how to have a safe car trip with dogs
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How To Have A Safe Road Trip With A Dog: Mega Tips

Thinking about taking a road trip with a dog? We love taking our Cocker Spaniels on road trips. Over the past 30 years, my spouse and I have traveled cross country with our dogs. We also enjoy traveling by car with our dogs for day trips, weekend excursions, and general outings.

Not all dogs like to travel by car. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your dog have a safe road trip. If your dog doesn’t like car travel, never force him to do so. You and your passengers will have a safer, happier, and more pleasurable road trip if your dog is fond of travel.

I’ll show you how to avoid the dangers of car travel with dogs, what items are must-haves for dog car trips, and the best products to take along for a smooth ride.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I am also a Chewy affiliate.

Checklist For A Safe Road Trip With A Dog

Everyone’s got a list of what to take along, but very few “experts” tell you what you really need. I’ve been traveling with dogs for decades, so we’ve been through it all and seen it all when it comes to canine road-tripping.

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or just starting out on road trips with dogs, here’s our checklist of items to take along followed by the best products and sage advice:

  1. Crate or Sleepypod ClickIt Sport Dog Car Harness to keep your dog safe en route
  2. Fresh water from home (or a case of water)
  3. In-car bowls such as BPA-free collapsible water bowls and food bowls
  4. Comfortable dog blanket to lay on or nest on
  5. Dog treats
  6. Medications
  7. Comfy bed to place in his crate
  8. Updated name tag
  9. Extra leash and collar (our favorites are Lupine leashes and Lupine collars)
  10. Pet first aid kit
  11. Emergency contact numbers and locations of emergency vets in the area to which you are traveling
  12. Current veterinary records
  13. Dogminder that we authored for under $10 bucks on Amazon
  14. Dog poop bags – once you try Earth Rated dog poop bags, you’ll never use anything else
  15. Flea and tick preventatives – we prefer safer, non-chemical flea and tick preventatives
  16. Any blankets or items you plan to use at your destination (dog bed, furniture covers, etc)
  17. Dog toys
  18. Anxiety or motion sickness supplement(s) or calming vest – discuss with your veterinarian ahead of time
  19. Seat cover if desired
  20. Paw protection such as Musher’s Secret or Pawz booties.
  21. Tick key to remove nasty ticks
  22. Waterless dog shampoo for those unplanned messy moments
  23. Doggles to protect your pup’s eyes (with a period of adjustment)
  24. Zymox Oratene brushless oral gel for teeth
  25. Plug some numbers into your phone: Poison Control, your local veterinarian

Don’t Let Your Dog Ride Shotgun

The idea of your dog riding in the passenger seat as you travel the open highway, hair blowing in the wind with dog ears flapping along is a beautiful image. If unrestrained, a 10-pound dog will exert about 500 pounds of force in a collision at 30 MPH. An 80-pound dog will exert around 2,400 pounds of force under the same conditions, according to Kurgo.

Don’t allow your dog to sit in the passenger seat of your car even with a canine restraint on. Although there are videos and memes galore in support of dogs riding shotgun, you gamble with your dog’s precious life. Just don’t do it.

Best Safety Harness For Dogs In Cars

We’ve been using and recommending the Sleepypod Clickit Sport Bundle Edition.

Certified by the Center for Pet Safety for dogs from 18 to 90 pounds, it is easy to put on and easy to use. The patented design reduces and distributes harmful forces in the event of a collision.

Dogs differ in size and shape, just like humans. Check the sizing guide for more information The bundle includes the Clickit Sport Dog Harness, S-CLIP, and Buckle Shield. Available in several colors.

Sleepypod car harness for dogs on road trips

Best Carriers and Crates For Dogs in Cars

It really depends on the size of your dog and the size of your vehicle. The Center for Pet Safety performed a Crash Worthiness Study a few years ago. Some of the carriers and crates tested and recommended at that time included:

Allowing Your Dog To Ride On Your Lap

I confess to being guilty of this one on an occasional basis. When both my Brandy and Dexter were alive, I sometimes allowed them to sit on my lap while my spouse drove. I only allowed this for quick trips, but accidents can happen so I changed. When you know better, you do better.

If you are the driver, please don’t allow your dog to sit on your lap. In many states, you are breaking the law in doing so. Over at Orvis.com they have a listing of laws by state and the laws in general on this topic. Considered distracted driving, you may get a ticket in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island for driving with a dog in your lap.

