dog in a car

Road trips with your dog – or dogs: What you need to know

As we integrate our four-legged companions into our families and treat them more like we would human children, more and more of us are including the fur babies in vacation and travel plans.  I have taken my canine babies on long car trips all over the United States and Canada and they’ve added a wonderfully joyous element to each trip.  Including them does, however, require some advance planning, just as taking human children would.  So, here is our list of the most important things you should do to make your road trip as enjoyable for both you and the pups.  If you want to fly somewhere with your pup, you can check out our prior articles on domestic and international airline requirements, traveling with service dogs, traveling from the UK to the US and from the UK to the EU.

Also note that most of the information here also applies to any feline babies you take along:

  1. sad dog in a carDecide who is going: Not all fur babies love to travel or do well in the car. Even though you may love to have your fur babies with you at all times – and who doesn’t?? – they may prefer to stay in the comfort and familiar environment of their own home.  So, if you do decide to leave the pup behind, the best thing you can do is find a good pet sitter to stay in your home with your fur baby while you are on the road.  Introduce the sitter to your pet a few times before you leave so that they get to know each other and your pet will feel comfortable being left with the new person.  Make sure to leave detailed written instructions for the sitter, including:

a. feeding – leave plenty of foods and, if appropriate, treats to last the duration of your absence;

b. walking/exercise – how often and where;

c. veterinary and emergency contact information;

d. information about any medical conditions your pet may have – including things like separation anxiety – along with any necessary medication and instructions for administration;

e. information about your pet’s likes and dislikes, including favorite toys, where she likes to sleep during the day and night, whether she is allowed on the furniture etc.; and

f. any restrictions on going into the yard, cautions about leaving your pup outside near the pool without supervision etc.

  1. dogs in a carCar safety and comfort: Now that you have decided who gets to go on the road trip with you, make sure your pup will ride both in comfort and safety. Take the following into consideration in deciding if you will have each pup in a crate, secure them with safety harnesses or let them ride in the back of the vehicle without restraints:

a. How long is the trip? Since it is true that most accidents happen relatively close to your home (because people tend to relax and stop paying as much attention as they get closer to home and familiar territory), it may be a good idea to use a crate or safety harness even for short road trips.

b. How large is the dog? Some large-breed dogs may not be comfortable confined in a crate for a long road trip but may be OK for a shorter ride.

c. How many dogs will be in the car? If they are not in individual crates or if you have a large crate with more than one dog in the crate, they should all be on very good terms with each other as they tend to end up together as the trip progresses and the last thing you want is a ruckus in the back seat.  It’s bad enough when the human children start to fight but they don’t generally tend to bite each other in the process.  At least most don’t…

d. Do you have a soft surface for the pup to lie down on?

e. Does your pup get car sick? If so, give your pup some Dramamine or equivalent an hour prior to departure and take some with you for longer trips.  Make sure to check with your vet to get the best motion sickness meds for your particular pup.

f. Make sure you bring a water bowl and a large bottle of water to keep your pup hydrated.

g. If you use a safety harness and/or seat boost for the small pooches, make sure they are the right size and fit for your pup and are securely fastened before you set off.

h.tiny dog in a car Try not to let your pup hang out of the window – I know, I know, they LOVE the wind in their faces – and don’t keep them on your lap when you drive. If you do get into an accident, your pup will either fly through the windshield or get crushed between you and the steering wheel/safety bag.

 3. ID: You will be going into unfamiliar territory on your road trip – even if it’s somewhere you and your pup have gone before – and he could easily get lost if you get separated. Make sure he has current identification tags on and a registered microchip so that you can quickly get reunited and ensure that your road trip doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

4. License and vaccination records: Always take a copy of your pup’s current license and vaccination record including the current rabies vaccination. This is particularly important if you are traveling between the US and Canada.  In addition, if anything unfortunate happens and your pup gets into a fracas with another animal or bites someone, you are going to need the current records to reassure the other parties that your pup is healthy. 

  1. Supplies: My pups know they are going with me on a road trip when I pull out their travel bag. I pack it with at least the following: 

a. Food – but of course. You will want to take as much of your pup’s normal food as you will need for the whole trip.  You don’t want to either have to search the stores to find his usual food or introduce new food during the trip.  As much as he may enjoy the trip, it is still an upset in the normal routine and his stomach may be more sensitive than normal so sticking to as much of the normal routine as possible is optimal.

b. Toys

c. Paper towels and regular towels for the inevitable messes

d. Plastic bags for poop scoops and other messes

e. Hair pick-up rollers and a brush

f. Medications and supplements you normally use

g. If you are going into cold weather and you have a pup who doesn’t have a nice thick coat, a sweater and/or booties.

h. Food and water bowls

i. Leash and harness

  1. dog on a bedLodging: Even though it’s much better than it used to be, not all lodgings welcome our four-legged babies.  Figure out your route and do a bit of research about lodging along the way.  Consider hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and rental homes and call ahead.  Also note that a number of the larger motel and hotel chains, including some ‘fancier’ ones, are pet-friendly.  Some do require an additional pet deposit or cleaning fee and some have size and number limits but I have traveled with up to five dogs (including my 80-pound wolf mix, my canine soul-mate Keeshond-Chow-Chow mix and my big Rhodesian mix boy) and had no problem finding nice lodging to stay in – all without breaking the bank and from one night to one month.  Take your pup for a walk before going into the room to make sure they do their business beforehand and put down a water bowl for them as soon as you settle in.

7. Potty breaks! Most of the time our fur babies travel SO much better than the human children do but even they need occasional breaks during longer road trips.  A good rule of thumb is that every time you stop (for gas or to take your own bio-break), take your pup on a short walk to let her take care of business.

8. Exercise! At least once a day, during longer road trips, find a park or high school with athletic fields (I like those because they are generally fenced) and let your pup out for a good run or saunter or mosey – whatever his speed happens to be. If you can’t find a park or school, stop in any neighborhood and take a nice long walk – it will good for you and your pup to stretch your legs.  By the way, if you do let your dog run around on an athletic field or you take a walk somewhere, make sure you clean up anything he may leave behind!

Be sure your schedule includes the extra time you will need to take care of your fur babies and you will all have a wonderful experience. So, get out there and hit the road with your favorite pup – or three – and have fun!



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