Driving With Dogs: Road Trip Tips To Keep Your Pup Safe And Happy

driving with dogs, golden retriever riding shotgun

(Picture Credit: JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

For some dogs, a car ride is one of life’s happy experiences — almost as good as a roll in dead squirrel. For others, it’s a nerve-wracking ordeal that leaves them shivering and tense. What makes the difference?

Let’s put it this way: If the destination is always the vet’s office, your dog probably isn’t going to enjoy whatever gets them there. But if the car also takes them to parks, beaches, and on shopping expeditions, well, then, cars rock.

If you want to make sure a road trip will be as awesome and stress-free as possible for your pup, then there are a few tips you should follow. Here are some suggestions for making a drive fun — and safe — for your dog.

What To Pack

If your dog is tagging along for your road trip, you’ll need to bring along a few essentials. You should be prepared to handle messes and provide your dog with everything they’ll need during your journey.

Here are a few items you should pack:

  • Paper towels, stain and odor remover, and anything else you need to clean up after any accidents
  • Plenty of poop bags
  • A bowl, water, and some treats
  • A safety harness, crate, or barrier
  • Seat covers (an old sheet with plastic bags underneath works in a pinch) if you want to protect your car from stains and hair

Get Your Dog Used To The Car From The Get-Go

Two sisters taking a taxi ride with a poodle dog, returning from shopping with shopping bags.

(Picture Credit: South_agency/Getty Images)

The most important pointer is to make driving in a car a pleasant experience from the moment you start spending time together. Many vets recommend you drive your new pet home, rather than pack them in a crate and fly them there, because it’s far less stressful on your dog.

If you’re just bringing your dog home for the first time, ask a family member to come along so they can sit next to your puppy or dog, cuddle them, and offer reassurance that they’ll survive this first trip.

Within the first days of being home, take your dog somewhere fun in the car — to a park or a dog beach — so they start immediately associating the car with good things. Make sure you make each trip pleasant; don’t play the music too loudly, talk to them if they seem nervous, and make sure they’re comfortably settled.

Tips For A Pleasant Trip

Treat car sickness. If simple motion sickness is the cause, ask your vet about anti-nausea medications. If nervousness from being in the car is the culprit, try having your dog sit in the car without going anywhere, providing plenty of praise and treats; then practice taking short trips that end someplace fun.

Bring your dog’s usual food on long trips. A sudden switch can upset your dog’s stomach, which is not what you want when you’re stuck in the car together.

Try not to feed your dog right before you leave or when you’re on the road. A dog with a full tummy and a car in motion can be a bad combination. Aim for a mealtime three to four hours before you leave, and if you need to feed them on the road, make a pit stop.

Take along bedding and toys from home for longer trips. They can comfort your dog when their usual routine is disrupted.

Safety On The Road

(Picture Credit: Joseph Rovira / EyeEm/Getty Images)

Use a safety harness, barrier, or crate to restrain your dog. If you use a crate, secure it so it doesn’t slide around the car.

Some people think this is a bit obsessive, but think about what happens if you brake suddenly or crash. A restraint will:

  • Protect your dog by keeping them from hitting the windshield or flying out of the car
  • Protect you and your passengers from being hit by a flying dog
  • Prevent the pile-up that could ensue if your dog flies out of the car and onto the road

At the very least, keep dogs out of the front seat, and definitely out of your lap. Not only can they distract you and cause an accident, but small pups can be killed by a deployed air bag.

Don’t let your dog ride in the back of an open truck or hang their head out the window. It’s too easy for a dog to jump or fall out of a truck bed. And even sniffing the breeze from an open window can lead to a vet visit if a pebble or something from the road is kicked up into your dog’s eye.

Safety Off The Road

Don’t leave your dog in the car alone on cold or hot or even just warm days. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car hits 102 degrees within ten minutes, even with the windows cracked open. Just 15 minutes in a hot car can lead to brain damage. And dogs can, and do, freeze to death when left alone in cars in winter.

Bottom line: Cars are one of the best ways to hit the road with your dog. With a few safety precautions and some advance preparation to prevent car ride anxiety and stomach upset, you’ll both be much more likely to enjoy the road trip.

Do you take your dog for rides in the car? How do you keep them safe and happy on road trips? Let us know in the comments below!