How to Go on Road Trips With a Dog

I’ve been traveling with a dog on road trips for 23 years. The only time a dog has not accompanied me and my spouse on a trip is when it doesn’t involve the road. I will never fly with a dog unless he could have his own seat next to me. I digress. Going on road trips with a dog is a fun, bonding experience but not for the unprepared.  I’ve learned quite a few things over the years, and here, coupled with some expert advice from fellow road warriors, are road tripping with a dog do’s and don’ts:

Assess Your Dog’s Road Readiness

If your dog despises the car, shakes like a leaf, and pretty much pants and whines the whole time, a super long trip is not in his or her best interest.  Get dogs used to road travel step by step. It can happen.

How to road trip with a dog

Got a Dog Who Hates the Car?

In the weeks prior to the trip, make a few practice runs. Pretend you are taking the long trip and set the dog up as you will when that big trip arrives. For the practice rounds, go for a half hour and drive somewhere the dog loves: Perhaps a visit to the park to play fetch, a friend’s house, out for ice cream or whatever makes your dog light up when referring to it. Do the same a second time but travel for an hour. Make the arrival the best thing since the invention of poop bags: Celebrate and tell the dog what an awesome pooch he or she is.

The goal in doing this is to acclimate the dog to the road and make travel a fab thing to do. This same technique can be used with travel fearful dogs, but make the trips 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, and so on. Never force a travel fearful dog to go on a long road trip.

dog in car

Pack a What’s the Worst That Could Happen Kit

I’m a planner. If I am in a city and have access to a pharmacy, that’s one thing; but if I am traveling and in the “middle of nowhere” what do I do if my dog:

  • Gets a bee sting
  • Gets cut
  • Starts limping
  • Has diarrhea

I plan ahead. I pack a WT-WTCH kit. Gone are the days of trying to stuff a few things into an overnight bag for my dog. He travels with us, he’s a member of the family, and having all of his items in one centrally located place is easier for us. My dog has his own full-sized suitcase.

In the worst-case scenario portion of the bag is his first aid kit that includes typical items and some items you might not consider but should put in a dog’s emergency bag.

CLICK THIS: Things You Don’t Have In Your Dog’s Emergency Bag (But Should)

 Note: Keep the first aid and worst case scenario bag fully stocked so that it is easily accessible at a moment’s notice. Be sure to purge that bag of expired contents at least twice a year. We shake our bag out on return home in the event any ticks, spiders, or other park critters meandered inside.


Make the Most (Readiness) For Meals and Water

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 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.

On the other end of the spectrum, quite literally, you do not want your dog to suffer from water intoxication. If you are going to the ocean or planning any sort of water engagement, prevent any tragedy with too much water.

Hydration is key, for you and your dog. We have a word for water. So we say, “Dexter want a drink?” This is something we taught him from a young age. Any dog can learn a new word, so try it. Hold the water bowl by your dog and pour cool, fresh water into it while saying, “drink.” Never force a dog to drink – and always praise with positive reinforcement when he responds.

CLICK THIS: Water Dangers and Water Intoxication for Dogs

beach safety

Safety In Transit

Buckle up or use a kennel. I would never ever recommend a road trip without having your dog secure in the vehicle. One thing that being a dog writer has taught me: It only takes one driver to cause a major, if not fatal, accident. I’ve talked to many dog parents whose dog were killed in car accidents.

Fact: An unrestrained 80-pound dog in a wreck going 30 miles per hour equates to 2,400 pounds of projectile force.

Although many crate and carrier manufacturers claim their products are crash tested and safe for use in a vehicle, there are currently no test protocols or performance standards in the United States to back up these claims. Scary, right? Subaru of America, Inc. and Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization, in their 2015 Crate and Carrier Crashworthiness Study, named three products as passing their strict tests.

CLICK HERE: Dog Crate and Carrier Study Findings 2015

What do we use? For our medium-sized Cocker Spaniel, we use the Sleepypod ClickIt Utility Harness. It also was a Top Performer in the Center for Pet Safety’s 2013 Safety Harness Study. I have nothing to gain by telling you this and we purchased the harness on our own.

This is why:

What to Do In Transit

We upsized from a car to an SUV so that I could work from the second row while Dexter is belted in next to me. Here are things we do to prevent on the road boredom:

  • Have a buddy travel with you to keep Fido occupied
  • Tire the dog out prior to a long leg of travel. We make a point of it to take long walks, play ball in the hotel room, and sightsee locally prior to embarking on each day’s trek. A content dog is a happy dog and a happy, contended dog will nap.
  • Bring a favorite busy bone from home for the dog to munch on in the car.
  • Pre-determine stops for pee, poop, eat, stretch, and play breaks.
  • Create a fun word in conjunction with stop time. “Ready to pull over?” or “Break time” and teach your dog what a fun thing pit stops are.
  • Be reasonable about the time you spend on the road. If your dog is accustomed to napping for a few hours at a clip, use that time to your advantage.
  • Talk to your dog. I do it all the time, and I think Dexter appreciates it.
  • Do some in car stretches and limb movements with your dog.
  • Ipad apps: I have heard from a number of readers who play games on their tablet device with the dog.
  • Scritch behind the ears, belly, and so on: Gve the dog a nice relaxing in-car massage, but make sure someone else is driving.
“Are we there yet?”

Call Ahead to All Accommodations

Ah, the big A word: Accommodations. As I prepare to embark on a cross country trip this week, heading toward Arizona and back, all of the hotels at which we stay get a personal phone call from us prior to booking a room.

