Traveling with your dog can be a fun and rewarding experience. Whether you’re taking a road trip to a nearby park or embarking on a cross-country adventure, there are several things you need to consider to make the trip enjoyable for both you and your dog. 

This is your complete guide to traveling with your dog in the car, covering everything from preparing your dog for car travel to dealing with emergencies on the road.

Our dogs are master travelers at this point, they’ve taken thousands of short trips to agility classes, and several long distance road trips for competitions. We take the dogs with us when we travel for holidays and go camping. I even used to take them for short trips with me when I picked the kids up for school, that was before they all grew up and drive themselves now. 

We traveled more last year than in the last 10 years combined. My daughter has become very involved in dog agility and so we have been traveling for agility competitions. We started out driving a couple of hours away to flying overseas to Europe. Yup, last summer we traveled to Paris and drove to London with our border collie, Thunder.  And this fall we drove 2,400 miles round trip from Wisconsin to Florida. Then a few weeks later another 1,400 miles round trip to Pennsylvania. 

I picked up a lot of great traveling tips during these road trips with our dogs, so I want to share them with you to help make your next trip run smoothly.

Dog Road Trip Tips – Key Takeaways

  • Preparing your dog for car travel months before your trip can help reduce anxiety and motion sickness.
  • Choosing the right car restraint for your dog is essential for their safety.
  • Making a packing list for your dog will ensure you don’t forget any essentials.
  • Planning your route on long-distance trips will help reduce your stress while driving.
  • Being prepared for emergencies will give you peace of mind.
  • Knowing about any travel legal requirements before leaving is essential.
dog with head out of window

Preparing Your Dog for Car Rides

It’s important to get your dog comfortable with riding in the car way before you plan that epic road trip together. Some dogs may experience anxiety or motion sickness, so it’s important to gradually introduce them to the car and make it a safe space for them. 

Practice by taking your dog on short car rides to help them get used to the motion and sounds of the vehicle. Gradually increase the length of the rides as your dog becomes more comfortable.

Use treats and positive reinforcement to help your dog associate car rides with good things. Offer your dog a treat or toy when they get in the car, and praise them for good behavior during the ride. Always make it a positive experience.

Exercise your dog BEFORE you leave

A dog that is well exercised, mentally and physically, will be more likely to be calm during the car ride. If your dog is full of energy and bouncing off the walls before you leave, how do you think they will be in the car?

Your goal is a tired and calm dog before you leave for your trip. So exercise your dog the day before and the day of your travels. A tired dog creates a peaceful quiet ride for everyone.

puppy laying in a crate inside a car

Dealing with Car Sickness

Out of all the dogs we’ve had, only two of them had problems with car sickness, and both grew out of it. It’s very common for puppies to get sick in the car. 

Our dog Ginger was 6 months old when we adopted her and she got sick every time we drove to dog training class. By the time she turned one year old, she learned to love car rides. She now gets excited and jumps in the car anytime we ask her if she wants to go for a ride.

Our dog Wizard on the other hand is 14 months old now and while he no longer gets sick in the car, he doesn’t enjoy them yet. I’m confident he’ll soon learn that car rides equal fun.

Motion sickness can be a common problem for puppies and dogs during car rides. To prevent this, avoid feeding your dog before leaving. 

You can also try natural remedies like ginger to help calm your dog’s stomach. We’ve used CBD Oil and HomeoPet Travel Anxiety for Wizard with success.

If your dog still gets sick, you may need to talk with your vet for prescription strength medication. Make sure to take shorter trips and give them plenty of breaks. 

📖 READ: Solve all your dog’s fears and anxiety about car rides

two dogs standing on a car ramp

Getting In and Out of the Car

If you have a large dog or a dog that has trouble jumping in and out of the car, a dog ramp is a great way to keep your dog from getting injured. We have the WeatherTech PetRamp for our big dogs. It does take up space in the car, but it’s well worth not having to worry about your dog getting hurt getting in and out of the car when traveling.

Small dogs are easy to pick up and put in their crate or car seat so a dog ramp may not be necessary for them.

📖 READ: The Best Dog Ramp

Car Restraints to Keep Your Dog Safe

Similar to humans, dogs should be securely restrained during car travel. Seat belts designed for dogs and crash-tested crates offer a level of safety that can be crucial in the event of an accident.

There are several types of car restraints available, including dog seatbelts, crates, and barriers. Choose the right car restraint for your dog based on their size, temperament, and travel needs. You should also consider your dog’s comfort during the trip. Make sure they have enough space to move around and lie down.