Think about the dog in the passenger’s lap and what would happen if you slam on the brakes or get rear-ended. The airbags will deploy and the outcome isn’t good for your dog.

Safest Pet Car Seat

If your dog is unable to use a car restraint, crate, or kennel, consider a dog car seat. For dogs up to 30 pounds, this rear-facing pet bed cushions and protects your dog on impact.

The PupSaver Crash-Tested Car Safety Seat is comfortable and versatile.

dog car seat for traveling

Using An Inferior Back Seat Restraint

“I thought I bought a reliable safety harness for my dog, Maggie. I was driving Virginia I-66 during the morning rush hour. A car cut in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes. Maggie was screaming in pain.  I discovered the harness tether had wrapped around her back legs and she was thrown and hit the back of the front seat. She was hurting and scared and I couldn’t get to her fast enough.” 

This is a direct quote from Lindsay A. Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety.

Just because a product such as a harness or restraint claims they did a crash test does not mean it actually passed crash testing. The “pass” title is very subjective and manufacturers want you to think they have gone through rigorous due diligence. In most cases, they have not.

Learn how to pick a restraint car harness for your dog and how to get them used to it.

Take Plenty of Food and Water For Road Trips

Dogs can get digestive upset from a change in water. If your pup is used to the water from home and suddenly drinks from a different source, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and gastric distress may result. We always take bottled water from home or buy cases of our favorite bottled water that our dog drinks at home.

I cannot stress this enough: Regular meals with a regular diet and plenty of hydration are keys to a successful road trip. My dog takes a day or so to get used to a road trip and feeding times when we travel together.

Resist the temptation to change foods or add some human food. Again, the key is digestive continuity and not tummy upset. Again, I’ve been there, done that, and you risk dehydration if a dog gets traveler’s diarrhea.

Dr Harvey's Oracle dog food

We feed Dr. Harvey’s food as part of our rotational diet at home. When we travel, we use Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl where you add warm water, a protein, your favorite oil like an Omega fish oil capsule, and you have an instant meal.

I keep them in a cooler or in a warm/cold-lined tote bag. For easier prep, we love Dr. Harvey’s Oracle dog food. Simply add warm water, wait a few minutes, and you have a full meal for your dog.

I love that meat is the first ingredient and we can transport it easily. Oracle is also available in beef. You can try a free sample and just pay for shipping. Snag some Dr. Harvey’s free samples.

My Favorite Dog Travel Water Bottle For Road Trips

S’well’s 25-ounce stainless steel water bottle has served us well for over a decade. It is insulated with a copper wall layer to eliminate condensation. Best of all, the water stays cold for up to 54 hours. We left the bottle in the car overnight, and the next day it was still cold!

Choose from many styles and designs from S’well.

Never Leave Your Dog Alone In the Car

Dogs should never be left alone in a car for a variety of reasons: sweltering heat, freezing cold, or even theft. Many dogs are stolen from cars as they longingly and innocently wait for their pet parent(s) to return.

It happened in my hometown a few years ago with two big dogs who waited in the car while their dad ran a quick errand in the mall. The dogs were not small. Someone busted the window and took off with the dogs.

Pet Safety Crusader, Denise Fleck, says, “Pets don’t sweat to regulate their body temperatures (normally 100.0°F – 102.5°F).  They release heat through their tongue, nose, and footpads.  Dogs pant to exchange cooler outside air with the warm humid air in their lungs while cats don’t usually pant until they are overwhelmed by the heat.  If the outside air isn’t cooler than an animal’s body temperature, the animal can succumb to heatstroke.”

According to AnimalLaw.com, 28 states have laws that either prohibit leaving an animal in a confined vehicle under dangerous conditions or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle.

You cannot automatically break a car window to help a dog in distress as much as this is what most of us want to do. Be sure to know the laws in your state, and often times, in your county or town. Here is a list of state laws to protect animals left in parked vehicles from AnimalLaw.com.

Problem Solver: Use the drive-up window if you are going to a restaurant. In our situation, one of us goes in the store while the other stays with the dog in air-conditioned (or heated) comfort. We also check out pet-friendly stores.

If you see something, say something. At the very least, please do not let a dog suffer. Go into the store, ask for an announcement to be made, call 911.

Download this Hot Car Fatalities are Preventable reminder for Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to share on your social networking profiles.

dog on road trip

Dog Sticking His Head Out the Car Window

I know it is cute and I know many people do it, but it is super dangerous and one of the biggest dangers of road tripping with a dog.