Here’s what we ask and do:

Whenever I call ahead to ask if a particular establishment is pet friendly, if the clerk says no, sometimes I ask why pets are not welcome. Often times the clerk does not know or will say “because it’s policy, but most times I am referred to a manager who tells me a tale of woe.

We ask about pet fees and access to greenery for Fido’s taking care of business.

If you are considering a rental property, inquire if it will be checked for fleas and ticks prior to your arrival.

Ask about weight limits: Weight limits drive me a bit insane. I’ve yet to ask someone to put my Cocker Spaniel on a scale at the front desk, but we’ve exceeded the 25 pound limit a few times. Policies vary, but as anyone who travels with a dog knows, weight limits are enforced. This excludes a LOT of dogs. If anyone in the hotel industry reads this, try and ask your manager if you can get this rule lifted.

CLICK THIS: Five Secrets to Sneak a Dog Into a Hotel

pet friendly travel
Finding and reviewing pet-welcoming places together

Protect Your Dog’s Paws

A common myth in among dog parents is that a dog’s paws need no protection; after all, they’ve been walking around without socks or shoes for thousands of years, right? True, but a dog’s paws do need protection. There’s a way to treat the feet and a multitude of dog paw problems that can ensue if you don’t. See how many of these facts about a dog’s paws surprise you —and then notice how you’ll start to cross over to the “hey, dog feet are really cute” camp after reading this post:

CLICK THIS: Treat the Feet and Other Dog Paw Problems

dog feet

The One Call to Make Prior to Traveling That Just Might Save Fido’s Life

Be prepared. While an emergency visit to the vet isn’t on your vacationing “to do” list, inevitably some of us will encounter this situation. Locate the nearest animal emergency clinic prior to leaving for your trip or ask staff upon checking in. Access to this emergency information while vacationing might just save your dog’s life. There are apps galore to check this as well.


Every dog should have a specific set of behaviors that he or she should be accustomed to before they interact with the general public. I firmly believe and follow the adage that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Nod your head if you agree.

Dogs who bark incessantly should not be left alone in a hotel room. My heart beats dog® but I don’t want a barking dog near my room any more than I want a screaming child nearby. Think like your dog: A new environment and perimeter with strange sounds and sniffs equates to “bark alert” for some dogs. It’s a pack mentality. Also, if dogs do not do well with separation, leaving them alone in the room is not in their best interest either. Certain dogs, no matter how well trained, may bark in a strange environment, especially if left alone. My spouse and I take the dog everywhere we go and take turns going into stores, get take out, and it always works for us.

One of the worst things I have ever witnessed in terms of a “pet friendly” policy is listed on Arch Cape Inn’s website. Here’s the screenshot; see if you can figure out what’s wrong with this policy point:

 dogs in hot car

Bonus Tip: If your dog could pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test, he is probably a good candidate for travel. My dog has his “CGC” and I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to bond with your dog, too.


Where to Eat

“Waiter, a doggie bag, please!” Even better, take your dog with you to a dog-friendly eatery or outdoor café. Call ahead or log online to locate eateries which have special Fido-friendly sections in their outdoor patios. Dogs-welcomed policies are kept in place because of responsible owners, so do keep barking and begging to a minimum.

We get take out a lot and we love it. Sometimes we find a nearby park or head back to our hotel or even eat in the car. Speaking of which….please please please:

Don’t Leave a Dog in a Car

 You not only risk theft but you risk a die dying of heat-related injuries, and a slow painful death at that.

CLICK THIS: Legal Ways to Help Pets in Hot Cars

Get an ALDF Sunshade

ALDF created the Dogs in Hot Cars Sunshade so you can make a strong statement about protecting animals from the dangers of hot cars where they need it most—in parking lots across America.

Order your Dogs in Hot Cars Sunshade to protect animals wherever you park. All proceeds benefit the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Download and Share

Download this image to share on the social network of your choice.

dogs in hot cars

Download & Print ALDF’s Dogs in Hot Cars Flyer

Download and print this flyer, and hang it in grocery stores, cafes, laundromats, and other locations where people may leave dogs in hot cars. Many businesses will be happy to hang a flyer in their front window if you ask politely.

And share the flyer with your local humane agencies to help them make the public aware of these laws.








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  1. Oh boy do we love road trips. Thanks for all the good info. We didn’t know anything about our feets parts
    Lily & Edward

  2. Diego and I love traveling around our country on road trips. However, we don’t usually have to worry about too long of trips, because we can get from one side of our country to the other in less than 24 hours!

  3. Thanks for the tipps! I’m glad you mention the importance of restraining a dog in the car. My pups are too big for the back seat, so I use a vehicle-specific pet barrier (the universal ones aren’t safe). Also I recently started blogging about pet safety, because wherever I go I see unrestrained dogs on passenger seats and can’t understand why people would be so irresponsible.

  4. These are great tips. My 21-month old puppy just made her first road trip and did better than I expected. We hit major traffic jams and were on the road more hours than I anticipated, but she just curled up in her bed in the back of the car. I think her desire to be with her family outweighed any of her anxiety about being away from her home. We brought her bed, food, treats, toys and other items that made her comfortable. She amazed me when she casually walked through the lobby of our hotel and then got into the elevator as if she did it every day.
    There will definitely be more road trips in the future. Your tips will be a big help.

  5. These are awesome tips. We have three canine children (two Tibetan Spaniels, one Pyrenean Mastiff) that we take with us everywhere that we can. Your do’s and dont’s are definitely a must for anyone embarking on a road trip with a beloved dog!

  6. This is such great advice! We’ve traveled pretty extensively with our dogs and at this point we’re pretty experienced pet travelers. I pinned this to my Pet Travel board, thanks!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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