Have you been dreaming of your next road trip? While traveling with your dog is always a fun and memorable adventure, longer road trips with a dog can also be challenging. Dogs can get restless, and behave in ways that aren’t safe, like hanging out of the window, or jumping in your lap when you’re cruising at highway speeds.
So, how can you make sure that both you and your dog stay safe and happy during long hauls on the road? We rounded up experts’ top tips for road trips with your dog. Don’t hit the road without them!
11 Tips for Surviving Road Trips With a Dog
1Plan a pet-friendly route
When you’re on a road trip with your dog, you’ll have to plan around their needs—and that means pulling over for potty breaks and exercise. Check to make sure your route has plenty of safe places to let your pet stretch their legs.
“Most major rest stops have dog areas for them to go to the bathroom, stretch their legs and play,” says Dana Vachon, CPDT-KA, a dog trainer at Philly Unleashed Dog Training.
Take COVID-19 precautions into account while you’re planning too, advises Dr. Lin Chen, director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “A general rule is to treat pets like a family member,” she says. Be prepared to follow the safety guidelines recommended by local and state leaders, in addition to CDC guidelines for travel.
2Take practice trips ahead of time
If you know that your dog is particularly anxious during car rides, consider trying behavioral training techniques.
“Before leaving on a long road trip with your dog, take some short practice trips that end in positive experiences for them,” Vachon says.
Rides to the dog park or a favorite pet store, for example, will help form more positive associations with driving. (In other words, don’t limit your car rides to visits to the vet!)
3Check in with your vet
Is your pet healthy enough to travel? You won’t know for sure unless you talk to your veterinarian.
If your dog has existing health issues, ask about how travel may affect them, and make sure your dog’s vaccines and flea and tick preventatives are up to date, advises Chewy's resident vet, Dr. Katy Nelson, DMV.
This is also an opportunity to ask your vet about anti-nausea or stress-reducing aids that may be useful to your pet during your drive (more on that later).
4Pack the essentials
It’s always a good idea to travel with your pet’s necessities. Packing your pet’s food and water, treats, medicine, toys, feeding bowls and other supplies will help keep you prepared and your dog comfortable.
"Remember to bring equipment to pick up pet waste, so that everything can be disposed of safely," she adds.
And don’t forget your own essentials for COVID-19 safety! Dr. Chen suggests keeping masks and hand sanitizer beside you in the car just in case, even if you don’t expect to encounter many crowds.
Dr. Nelson also suggests using pet grooming wipes to clean pets’ paws and fur.
5Protect your dog—and your car
When road tripping with a dog, your pet’s safety comes before everything else.
Vachon recommends using a dog sling or hammock in the back seat to create a safe and comfortable space for your travel buddy.
These tools can keep your pet safe in the car—and also save your car’s upholstery from fur and claw marks.
The Frisco Water-Resistant Hammock Car Seat Cover keeps messes off your seats, and is even machine-washable in case of any big spills. A car seat, like the Frisco Dog Bucket Booster Seat, can give smaller pets a better view from the window while keeping them safe and secure.
Either way, protecting your car will help you keep your eyes on the road, instead of checking the backseat to make sure your pup isn’t chewing the armrest—and that keeps both of you safe.
6Wear that dog out!
A tired dog is often a well-behaved dog, so right before you embark on your trip, Vachon suggests, take your pet for a long run or a visit to the dog park.
"This should help your dog feel more rested and maybe even sleep for a portion of the trip," she says.
7Keep your dog entertained
To make the ride easier for you both, you will want to keep your dog entertained and engaged. Your best bet? "Bring your dog something to chew on," Vachon says.
A favorite chew toy, such as a Frisco Peanut Butter Flavor Tough Nylon Dog Chew Toy, will keep your dog busy—plus, it’ll prevent them from chewing on the car’s seat belts, a favorite pastime of many canine road warriors, she says.
A tug toy to play with at rest stops is also a must. Tug-of-war sessions wear dogs out both physically and mentally, Vachon says, which will help them rest between pit stops.
Dog disc toys or fetch toys will also get your dog moving, "but they should only be used at rest stops that offer your dog lots of space to run around," and ideally someplace fenced in, adds Vachon. "Not just a big parking lot."
8Stay safe at gas stations
Filling up the tank is a necessary task on road trips. But gas stations are high traffic areas—places where hundreds or even thousands of people visit in the course of a day—so it’s important to be extra-vigilant about COVID-19 safety.
"Wear your mask and try not to touch areas that many people have touched," Dr. Chen says.
At gas stations, touching high-traffic items like gas pumps or door handles can be unavoidable. So, bring some disinfecting wipes if you can’t avoid touching those areas, so you can cleanse them, Dr. Chen says. “And when you go to public bathrooms, certainly wash your hands very, very well.”
And of course, anytime you’re around moving vehicles (like when you’re at the gas station), your dog should stay inside your car at all times. Make sure they’re secured to prevent them from jumping out unexpectedly.
9Don’t ignore your dog’s nerves
If you notice your dog is stressed or anxious while riding in the car, Vachon suggests using natural stress reducing remedies.
10Take frequent breaks
You need to take breaks when you’re cooped up in the car for extended periods of time, right? So does your dog.
Vachon recommends anywhere from 2 to 3 hours between pit stops.
"Your dog may have regained his energy after your last play session," she says. "So use these breaks as a time to play, engage, and give attention to your dog."
11Follow CDC Guidelines
No matter where you are or where you’re going, adhering to the CDC’s COVID-19 safety guidelines will help keep you safe, especially with cases on the rise. Its recommendations include:
- Maintain a 6-foot distance from other people and their pets
- Wear a cloth face covering
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid touching your eyes mouth or nose
Remember, you’re taking precautions not only for yourself, but for your dog. They need you to be healthy, too!