It may be cute for your unrestrained dog to climb into your lap while driving, but this scenario is a recipe for a car crash. So please reconsider and choose one of these car restraint options to keep your dog safe in the car: 

two dogs in Ruff Land Dog Crates in back of car

Travel Crates and Carriers

We use crates for our dogs while traveling in the car. There are several brands to choose from, we love our Rufland Crates. Unfortunately, they aren’t crash-tested, but one of the most popular brands in the dog agility world.

When choosing a travel crate, make sure to select one that is the appropriate size for your dog. Your dog should be able to stand up tall without their ears touching the top of the crate, and also be able to turn around. Look for a crate that is made of sturdy materials, well-ventilated, and crash-tested to ensure its durability.

Harnesses and Seat Belts

Harnesses and seat belts work by attaching to your car’s seat belt and securing your dog in place. When choosing a harness or seat belt, make sure to select one that is designed specifically for your dog’s size and weight and is adjustable to ensure a proper fit. 

Car Barriers for Dogs

A barrier works by creating a barrier between your dog and the rest of the car, which can help prevent them from moving around and potentially causing an accident. Choose a barrier that is easy to install and remove to make traveling with your dog as hassle-free as possible.

hammock for the back seat works similarly, by keeping your dog from jumping in the front seat of the car. But if you have a dog that is determined to get to the front, then this is not the best option in my experience. Our dog big dog, Bear, just plows his head through. 

Dog Car Seat

Dog car seats are best suited for small dogs. They work by connecting to your car seatbelt system. If you have a large dog, a crate or barrier are better options. 

Crash Tested Restraints

Here are the car restraints that are Center for Pet Safety Certified:

Safety Harnesses:

Pet Travel Carriers:

Travel Crates:

  • Cabelas Gun Dog Intermediate with Locking Pin and Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Gunner Kennel G1 Small with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Gunner Kennel G1 Medium with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Gunner Kennel G1 Intermediate with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Lucky Kennel Intermediate with Lucky Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Lucky Kennel Large with Lucky Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Rock Creek Crate’s Medium Aluminum with Strength Rated Anchor Straps

Packing List for Your Dog

To make sure you don’t forget anything, it’s a good idea to use a checklist when packing for your dog. 

How much you’ll need to pack will depend on the destination and length of your travel. But the basics will always be the same, food, water, collar, leash, and don’t forget the poop bags.

You may also want to include items like a first aid kit, blankets, and toys to keep your dog comfortable and entertained during the trip.

Here is the packing list we use for our dogs when we travel:

  1. Leash, collar, and ID Tag
  2. Training collar
  3. GPS tracker
  4. Tie-out or long line
  5. Prescription medicines your dog may be taking
  6. Vaccination papers, microchip number, and your vet’s phone number (Our “My Dog’s Health Planner” is perfect for traveling)
  7. Dog food in zip-lock bags or plastic container
  8. Supplement your dog normally takes
  9. Water and food bowls
  10. Treats
  11. Poop bags, lots of them
  12. Travel crate (see below)
  13. Blanket to sleep on
  14. Quiet toys and chew toys
  15. Doggy first aid kit
  16. Brush
  17. Dog shampoo
  18. Towels to clean or dry your dog
  19. Paper towels
  20. Accident cleaner
  21. Old bed sheet to cover the bed in the hotel (if you allow your dog on the bed) 
  22. Lint roller to clean your clothes, car and hotel
  23. Security camera
Traveling Dog Packing List

You can buy travel-sized bowls and supplies, but I recommend packing items the dog is accustomed to using regularly. This will help your dog feel more comfortable while away from home. If you want to purchase travel-sized items, use them at home for a week or two before you leave.

📖 READ: Creating a Dog First-Aid Kit: Essential Supplies and Tips

dog laying on a hotel bed

Planning Your Route

If you are taking a cross-country road trip with your dog, it’s important to plan your route ahead of time to ensure a smooth and stress-free journey. Here are some tips to help you plan ahead:

Dog-Friendly Hotel or AirBnB

If you have a long drive ahead that requires an overnight stay, make sure to plan for pet-friendly accommodations. Many hotels and motels have pet-friendly rooms, but it’s important to call ahead and make a reservation to ensure availability. Some hotels may also have weight or breed restrictions, so be sure to ask about their pet policies when making your reservation. 

Be prepared for a pet fee, I found these charges to have a wide range from $20 per stay to $50 per night and even more. It could be per dog or room. And it’s usually not listed on the hotel website, so it’s best to call and ask. When you check in to the hotel, you will need to sign a pet agreement form. 

Depending on your dog, you may want to bring a crate for your dog to sleep in at night. Our dog, Thunder, is a great hotel guest. He doesn’t bark, and he will settle down right away at night. On the other hand, Wizard’s first road trip was less smooth. He was up and down off the bed all night. So nobody got any sleep that night.