Not only is your dog exposed to dirt, rocks, debris, and whatever else is in the air and on the road, but a sudden stop can propel your dog out of a window. Sensitive ear flaps can get damaged and excited dogs may even leap from a window. A recent situation occurred in Colorado where a dog literally jumped from a window. We kid you not, see?

how to have a safe road trip with a dog

Where to Take Road Trip Potty Breaks

Some dogs just won’t pee on anything except a grassy surface. What is a road warrior to do when it comes to bathroom options away from home?

Accustom your dog to urinating on a variety of surfaces, including grass, gravel, rocks, wood chips, and cement. From experience, there is no greater road trip joy than a rainy day, a slab of concrete and a code word to initiate the process (e.g., “Go, go, go!”). On future walks/pit stops, reinforce with the code word as your dog realizes these are its stomping (and marking) grounds for the time being.

Problem Solver: Use the above tips. Once you are at your destination, accidents are bound to happen, so packing piddle/training pads in a roaming bag makes for a must-have travel item.

Also handy to have: paw wipes, a pet-safe enzymatic odor and stain remover, and plenty of paper towels to blot.

Hotels and bed and breakfasts appreciate when we clean up after our dogs. Good manners mean people and their dogs get invited back and pet policies remain open. ALWAYS stop every two to three hours to allow your dog to relieve himself and stretch his paws. You and your dog should both move around a bit. Be sure to reward your dog with easy-to-pack treats.

Doggy Traveler’s Diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea happens to people and pets. Be careful about what your dog eats and drinks while traveling. Never let your dog drink from a pond, pool, puddle, lake, or any other body of water. Fresh water means the water your dog is accustomed to. If the dog’s gums are dry and appear tacky, then your dog may be dehydrated. Always seek veterinary care. If it gets worse, your dog’s electrolytes can be imbalanced and your dog can get very ill very fast.

Problem Solver: Avoid sudden changes in food and water when traveling with your dog. Resist the temptation to feed table scraps on vacation or during road trips.

One of the items we always have on hand for road trips is Runs Be Done from Dr. Harvey’s. You simply mix it with your dog’s food, dosed according to the dog’s weight. The ingredients are simple: Pumpkin, Calcium Bentonite Montmorillonite Clay, Slippery Elm Bark, Apple Pectin, Ginger, Plantain, Marshmallow Root, Fennel, Banana, and Chamomile.

For us, it has helped with loose stools and diarrhea, especially when traveling. We went to a conference where someone gave our dog some table scraps and didn’t tell us. Later that night, I was very grateful to have Runs Be Done on hand so we weren’t seeking a vet at 2 a.m. in a strange city. Speaking of which….

road trip with a dog diarrhea solution

Where To Find A Veterinarian During Road Trips

There is nothing worse (well almost nothing worse) than a sick dog in a strange city. I never second guess myself if my dog needs immediate veterinary care. Finding a vet who will take patients from out of town need not be challenging.

When planning a trip, use the Internet to find emergency veterinary clinics/hospitals for the area(s) you are visiting or stopping in. Always carry your dog’s medical records, whether something you can access online or via a USB drive or good ole fashioned paper records.

Pro Tip: Keep all of your dog’s records, medication list, and much more in the DogMinder we developed for dog moms and dads on the go.

Know all of your dog’s medications and even better, take them all with you since you are traveling. I keep my dog’s veterinary information (contact number) in my phone so I have that handy.

do not let dogs ride in the back of a truck
Please DON’T do this.

Dogs Riding in a Truck Bed

It breaks my heart when I see this in action. Dogs riding in the cargo area, or truck bed, such as in the back of a pickup truck, can be seriously injured in a variety of ways. Debris flying, they can try to jump, they can strangle themselves, and the weather is another factor.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), injuries resulting from vehicular strikes, truck bed injuries tend to be severe and multiple and include fractures and abrasions. Many states have banned traveling with dogs in the truck bed or require they be secured, others have legislation pending. Uncovered truck beds expose dogs to heated metal, the sun, the wind, flying objects and junk, and shifting loads can cause serious harm to the dog.

Problem Solver: Don’t allow your dog to ride in a truck bed. There are laws against it and other legal ramifications. Animal Laws explain what you can do about the transport of dogs in truck beds.

Road Trip Sunburn And Dog

Like people, dogs can get sunburned. The folks at petMD say yes, you should put canine-safe sunscreen on your dog. 

