Tips For Car Travel With Dogs

Tips for Car Travel with Dogs

Car travel with a dog is likely a foregone conclusion if you count yourself among the roughly 60 percent of Americans who view the family dog as a bona fide family member. Anticipating his travel needs and thoughtfully preparing for them can help divert problems on a road trip with your dog before they happen. We’re here to help with handy tips for traveling by car with your beloved canine, brimful of advice for the most dogged road warrior and the novice alike. We want to help make traveling with your dog a smooth sailing success.

I. Properly Identify Your Dog For Travel

Your dog needs proper I.D. at home and when he travels with you. Redundant systems are a good thing: put critical information on his I.D. tags and personalize his dog collar with his name and your cell phone number. And microchipping your dog is always an excellent backup strategy. The idea that he’d bolt at a rest area (or at the beach or on a forested trail) is unthinkable. Best to be prepared: identifying your pet improves the likelihood of his safe return home to you should the unthinkable happen.

Quick Tip: Travel with Your Dog’s Photo

Always travel with a photo of your dog in case you need to make posters or fliers. And bring a copy of his vaccination records and a certificate of health if you’re crossing state lines with him; consult your veterinarian for these documents.

II. Bring Essential Dog Gear For Car Travel

Packing a few essential items for traveling with your dog, can mean the difference between an easy, enjoyable trip and a struggle.

  • Food, Water, & Bowl Always keep fresh bottled water and a travel bowl in the car, and try to keep your dog on his regular feeding schedule if possible. When you pack his kibble, measure only what you need for the trip so you don’t overfeed him. If he’s an opportunist, secure his food in a place he can’t reach while you’re driving—a plastic bin with a tight lid, for example. And if he’s prone to canine carsickness, avoid feeding him a big meal before you hit the road.
  • A Spare Dog Leash and Collar Pack an extra of each, and personalize his spare collar.
  • A Canine First Aid Kit You may never need it, but it could buy you some time in an emergency or save you a trip to the vet for a minor problem. And don’t forget his prescription meds; use a pill dispenser just like yours to apportion what he’ll need for the trip.
  • Veterinary Contact Information Be prepared for dog emergencies; pack contact information for vets in your destination city or town.

Quick Tip: Freeze Your Dog’s Water for Car Travel

If you’re traveling in the heat, freeze his water ahead of the trip so it’s cool when he needs it. And if he’s reluctant to drink on the road (some dogs refuse), hydrate him liberally the day before you go. Encourage his thirst with peanut butter treats.

III. Keep Your Dog Comfortable While Traveling

  • Bring his dog bed if it fits comfortably in the car, or at least include a familiar blanket or something else that smells reassuring to him.
  • Regulate the car temperature. Even if the air is on full tilt and it feels great in the driver’s seat, the sun may be belting your dog where he’s sitting. Use suction cup window shades if he’ll be riding in direct sunlight for long periods.
  • Give him adequate breaks. Stop at least every few hours, and by all means honor your dog’s request if he’s telling you he’s got to go. Frequent breaks are good for you, too—it never hurts to stretch and grab some coffee to stay alert.
  • Pack your dog’s favorite toys. Switch them up to keep him stimulated on long car rides. And the familiar smell of his plush toys in particular will help minimize dog travel anxiety.
  • Bring his favorite dog treats and give him a few from time to time. And smaller treats given at well-timed intervals in lieu of a large meal before travel will help keep a dog who is prone to carsickness sated enough for comfort over the long haul.
  • Use a backseat extender for a large dog to give him more wiggle room in a small car. This is a bolster that fits in your car’s rear seat wells and creates more surface area for your dog to comfortably stretch out on long trips.

IV. Choose And Use A Dog Restraint In The Car

The car harness is far and away the best dog restraint system to use when you travel with your dog; it works with the car’s seatbelt system, using a tether that loops around the belt on one end and clips to the dog harness on the other. Your dog retains the freedom to move around some, but stays secured to the seat.

Whichever restraint method you choose, never place your dog in the front seat or allow him to stand on the console between the driver and front passenger seats: a dog can be hurt or killed by an airbag, or thrown through a car’s windshield as easily as an unrestrained human.

V. Keep Your Dog And Your Car Clean During Travel

Start with a stem-to-stern detailing before you go. Then use these strategies to maintain your car’s interior and keep your dog clean while you’re traveling:

  • Use protective seat covers or a rear seat hammock. Seat covers safeguard all kinds of upholstery from dog hair, dirt, and unmentionables, and protect leather upholstery in particular from sharp doggy claws.
  • Treat cloth seats with fabric guard as an extra line of defense before you install seat covers.
  • Place a clear, removable plastic coating on your car’s windows if the doggy drool bothers you, or make your peace with it and use window cleaner as needed.
  • Bring dog shampoo and grooming supplies for bathing your dog during your trip. And keep small, moist towels or wipes in the car to clean his muddy paws and belly, or to wipe toxic de-icing chemicals from his pads if you travel in the winter.

Quick Tip: Pack Cleaning Supplies for Dog Messes

Include rubber gloves, paper towels, multi-purpose cleaner, and garbage bags. Old towels are a good idea, too, and come in handy for all kinds of uses you may not have anticipated.

Road tripping with your dog or dogs can be challenging but need not be hellish. He wants to go with you and probably made this known the instant you pulled out the suitcases. Make the car trip safe and comfortable for your dog and for yourself and other passengers with preparedness and patience. Expect the unexpected: invoke the “ounce of prevention” wisdom and keep it in play during the trip. And the more often you bring him with you, the more seasoned you’ll both become at car travel together. Above all, enjoy the journey.