Tips for taking a road trip with your dog
By Caroline Fontein, Dog Mom & Pet Lifestyle Contributor
Aside from being so darn cute, your dog just might be the perfect travel companion (even if it means you’ll be picking up poop).
Think about it:
They’re always in a good mood. You won’t have to worry about them overpacking. They’ll never be late or forget to Venmo you for those drinks. They don’t get hangry (well not like humans). You’ll never have to compromise on where you want to eat, and they’ll actually make you want to exercise everyday while on vacation.
There’s a reason we call them man’s best friend. In fact, there are many health benefits to getting in some quality time with your pup.
However, there are a few extra things to consider before you and your canine counterpart hit the road. Keep reading for pet travel tips on how to plan a memorable vacation for both you and your furry bestie.
It’s important to think about why you’re taking a vacation and what your daily activities are going to be like once you’ve reached your destination. No pet parent wants to leave their canine counterpart behind.
However, if your plans include things like meeting up with friends, sightseeing, checking out local foodie hotspots, going to a concert and other not-so-fido-friendly activities, then your precious pup will probably be happier at home.
Now, here are our travel tips for planning a road trip with your dog:
Prep your car
Before the trip, devote some time to cleaning out your car. You want to make sure there’s enough room for your luggage, supplies for your pet and a dog crate (if you use one). Make sure you have some cleaning supplies ready, just in case your dog gets car sick or has an accident.
Car cleaning kit checklist:
- Paper towels
- Plastic bags
- Air freshener
- Multi-purpose cleaner or cleansing wipes
- Bottled water
- Extra towel or blanket
This goes for your dog too. To avoid injury in case of an accident and to help you not get distracted while driving, make sure your pup is in a secure spot while the car is in motion (this means no letting them ride in your lap, sorry). Remember, pet safety first.
Crate expectations: Some vets and pet trainers, along with the American Kennel Club, recommend using a crate for pet passengers when traveling by car. If you get a crate, make sure it can be secured in your vehicle and that it allows enough room for your dog to stand, turn around and lie down.
Make sure it has a leak-proof bottom, just in case there are any accidents. If your dog is accident-prone, try covering the bottom with absorbent material to help minimize any mess.
Harness their energy: My dog gets anxiety when traveling in a crate. If this sounds like your pup, consider purchasing a harness that attaches to the seat belt in your car. This way they can still be safe and secure while the car is in motion, but they aren’t confined to a crate.
I like ones like this swivel seat-belt tether, that allow my dog, Milo, to both sit and lounge while in the back seat.
It’s important that your dog feel comfort. So whether you’re using a crate or a harness, I recommend putting down a familiar blanket for your dog to rest on. If you’re using a crate, you might want to try putting a small bed in it for some extra padding.
Prep your dog
Before you go...
Help them gear up for a big trip. If your dog is not used to being in the car or has anxiety when in a moving vehicle, try taking him or her on some short rides before your vacation.
Try starting with a 15 or 20-minute car ride and gradually increase the amount of time they’re in the car from there. You might even want to schedule a visit with your vet to discuss motion sickness and anti-anxiety medication.
Make sure your dog is up to date on their shots. Aside from being good for their overall health, this is important in the event you might need to board them during your journey.
Some hotels might also request current shot records. It’s also important, just in case your dog has an encounter with a wild animal like a raccoon or squirrel. You don’t want to risk exposure to rabies by letting your dog’s vaccines expire.
Don’t forget about fleas and ticks. These parasitic pests can be a problem almost anywhere you go, and their numbers increase in summer. To prevent your pet from an infestation, consider giving them some form of flea and tick prevention treatment before your trip. You can consult with your vet on the best treatment options or stop by any local pet store for supplies.
Get your dog microchipped. Even the most docile and well-mannered dogs might make a run for it when they’re in a new place. No one wants to spend their vacation looking for their loved one.
Make sure your pup is microchipped and registered with a pet recovery system like HomeAgain. Bring your tracking number with you or take a photo of it so that it’s easy to find in the event of an emergency.
Day of the trip…
Exercise your dog before you leave. Even if you’re leaving early in the morning, it pays to get up a little extra early so that you have time to exercise your dog before they get in the car. This can help them feel more relaxed and calm during the trip.
With my dog, it helps that we stick to our usual morning routine (playing fetch at the park followed by a light breakfast) before we start any road trip.