We also packed an old bed sheet to put on top of the bed in the hotel. This helps keep the bed clean and free of dog hair.

two dogs laying in grass at a Love's Travel Stop

Identifying Dog-Friendly Stops

It’s important to take regular breaks during a long car ride to allow your dog to stretch their legs and go potty. Plan and research dog-friendly rest stops along your route. We stopped every 2-3 hours. 

Look for parks, rest areas, stores, and restaurants that allow dogs. You can use websites and apps like BringFido and Yelp to find dog-friendly establishments. Make sure to call ahead to confirm their pet policies and any restrictions they may have.

We got a great tip from a friend that all Love’s Travel Stops have an enclosed dog park. On our drive from Wisconsin to Florida we found many of these pit stops helpful for potty breaks. The dogs were able to run around, stretch their legs, and go potty without a leash. We figured out rather quickly that some of these dog parks are better than others. 

We also stopped at a local dog park in a couple of towns. It’s helpful if you have your passenger use Google Maps to find these pit stops and dog parks while you are driving. When we were ready to make a stop, my daughter would start looking for dog-friendly places on our route. Dog-friendly stores are also a great option, think pet stores, Lowe’s, Bass Pro Shops, TJ Maxx, Tractor Supply Co, and more.

Never leave your dog unattended in a closed vehicle. Hot cars are a death trap, so please never leave your dog unattended in the car. Even with the car windows cracked open dogs can get heat stroke, in a matter of minutes. If you need to run into a store or something, have a family member stay with the dog. This would be an ideal time to let the dog out to stretch their legs and go potty, just remember to keep them on a leash.

Keep a leash and waste bags handy and always clean up after your dog. We noticed this is a huge problem on our trips. So many rest stops with dog poop all over, even when dog poop stations were available. It’s not only disgusting but also a health risk for our dogs. 

dog laying on bed in hotel with a toy

Keeping Your Dog Entertained

Some people like to keep their dog entertained during the ride with toys and treats. I find that my dogs prefer to relax when taking long car trips.

We’ve tried giving them chew bones, but they don’t touch them while driving. So we provide them with a comfortable blanket inside their crate and they choose to rest. 

If your dog enjoys looking out the window, make sure to keep them safe by keeping the window partially open or using a pet barrier.

I will never forget the day our dog JJ jumped out the window of my car. We had just adopted him a few months prior and I was driving my son to a football game downtown. The window was open halfway, thinking that was enough to give JJ the option to stick his head out to get fresh air. When he saw another dog, he somehow squeezed himself out of that window. Scared the living daylight out of me. Thank God I was stuck in traffic and going less than 5 miles per hour. 

Dealing with Emergencies

I pray you will never need these tips, but it’s better to be prepared for an emergency than panic at the moment. 

Pack a first aid kit that includes items such as gauze, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers. You should also bring any medications your dog may need, as well as a copy of their medical records.

The Rescue Dogs 101 My Dog’s Health Planner is a great way to keep this information with you 24/7.

My Dog's Health Planner

If your dog experiences any health issues while on the road, I recommend calling your regular veterinarian for advice. They can help you decide if it is an emergency or refer you to a veterinarian in the area you are staying. If you can not reach them, call the nearest animal hospital.  

What to Do if Your Dog Gets Lost

Losing your dog can be a scary experience, especially when you’re away from home. To prepare for this possibility, make sure your dog is wearing a collar with ID tags that include your name and phone number. Consider having your dog microchipped as well.

Another option I’ve considered is using a GPS tracking collar. This way you can track your dog immediately. We got an AirTag for one of our dogs to test that out, but I found the range to be too short and not beneficial. 

If your dog does run away, act quickly. Contact local animal shelters, rescue organizations, and veterinary clinics to let them know your dog is missing. Use social media to spread the word and ask for help, most areas have a local lost dogs page. You can also post flyers in the area with a recent photo of your dog and your contact information. 

The best way to prevent your dog from getting lost is to keep them secure while traveling. Make sure your dog is properly restrained in the car and never leave them unattended. If your dog tends to slip out of their collar, I recommend a martingale collar or slip lead.

📖 READ: My Dog Ran Away! What Should I Do?

Dogs and Car Travel Legal Requirements

When traveling with your dog in the car, it’s important to understand the local laws regarding pets. Laws may vary from state to state, so it’s a good idea to research the laws of the areas you’ll be traveling through. 

Some states may require that your dog be restrained while in the car, either by a leash or a carrier. Other states may require that your dog be secured in a specific area of the car, such as the back seat or the cargo area. It’s important to follow these laws to avoid any legal issues.

I found this resource that may help you find the highway code in the state you live in or traveling to: Does your state require dogs to be harnessed in the car?

