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8 Essential Tips for Car Travel with Dogs

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Planning a cross-country road trip? Whether you’re going on vacation or moving to another city, chances are you’ll want your furry best friend along for the ride! 

Some dogs love riding in the car with their owner, with the phrase “car ride” being right up there with “walk” and “treat.” For others, a car ride is a stressful, anxiety-inducing experience. 

Read on for some essential tips to make traveling with your dog as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

Tip #1: Visit the Vet

The journey to a successful road trip starts the day before you set off on your adventure. Before your trip, make a visit to the vet for a check-up and to ensure that your pup is up-to-date on all of his vaccinations. 

Tell your vet about your travel plans; if your dog is in appropriate mental and physical shape to travel, the vet will give you the green light. The vet will also be able to recommend any medications and/or supplements that could help with car sickness or travel-related anxiety.

Tip #2: Secure Your Dog Safely

When it comes to car safety and dogs, you have a few different options to choose from. The right choice can depend on a few factors, such as your dog’s size and temperament, and the amount of space you’ll have in your car. 

As much as you may want to allow Fido to hang his head out the window or sit in a passenger’s lap, this could actually be more stressful for both you and your pooch than keeping him contained in a safe, secure spot. 

Safe options for securing your dog include: 

  • Dog seat belt
  • Dog car seat
  • Back seat hammock
  • Travel crate 
  • Pet barrier 

Additionally, be sure to lock all doors and keep windows mostly up while you’re moving—you never know when a determined dog could be able to wiggle free from his car seat!

Tip #3: ID Your Dog

It’s good practice to keep ID tags on your dog at all times, but it’s extra important when you’re traveling. Check that the contact information on your dog’s ID tags is visible and up-to-date. It’s always a good idea to have your dog microchipped, too, in case he completes a successful escape attempt. 

It’s also a good idea to have a photo of your dog on hand, in case he does happen to bolt and get lost. (Fortunately, a quick scroll through any pet owner’s camera roll tends to yield seemingly endless pet pics!) 

Tip #4: Practice Positive Association

If your dog only rides in the car when he’s on the way to the vet, it’s only logical that he would have a negative association with car rides. Fortunately, this is a relatively easy fix (as long as time and patience are on your side). 

In the days, weeks, and even months leading up to your trip, take your dog for a few practice rides. Drive to favorite spots—the dog park, a fun hiking spot, or a friend’s house—so your pup can learn that being in the car isn’t always a bad thing. Don’t forget to use toys and treats to your advantage, too. 

Whether you use a dog car seat, travel crate, pet barrier, or something else, make sure Fido is secured in the same way that he will be during your road trip. 

Tip #5: Prepare a Travel Pack

In order to avoid frantically digging through various boxes and bags looking for one of your dog’s items, pack a travel pack for your dog to keep all necessities on hand. 

Your dog’s travel pack should include: 

  • Collapsible food and water bowls
  • Familiar food
  • Leash and harness
  • Poop bags
  • Favorite toys
  • Treats
  • Medications
  • Health records 

Tip #6: Avoid Carsickness

Traveling is stressful enough—no one wants to deal with a queasy stomach on top of everything else. 

As a general rule, it’s a good idea for pets to travel on an empty stomach (even if food is a source of solace) in order to avoid getting sick in the car. Depending on your travel times, this could mean taking away food the night before or skipping breakfast the morning of your trip. 

When you do feed your dog, make sure he’s eating familiar food and treats, as new food can lead to tummy troubles. Never feed your dog when the car is moving; instead, give him his meals in small portions at rest stops. 

Keep your car well-ventilated, too. If your dog will be traveling in a crate, make sure the crate is getting enough air.

Ease motion sickness and travel anxiety with Pet Honesty’s Premium Hemp Calming Chews: a tasty, non-sedating way to calm your pup while you travel. 

Tip #7: Wear Out Your Dog

As any pet owner knows, a tired dog tends to be a well-behaved dog. Plus, excess energy can lead to stress and anxiety, so it’s a good idea to help your dog get rid of some of that nervous energy before he gets in the car for hours at a time. 

If possible, take your dog for a walk right before you set off on your trip (and encourage your pooch to finish all of his bathroom duties). 

When you’re in the car, make sure your pup has access to stimulating toys to keep him busy—but try to limit stretches in the car to 2-3 hours at a time. 

When you stop at a gas station or rest stop, let your dog romp around for a bit for some stretching, exercise, and playtime. This is also a great time for the two of you to spend a few reassuring bonding moments together, letting your dog know that you’re sticking around even if the environment changes. 

If you’re lucky, your worn-out dog will spend a decent amount of his time in the car sleeping peacefully! 

Tip #8: Stay Safe at Rest Stops

Since you’ll ideally be stopping every 2-3 hours while traveling with your dog, you’ll want to have a pretty clear protocol when it comes to gas stations and rest stops. 

High-traffic rest stops can be incredibly stressful for your dog—especially if he’s gotten somewhat used to the quietness of the car ride. If possible, try to park far away from other cars and people (ideally, near a grassy area). Unless your dog is secured on his leash and away from moving vehicles, he should be kept in the car at all times. 

Additionally, never leave your dog alone in the car, even if just for a few minutes. If you need to stop for food, choose a dog-friendly restaurant or opt for an outdoor picnic so you and Fido can stick together.