Traveling with a Dog in a Car – 10 Tips for a Good Trip

How to Travel with your dog in a car

Traveling with a Dog in a Car – 10 Tips for a Good Trip

With recreational air travel on hold for many people, more pet parents are road tripping far and wide this year, often with Rover tagging along. But traveling with a dog in the car requires know-how and advance planning. Here are 10 tips and tricks for safely—and sanely—enjoying the ride.

Keep Calm and Drive On

First and foremost, does your dog travel well? A road trip can trigger anxiety for dogs not accustomed to speeding down the highway. Maybe they’re thinking of that ride to the vet, or for rescues, that transfer into the unknown. Leading up to your trip, calm your pet with some short test drives around the neighborhood or to dog-friendly spots like local parks. He’ll get used to starting, driving and stopping, plus gain confidence that the trip always leads somewhere fun then returns to Home Sweet Home.

Most of all, stay composed yourself. “Dogs are attuned to the energies of their owners, so stay calm,” advises Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH and founder of concierge practice Animal Acupuncture. “If your dog starts to panic, talk to them calmly, pet them and provide them with a toy to alleviate anxiety and let them know that they’re okay.” Dr. Barrack advises against sedatives, which can increase the risk of cardiac and respiratory issues and increase nausea.  “If you’re worried your dog will be too rambunctious for travel, tire them out first! Wake up early and go for a long walk or run before you hit the road.” 

Travel with your dog

Pack a Doggy Bag

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more you prep pre-trip, the less you’ll need to fetch on the road where amenities might be scarce, and familiar ones nonexistent. A grab-and-go “Doggie Bag” with essentials is key: portable dog bowl, leash, grooming tools, any needed medicine, flea and tick comb, favorite toy and plastic bags/scoop for poop. If you’re traveling across state lines, the ASPCA recommends bringing along your dog’s rabies and vaccination records. While not necessarily required or oft-requested, it never hurts to be prepared.

While it’s smart to bring along a few tried-and-true toys, don’t be surprised if they get ignored on the drive. Sometimes the passing view and general excitement of the trip are stimulation enough.

Beware of Sensitive Stomachs

Some dogs get motion sickness, and you do not want to discover this on your trip (always have a blanket and cleanup supplies just in case). Test your dog’s tolerance for motion on those short test drives mentioned above. If your dog is prone to nausea, skip feedings for a few hours prior to departure so your pup can digest his food and be ready to ride on an empty stomach. For the ride, always bring lots of water, but it’s a good idea to BYO. Even water from a new town might upset a dog’s sensitive stomach, so opt for bottled water or tap water from home put into plastic jugs. Dr. Barrack advises researching veterinarians and 24/7 emergency clinics in the area you are staying, “just in case.” 

traveling with your dog in a car

Keep Doggie Heads IN the Car

Many dogs love to stick their heads out the window and let the fur fly, but experts insist it’s just not a good idea. Dust and debris can cause eye irritation, while flying objects—pebbles, bugs, trash—can cause more serious injury. In addition, notes the Center for Pet Safety, if the window is open wide enough to let the dog’s head out, it might be large enough for the dog to fit her body through should she see something exciting enough to give chase. Better to leave the window open just a crack if your dog enjoys the fresh air and the smells of a new environment.

Travel with a Dog in a Car

When Traveling with a Dog, Secure Means Safe

Just as you wouldn’t ride in a car without a seat belt or let your child ride without a car seat, dogs should also be safely secured, experts caution. Not only is a loose dog a distraction for the driver (even when they’re not jumping into the front seat), but it’s dangerous for all involved. The answer is as easy as a designated dog harness or cage/crate, and there are various options to explore depending on your dog’s size. If you want to check out specific brands and models before buying, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) tests and approves harnesses and crates.

An unsecured pooch can also harm itself and others in the event of a crash. According to Allianz Insurance, a car crashing at just 25mph would hurl an unsecured dog forward at a force equal to 40-times its weight. In other words, a 77-pound German Shepherd turns into a 3080-pound projectile! It’s no wonder why numerous states (New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Hawaii) have passed dog-harness seat belt laws. CPS also warns against the use of long extension tethers and zipline style products during travel, as they provide excess mobility that can compromise safety.

Keep it Comfy & Clean

A cozy blanket will keep the back seat clean, but can slide around. Dog hammocks that clip over the front and back seats, protecting the space in between and preventing dogs from falling into the foot area, are a good option (don’t forget to secure your dog). Lightweight materials mean easy cleanup, quilting adds comfort and padding, while some have mesh windows between the front seats, making it easier to keep an eye on your dog.

Comfort extends to emotional states, too, which is why it’s important to bring the familiar along to ease anxiety. Dog owner John Dobeck has driven from Cleveland to South Carolina on various occasions with his miniature pinscher chihuahua mix in tow. “I like to bring the bed he sleeps in along with us so he feels at home wherever we spend the night,” he says.

dogs and car travel

Take Breaks

Stopping for a break? Give Rover one too. Jordan Karcher, founder of dog rescue-benefiting Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., regularly seeks out rest stops with dog parks so he can let his dalmatian stretch his legs on journeys. “Some places are better to stop with your dog than others, and you can find posts online from other dog owners on which are best along your route. In general, the trucker stops have grassy areas or even dog parks,” he says. “We even found one with a small hiking trail just south of Zion National Park.” 

dogs in cars

NEVER Leave a Dog Alone in a Parked Car

Summer road trips can spell disaster for dogs left alone inside a car, as temperatures rise quickly and dramatically, even on moderately warm days. According to Veterinary Village, the temperature inside a car on an 80-degree day can climb to 130 degrees in just a few minutes, while interiors on a 70-degree day will heat up to 104 degrees within a half hour. Heatstroke and death can easily occur.

Make Room

Dog owners quickly learn that flexibility and sacrifice are necessary for their dog to travel safely and in comfort. “We don’t have an SUV, so long trips mean packing light for humans so dog beds can be reconfigured for maximum comfort,” says Susan Blickstein, who has owned rescue greyhounds with her wife for the past 18 years. “We go on trips of all lengths, including at least one trip of 8-10+ hours each year. We swapped a smaller hatchback for a VW wagon a few years ago so our aging male, Perseus, could be more comfortable. We even built our own step to help our older dogs comfortably get in the car. None of the pre-made ones worked, but foam insulation, glue and a yoga mat topping did the trick.”

Bring the Chips!

Dogs get as excited about new locations as you do, and it’s not unheard of for them to run off. According to Pet Travel, 80 percent of dogs (and cats) who run off are never reunited with their owners. In addition to a collar and identifying dog tags, consider having a microchip inserted, where identifying data can be instantly scanned and retrieved.

With training, patience and preparation, most dogs can learn to be happy travelers, and the rewards for the family can be immeasurable!




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