Have you been dreaming of your next road trip? The lure of the open road is especially tempting right now, but longer road trips in a car with your dog, while fun, 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. Add concerns about the coronavirus pandemic to the mix, and a leisurely road trip starts to sound, well, maybe just a bit stressful.
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!
Plan 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. Your route should avoid places that are crowded, or where you’d be unable to maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and another person. Your dog should stay 6 feet apart from other humans, too. “A general rule is to treat pets like a family member,” she says.
Choose your final destination carefully, too. “States have different levels of the virus,” Dr. Chen points out, “and some states have different levels of quarantine recommendations.” Some places request that people wear face coverings in public, for example, while others don’t. So while local conditions are continually changing, do your research to choose a destination with relatively low rates of COVID-19. Be prepared to follow the safety guidelines recommended by local and state leaders, in addition to CDC guidelines for travel.
Take 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!)
Check 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 Dr. Katy Nelson, DMV, of the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia. 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).
Pack the essentials.
It’s always a good idea to travel with your pet’s necessities, especially right now. Packing your pet’s food and water, treats, medicine, toys, feeding bowls and other supplies will help keep you out of stores and veterinary offices, which can be crowded places that put you at increased risk of contracting the virus, Dr. Chen says.
“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.
Protect 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 HDP Deluxe Lookout Dog, Cat & Small Animal Booster Car 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.
Wear 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.
Keep 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.”
Stay 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.
“Try to keep a distance from other people. Our guidelines say 6 feet,” Dr. Chen says. “Wear your mask and try not to touch areas that many people have touched.”
At gas stations, touching high-traffic items like gas pumps or door handles can be unavoidable. “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.
Take 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.”
Remember to practice safety measures during these breaks, Dr. Chen says. “An outdoor situation is definitely better than an indoor or densely packed situation. Keeping the pets 6 feet away from other humans is a good idea.”
Follow 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. 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!
Every road trip begins with prep. You plan your route, you make your packing list, you pack favorite road snacks, and you craft the perfect road trip playlist. As you’re dreaming up your next road trip with your dog, remember to plan for the needs of your pup as well. Safe travels!