Some areas may have breed restrictions, so check local laws if you have a bully breed or other commonly known restricted breed.

If you are traveling out of the country, you may need a health certificate. A lot of paperwork was required when we flew to Europe for the agility competition. But since this article is about car travel, I will save that story for another time. 

dog sitting in back seat of car

Arriving at Your Destination – Let the Fun Begin

Yeah, you made it to your destination. Hopefully, you planned plenty of pet-friendly activities to enjoy your time with your dog. But keep in mind not to plan too much. It’s important to give your dog some downtime too.

GoPetFriendly.com is a great resource to find places to enjoy with your dog.

Leaving Your Dog Alone in the Hotel

If you decide to leave your dog alone in the hotel room or AirBnB, give them at least 24 hours to decompress from the travel and become more comfortable.

Let the front desk know you are leaving and give them your cell phone in case of an emergency. Tell them to call you if there are any problems. And put the do not disturb sign on your door.

We bring a security camera with us so we can keep an eye on the dogs if we need to leave them alone. Play calming music is another great idea to not only help your dog feel calmer, but to drown out the noises from outside your room.

If you know your dog can’t be left alone without barking and disturbing the other hotel guests, then consider room service or take-out for meals.

Another option is to find a local pet sitter. Ask local friends, the hotel concierge, and social media. 

Returning Home – Post-Travel Dog Care

After a long road trip with your dog, it’s important to take some time to care for them once you return home. Here are some tips for post-travel dog care:

  1. Give Your Dog Rest – Traveling can be exhausting for you and your dog, so make sure to give them plenty of time to rest and recover. My dogs are usually tired for a couple of days after longer trips.
  2. Provide Plenty of Water and Food  If you’ve withheld water and food for the car ride your dog will be thirsty and hungry. Don’t over feed your dog though, it could cause an upset stomach eating too much food at once. 
  3. Give Your Dog a Bath – After spending hours in the car, and going on adventures, your dog may need a good bath. You may even be able to stop on your way home at a local pet store that has a doggy bath station. We did this after spending the day at the beach in Florida.
  4. Check for Fleas and Ticks – During your trip, your dog may have picked up some unwanted hitchhikers. Check your dog’s fur for any fleas or ticks and remove them immediately. I keep this tick remover on my keychain. You may want to use a flea and tick preventative but read this warning first
  5. Clean Your Car – After a long road trip, your car is likely to be a mess. Unpack and clean your car thoroughly. This will help remove any pet hair, dirt, or debris that may have accumulated during your trip. Use a vacuum to clean the seats and floor, and wipe down any surfaces with a non-toxic cleaner.

Conclusion

Traveling with your dog in the car is an adventure that can create lasting memories for both of you. From short day trips to long cross-country adventures, ensuring your pup’s comfort, safety, and well-being should always be a top priority. 

I hope you will feel comfortable taking new experiences with your dog and traveling more with them on the open road. It’s a great way to bond with your dog, have fun together, and enjoy life as a dog parent. Have safe travels, and please leave a comment below and tell me all about your trip!

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About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. Love this article, thank you.
    Our two rescue dogs aren’t crate trained (and our car is too small for two crates) but do now love the car. We use dog seat belts that clip to their body harness (never clip to a neck collar) as this stops them from climbing over to the driver’s area plus it protects them should we have an accident. One dog can unbuckle her belt from a standard seat belt clip so her belt is the sort fixed to the head restraint.

    For long journeys I fill the footwell in the back seat area with luggage and have a foam slab that fits across the seat and footwell space. This gives the pooches much more space to lie down as they’re medium sized dogs. We can then take the foam bed into a hotel or tent etc for their dog bed when we are staying away overnight.

    I also make my own apple and ginger dog cookies for travel treats as the ginger settles any motion sickness.

    Works for us! Happy dogs make happy holidays.

      1. Happy to share the recipe if anyone would like it. The cookies can be frozen and eaten straight from the freezer in hot weather as they stay slightly chewy.

  2. Your heads up about how your dog may have high anxiety really helped to read. If there's one thing I really want to avoid, it's my dog running off on its own in a crowded place and having trouble finding it. To make sure we know how to prevent this, I'll go look for a veterinarian I can consult right away.

  3. Our recently adopted 6 year old Golden is afraid of getting in the car. We had to force her to get home from the shelter. Now what? We like to travel to see kids and grands, up to 6 hours on the road. We enjoy taking our dog on small trips around town too.

    1. First I’d allow her a few days to get comfortable with her new home. Read the 3-3-3 Rule. Then you will slowly work on the car. Start working with the car not on, just parked in your garage or driveway. Find out what really motivates her, whether it be a favorite toy or special treats and use those to make the car a happy place. Play with her jumping in and out, give her treats, lots of praise.

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