A Complete Guide to Road Trips with Your Dog

dog wearing sunglasses
dog wearing sunglasses
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So, you are planning a road trip, but you don’t want to leave your four-legged, best friend behind? Not a problem! Today, there are plenty of ways to have an epic road trip filled with fun activities for you and your pet. Use these tips as a guide to a dog-friendly road trip, from dog essentials for the car to planning destinations that will welcome your pup.

Things to Consider When Traveling with A Pet

A cross-country road trip with pets may not sound ideal for every dog, unless you are planning to travel in a spacious RV. Some dogs are naturals in the car – they wag their tails and run to the door as soon as they hear “car ride,” and have been going along for the ride since they were little pups. Others, however, do not do well in the car and may experience anxiety and nausea. There are ways to help this, but regardless, your road trip will need to be tailored to keep your pet happy and healthy on the road. Here are a few things to consider when traveling with a pet:

  • You will need to stop frequently for regular breaks. Dogs need access to food, a drink of water, exercise, and plenty of potty breaks on the road.
  • Think about how long your dog will be in the car at a time throughout the trip. He or she may not need a bathroom break as often as kids, but they do need to stretch their legs and should also be offered water roughly every two to four hours for longer trips. 
  • Consider feedings as well. If your dog gets nauseous in the car it may be better to feed at the end of the day when you stop driving or a few hours before the trip. This will allow plenty of time for digestion and discourage vomiting from motion sickness.
  • For longer road trips, make sure that your dog will get at least one stop daily with significant exercise. Maybe find a dog park, go for a long walk, or play fetch for a little while. This will also encourage rest and sleep, and keep them from stirring restlessly in the car.

How to Prepare Your Pet Before a Road Trip 

  • Stop at the vet beforehand for any medications that your pet may need on the road. It is also important to carry copies of medical and vaccination records in the car in case you need to stop at another vet’s office along the way.
  • Practice ahead of time with shorter, local drives if you have a new puppy or dog who isn’t used to the car. Don’t wait until your long-distance travels to introduce your dog to the car. 
  • For dogs who are still uneasy on the road, try training by positive reinforcement with treats. Offering a treat or reward for being in the car may reduce the dog’s association with stress and anxiety.
  • Call dog-friendly hotels ahead of time to learn about policies and fees. Just because a hotel welcomes dogs, doesn’t mean that there are not hefty fees, or weight and breed restrictions.
  • Before leaving, create a safe, comfortable space just for your dog, whether in a car-safe crate in the trunk of an SUV, rear seat, or middle seat. This dedicated space should allow movement for your dog to stand or lay down.
  • Assemble the dog seat belt or harness before you need to leave to make sure everything is adjusted properly. For safety, it should not be assembled in a rush on the way out the door.
road trip with dog at lake Powell in Utah

Planning A Dog-Friendly Route 

  • Find dog-friendly activities and incorporate them into your driving route, including hotels, dog parks, or restaurants. Plan ahead using resources like BringFido.com to scope out the best dog-friendly spots that will welcome your furry friend.
  • Book a dog-friendly hotel or Airbnb for overnight stays well in advance. Pet-friendly hotels are easier to come by these days as more people travel with dogs, but they may be harder to find depending on the destination.
  • Incorporate a hiking trip into your adventure and find a few miles of trails to burn off some energy. It will be good for the whole family to stretch their legs. Find a lakefront trail with scenic spots, wooded trails, or mountain tops as a change of scenery from the road.
  • Remember that many National Parks are not dog-friendly, which may change your plans for sight-seeing or hiking adventures. Check state park websites or AllTrails for dog-friendly trails.

Calming Anxiety on the Road 

  • For dogs who are less comfortable on the road, consider having one passenger sit in the back seat or nearby for comfort. Being alone for a long period of time in the car may only worsen anxiety.
  • Pack familiar items just like you would for a child. Bring a blanket or toy from home and keep it near your dog’s space in the car.
  • Hemp and CBD treats or drops can calm a nervous pet in the car. Always check with a vet if you are unsure about your pet’s reaction to these natural treatments. 
  • Check with your vet for safe medications if your dog is prone to extreme nausea or anxiety.  The vet may advise if it is safe to use Benadryl, Xanax, or a sedative, and what dosage amounts are safe for your dog’s size. 

Safety for Your Dog in the Car 

  • Find the safest spot in the car for your dog and prepare for the worst in case of an accident. Smaller dogs may do best in a booster seat with a harness, mid-sized dogs may do better on the floor of the back seats, and large dogs may have to fit in the hatch or truck depending on the car.
  • Purchase a seatbelt for your dog or car-safe crate in the back. Pups should not have the ability to roam free in the car or be able to stick their head out of the window.
  • Check the weather before you leave and prepare for the worst if your car breaks down or you need to stop for an extended period of time. Pack a blanket for extra warmth in cold weather, extra water for warm days, and pull over in shady spots whenever you can. 

Packing List: Travel Essentials for Your Dog

  • Poop bags – Always bring more than you need! Try these compostable poop bags to reduce your eco-footprint while you travel.
  • Portable water bowl and food bowl – For a space saver, try something like this silicone collapsible tray.
  • Bottled water – You may not always have access to water on the go, so pack extra bottles of water to keep your dog hydrated until you can get to the nearest water hookup. Some travel water bottles for dogs even double as a bowl that reduces water waste.
  • Collapsible crate – If your dog is crate trained and is used to sleeping in a crate at night, bring one along. Pack a collapsible crate for hotel stays to make their bed feel as close to home as possible. This one comes in many size.
  • Food – Pack for enough portions during the trip and then some. Find a wellness pet food that won’t upset your dog’s stomach in the car. Consider a highly-rated, grain-free, all-natural dog food, and make sure that the dog is familiar with the food for days before the trip.
  • Car seat cover – This item is especially important if your dog sheds heavily. A car seat cover will also keep your seats from getting dirty after your dog walks along dusty or muddy hiking trails, or after your dog steps in wet snow or puddles.
  • Vehicle barrier  – Install a vehicle barrier if your dog will be traveling in the back of the car. This can keep them contained in the event of an accident.
  • Dog seat belt – A Secure your pet if they are sitting on a seat
road trip with dog in Oklahoma

Final Tips for a Perfect Road Trip 

  • Pay attention to your pet and listen to their needs. If they are panting, offer a bowl of water frequently.  If they are whining or stirring around, it’s better to stop more often than you planned to see if they need to go to the bathroom than find out the hard way.
  • Bathroom emergencies are common if your dog is stressed, nauseous, or on a new medication.  Bring cleaning products in case of messes and make sure the surface that your pup is laying on is easy to clean. Pack a blanket that you don’t mind throwing away if your dog is sick.
  • Bring plenty of water and food and schedule meal times for your pet strategically, either at the beginning of a long driving break or at the end of a travel day. 
  • If your dog has severe anxiety and is not ready for a long journey on the road by the time your travel dates arrive, plan an alternative option. Maybe your pet will be happier staying with a familiar friend or relative than joining you for the ride. Sometimes, forcing an animal to stay in the car can increase their stress, so make sure your pup is ready to travel and ultimately choose the best option for you both.

Other Road Trip Tips:

Complete Guide to Visiting the Grand Canyon with Kids

25 Road Trip Essentials for Kids

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