Limit food and water intake. If your dog isn’t used to long car rides, you may want to limit their food and water intake. Trying to feed your dog a few hours before the trip to prevent any accidents, just in case they get motion sickness.
Some signs of canine motion sickness include:
- Excessive yawning
- More than normal drooling
- Lip smacking
Manage their stress levels. To help your dog be stress-free while in the car, keep the temperature cool and crack the windows. You want to make sure there’s a good flow of fresh air. So, try keeping a few windows open. You can also try giving your dog their favorite toy to help keep them entertained when they’re in the car.
Music might even help. You can try Spotify’s “Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car” playlist or make your own. Chances are, if you think the tunes are calm and relaxing (my dog seems to enjoy reggae music), your dog will too.
Make sure to stop for bathroom breaks. You probably have a good idea of your dog’s schedule, but if this is their first long trip, you may want to consider a few extra rest stops.
When I drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (approximately 4 hours), I usually only stop once with my dog. He’s 11 years old, and we’ve done the journey countless times. So, use your best judgment.
Pack for your pup
Shoes. Swimsuit. Yoga pants. You’ve probably thought about everything you’re going to need on the trip.
But what about your dog? If you’re heading to a beach or camping, you’ll want to make sure you’re both prepared.
Pet packing list for what to bring for your dog:
- Collar - If you’re going to be camping or traveling to a destination where it’s not well lit at night, you might want to consider getting a collar that lights up. If they happen to run off, this will help make your dog easy to spot.
- Water - Make sure you're stocked with plenty of H2O, especially if you’re traveling on a hot day.
- Food - Always bring extra just in case your trip gets unexpectedly extended due to bad weather or a flat tire.
- Favorite toys
- Treats and/or health supplements - It’s important to keep your dog happy and healthy while traveling, and a health supplement like SmartyPaws can help. It supports good health from nose to tail - in one easy serving.
- Shot records - I like to email mine to myself so they can be easily sent to any vet or boarding facility.
- Medications - This includes medications that they might not be currently taking but that you have at home just in case an allergy or other recurring condition starts acting up.
- Poop bags
- Food and water bowls
- Sun tent or umbrella for shade
- Cooling pad or something for them to rest on to avoid hot sand or concrete, if you’re going to be at the beach or a pool.
- Grooming supplies/ toiletries - This one depends on your dog. My pitbull mix doesn’t need much grooming, but I do like to bring stuff to brush his teeth and some doggy body spray to prevent him from smelling less than fresh. However, if you have a long-haired dog, you’ll want to make sure you have a brush and other supplies with you while you’re traveling.
Now for the fun part, picking the perfect destination…
Pet-friendly places to go
Luckily, there’s an ever-growing number of pet-friendly hotels, bars, restaurants and attractions that keep popping up across the country.
Here are some resources to help you and your dog make the most of your next road trip.
Accommodations: Not a big fan of camping? Not need to ruff it. There are many other types of accommodations that allow dogs. With glamping.com you can still make the most of sleeping in nature without having to worry about pitching a tent. They offer everything from cabins to airstreams and even cottages, and many are pet-friendly.
You can also try PetsWelcome to find hotels and other pet-friendly things to do. With Airbnb.com you can look for homes with a yard to give your dog easy access to potty breaks and afternoons of lounging in the sun.
Restaurants: Don’t worry about having to leave your canine companion behind come dinner time (although, maybe that’s what doggie bags are for). With Bringfido.com you can find pet-friendly places to eat and various other dog friendly activities to do based on your location.
Wine tasting: Nothing complements a good wine like your furry bestie by your side. With corkhounds.com, you can find wineries and tasting rooms that allow dogs. We’ll raise a glass to that.
National Parks and forests: Most National Parks and National Forests allow pets in developed areas. However, each one has its own set of rules. You can check this map or the National Park Foundation’s site to see which parks and forests allow pets and any camping restrictions that might apply.
Beaches: When it’s time for fun in the sun, beach destinations are a shore thing. Check here to find dog-friendly beaches near you. Make sure you bring enough water for your dog and that he or she will have a cool spot with some shade when it’s time to rest. Here are a few more summer health tips to help your dog stay cool.
While they may not be able to take the wheel or contribute money for gas (or anything), taking a road trip with your dog is most definitely worth the drive.