozy blanket to cuddle up with
  • A bag to keep everything together and organized

Potty Breaks, the Right Treats for the Road, and Car Sickness

When your dog hits the ground for a potty break, expect them to do some sniffing around first. Dogs use their talented noses to find out who's been in the area lately, how they were feeling, and if there are any dangers present. After all, you probably don't like to use a public restroom without scoping it out first, either!

Giving your dog a chance to check out the area will let them relax enough to relieve themselves fully. And that can help prevent future health issues. Putting a treat in the car before asking them to get in will encourage them to trade their exploring for more miles on the road. The best dog treats for a road trip are dry and not messy. A yummy and healthy organic treat is even better!

Skip the fresh treats like chunks of chicken or liver unless you have a cooler and plenty of ice to keep them at a safe temperature.

Overcoming Your Pets' Car Sickness

If your dog is prone to car sickness, it's a good idea to get them used to car rides with plenty of short rides before the big day. You may want to start off by just having them sit in the car while it's parked. Give them plenty of praise and an occasional treat as they relax.

Then try starting the engine and repeat the lavish praise accompanied by a few more treats. They're less likely to get sick if their stomach isn't full. That's why you should always start a ride when your dog's stomach is empty.

Once they're relaxed even when the engine is running, try a slow trip down the driveway and back. As you gradually drive for longer and longer distances, make sure your pet stays calm and relaxed. Cracking the windows so interesting scents are streaming in can make the trip more interesting and enjoyable.

Many dogs do better in the car if they feel safe and secure. For many, this means a familiar crate and a comfortable crate pad. If your dog's crate is wire, consider adding a crate cover to enhance the feeling of cozy privacy and prevent them from seeing the world rush by. That visual rush of movement is often what triggers motion sickness in the first place.

If none of this works for your pet, speak to your vet. They'll probably want to check for something like an ear infection, especially if this is a new problem. They also might offer medication to make your dog more comfortable during a long car ride.

Keeping Your Dog Safe During Your Road Trip

The first step in keeping your dog safe on the road is to ensure that they are microchipped, your contact information on the microchip database is up to date, and your beloved pet is wearing either a properly-fitted collar and/or harness with ID tags attached.

Next, you'll want to keep a sturdy leash handy near the door. Don't leave it on your pet while driving—it poses a strangulation risk if you do. Always attach the leash to your dog's collar or harness before you let them out of the car.

A window that's cracked open to allow fresh air (and interesting smells!) to enter is fine. However, a window rolled down all the way might result in an eye injury from flying debris or a dangerous jump if those smells turn out to be too enticing.

Buckle Up, Fido!

Finally, just like with your own seatbelt, it's important to secure your dog while traveling. An unrestrained dog will keep moving when the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop during a crash.

Not only is this dangerous for your dog, but a dog's body traveling at highway speeds is a potentially deadly projectile when aimed at others in the car.

Secure your pet with a proper safety harness while driving for both their safety and yours during an accident. Even a relatively minor fender bender can result in a broken leg if your pup is thrown off the seat. And that will definitely put a crimp in your road trip plans!


Follow the tips below for a road trip that both you and your dog will enjoy.

How do I teach my dog to enjoy riding in the car?

Patience is the key to getting your dog used to car travel. Take them on frequent, short trips with a fun reward at the end like playing at a park or an extra special treat.

What is the best way to travel long distances with a dog in a car?

Your pet will need frequent rest stops so they can stretch stiff legs, do their business, get a drink, and maybe have a snack. Try to plan doggie breaks every couple of hours or so for a healthy adult dog (more often for puppies, senior dogs, and those with health issues).

How long is too long for a dog to be in a car?

If you take care of your dog during your road trip, there isn’t a “maximum” amount of time they can be in a car. Some people with vans and RVs have permanent dogs that live with them, and these dogs are healthy and happy.

Well, there you have it. Our complete guide for taking your dog along on your next road trip! For more tips and tricks for enjoying life to the fullest with your furry friend, visit our Animals Matter blog or contact us.

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