“It’s actually very important to put sunscreen on dogs, especially those with light skin and white fur or hair,” says Richard Goldstein, DVM, and chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.”

NEVER put any product with zinc oxide on your dog. Ingesting or absorbing zinc oxide can cause hemolytic anemia. You don’t want that. NEVER put anything with PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) on your dog.

Pro Tip: Never apply sunscreen near the eyes. Test it on a small part of the body to be sure your dog is not allergic to it.

White dogs with darker skin and thicker coats are more likely to burn than other dogs says petMD. Consider the use of sunscreen on your dog and always provide a shady spot.

We use car shades when traveling and have a portable pop-up sun umbrella for pit stops at rest areas and for picnics, beaches, etc. The worst time for sun exposure is between 10 am and 4 pm.

Cranking the Music On Road Trips

Dogs have very sensitive ears. They hear a frequency range of 40 to 60,000 Hz while a human range is between 20 and 20,000 Hz.

Because of this, dogs have a difficult time with very loud noises.  Blasting the music in the car can really hurt your dog’s delicate eardrums. Sounds that may be acceptable to you can be uncomfortable to a dog.

Problem Solver: Turn the speakers off in the back of the car. Keep the volume at a normal level that won’t cause your dog to lose his mind…and potentially damage his hearing.

Sleepypod bag to take for dog on road trips

Pack Your Dog’s Travel Gear In One Bag

Our favorite dog travel bag is the Sleepypod Go Bag in strawberry red. Make road trips easier with two mini packing cubes and an insulated food pouch. The front pocket has plenty of room for waste bags, collapsible bowls, and more. The tapered profile and cross-body design are streamlined and fashionable. Best of all, the luggage-grade exterior makes it easy to clean and resists tears and stains.

Bonus Traveling With Dogs By Car Video

Get more spot-on dog travel tips in this helpful video featuring Fidose of Reality and our experienced dog traveling pal, The Graffiti Dog, for lots of tips to keep your dog happy, healthy, and road ready:

YOUR TURN

Do you ever go on road trips with your dog(s)? Where have you traveled? Share in the comments below.

Dog car travel dangers

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10 Comments

  1. I haven’t ever travelled far with my dogs. I have taken them in the bus or for a short car ride to the vet. I don’t think I would take them to a road trip, just because I think dogs don’t necessarily understand cars and they should be out and about. But loved reading this article because I tend to see a lot of dogs in cars these days and I always wonder if that’s good or not!

  2. Great article!

    We always have to take care of our lovely companions and predict the potentially unpleasant situations that they could get into by both our actions and our inactions. Car safety is very high on the list of things to take care of, as for us humans so for our pets.

  3. One thing that wasn’t addressed is the dilemma of a solo human who needs to stop and pee! I’m about to take a long road trip with my dog, and this is my only worry. I’m actually considering wearing Depends and/or stopping at a Home Depot or Petco/Petsmart so I can bring the dog (80 pounds) into the ladies room with me.

    1. THAT is a huge problem, Kathleen, and one I honestly have not been able to solve. I’ve actually asked if I can take my dog with me if I am alone. In most cases, people are accommodating. However, with an 80 pound dog, you would likely get stopped. I like the idea of stopping at a pet-friendly location until a more viable option comes along.

  4. Love the collie! Lol

    And we have traveled quite a bit with ours. Our Collie National is held in different states each year. We have driven to Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, etc. In a way, traveling with dogs can help you explore areas you might otherwise overlook. (As they need to stop and walk frequently)

  5. These are great tips, I feel strongly about these myself. It especially makes me cringe when pets ride in the front seat or in the back of a truck bed – OMG!! It takes all my restraint not to yet out the window at the drivers. Great job on the video Carol & Bernard! Sorry I missed the live version.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  6. I’ve been having a tough go of it with my pup. Initially, when he was only a few months old, he did great in the car while in my lap in the back seat. Once I began to use restraints to keep him safe back there, he cried and screamed relentlessly until I would pull over, go back, and remove the restraint and hold him. He loves car rides but abhors the restraints. It’s a toughie to figure out but my husband and I are going to try the Dr. Harvey’s anxiety formula. Fingers crossed because we LOVE taking him with us wherever possible. We don’t travel much.

  7. Thanking you for sharing pet safety tips. All the tips are great and we must careful while travel with pet by car.

  8. Safety first. You have shared some very very valuable information’s for the pet lovers. I appreciate your thoughts. Just love it. Thanks a lot for sharing.

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