Last Updated on April 30, 2023

When traveling with a dog, there are many considerations to keep in mind you otherwise wouldn’t need to. With more and more travelers bringing pets along with them, the tourism industry has made extraordinary strides to accommodate man and man’s best friend when compared to a generation ago. In that spirit, we offer these tips for car travel with dogs.

If you plan to road-trip with your dog in tow, use these five tips to help make your journey a smooth one.

Prepare Your Dog for Spending Time in the Car

If your pup hasn’t spent much time in the car, it’s a good idea to start by taking them for shorter rides leading up to your planned road trip. Taking them places that are fun for them, such as a dog park, a hiking trail, or a walk around the park, will encourage them to want to easily get in the car and go. 

As you gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends in the car, you will also discover if they are prone to motion sickness. Some dogs don’t tolerate the bumps along the road as well as others. Talk to your vet about motion sickness medication and the proper dosage for your furry friend. 

Plan Your Rest Stops Ahead of Time 

On average, you should plan to stop every couple of hours to let your dog out to go to the bathroom, stretch their legs, and simply just sniff around. If your dog is young, you may need to stop more frequently. A good idea is to utilize Interstate rest areas along your chosen route. Most have designated pet areas, easy parking, and facilities for humans, too.  

Don’t forget to pack the poop bags. Some rest areas might stock them, but we have found the boxes to be empty more often than not. 

Always keep your dog on a leash. Road noise and other dogs can be scary, making your dog want to run away. 

If you have decided to take back roads, use your Google tools to help you decide where to stop. First, map out your destination in two-hour blocks (or close to it). Second, take a look at that area or town on Google Maps to see if there are any parks, memorial sights, or churches nearby. (Church parking lots can be the perfect spot because they are typically empty most days of the week.) 

You can also ‘Google drive’ the stretch of road from your computer using Google Street View to look for open fields or parking areas with grassy spots where you can walk the dog. Having an idea of where you can stop ahead of time takes the stress out of trying to find a place when Fido has to go! 

Always Bring Water and Dog Bowls Along

Each time you stop for a potty break, offer your dog some water. Dogs are prone to dehydration, even when the weather isn’t hot.

Some dogs do not like to drink while on the road because of distractions–all of the new sights, sounds, and smells. If this is the case, think about packing some ice cubes for your dog to munch on instead. Most dogs love to chew a small piece of ice like a treat. 

Using a refillable container for their water is the best option. Most are insulated so the water stays cool, and it allows for an easy refill at a rest area if necessary.

My favorite refillable water container is made by RTIC. Their one-gallon stainless, refillable jug runs to about $40 and is perfect for road tripping, camping, or even backpacking with your pups. The wide mouth at the top makes it easy to fill with water or ice cubes. 

Keep an Up-To-Date Record of Vaccinations in the Car

Each time you visit your vet, remember to ask them to print out a vaccination record for you, then tuck it into the glovebox of your car. I’ve had it happen to me before…you show up at a pet-friendly hotel or campground to check-in, and they ask to see a vaccination record for your pet. 

Rather than being caught off guard, then scrambling to call your vet to see if they can email or fax a copy so you can complete your check-in, have one handy at all times in the console or glovebox of your vehicle. This tip has saved me from having to leave and try to find another place to stay on more than one occasion. 

Bring Familiar Blankets, Dog Beds, and Toys on the Journey

Traveling to new places can be stressful on pets, and long car rides can add to that stress. Making the pet area in your car as familiar as possible by using their at-home creature comforts eases the stress level and helps to calm them during the ride. 

When you arrive at your destination, attempt to set up their sleep area in a similar way to what they are used to at home. Plan for an adjustment period. Most dogs will settle into their new “home away from home” in a day or two. 

Several hotel chains, Airbnb rentals, and camping cabins are pet friendly, making it possible to bring your four-legged family members as well. (Note: Always check for breed or weight restrictions before booking.)

Traveling with dogs sometimes takes a lot of trial and error. Plan for the possibility that it will not go perfectly the first time out. Remember that if you are stressed out, your dog will pick up on that emotion and become stressed as well. If you make the drive an adventure in and of itself, you are more likely to have smooth sailing and a happy fur-friend, too.

Author

  • Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill

    Colleen O'Neill Mulvihill is a retired career firefighter, certified holistic nutrition consultant, and certified health coach who has also become an avid travel writer. She is a wellness-travel seeker who enjoys sharing mind, body, and soul experiences along with holistic and healthy travel tips on her website and blog.