I’m no stranger to road trips with dogs. From Utah to Oregon, Oregon to Utah, Utah to South Carolina, South Carolina to Florida, Florida to South Carolina, and South Carolina back to Utah (plus MANY little weekend trips) we have had our four-legged pup by our sides.
And while road trips (mostly) go smoothly now, it definitely took some time for our dog, Lamon, to come around to spending countless hours in the car for sometimes even days in a row.
Here are some of the things I have learned about road trips with dogs, and driving with dogs in general. Because honestly, sometimes those short 10-minute drives are worse for us than the long ones (I’ll expand on that later).
Tips for Road Trips with Dogs
1. Bring the Necessities
First things first. Making sure you have all of the travel necessities for your pup within reach is so important. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Water bowl/water. They have spill-proof bowls for sale now that will allow your dog to be able to drink water throughout the drive, not just when you take breaks.
- Leash and collar/harness. This one is obvious. It’s also a good idea to make sure they have a tag on their collar.
- Vaccination records/health certificate. Some hotels will need this, and heaven forbid, if anything happens to your pup you will have that information available if you have to take them to your nearest vet.
- Poop bags. A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do…
- Towel/blanket. If they get dirty or wet (or make a mess) a towel is nice to have handy. We also like to have a blanket for our dog when we stop for the night, and for him to lay on in the car.
- Dog bed (if there’s room). If your dog is a diva and appreciates comfort, they will like having this. Mine is super extra.
- Treats/bones. Bring treats that will keep your dog busy for long periods of time, like a bone or dog chew, you can also freeze a kong with peanut butter. Whatever their favorites are!
- Favorite toys. Bring a ball and ball thrower, favorite stuffed animal, or some of their other favorite things.
- Enough food to last the duration of the trip. For longer trips, we like to bring food that is more compact so that it doesn’t take up as much space. We also make sure it is in an airtight container so it doesn’t get stale or stink up the car.
- First Aid Kit. Some things you can pack in your kit include:
- Antiseptic wipes
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Petroleum jelly
2. Get Their Energy Out
Before we set out on a trip, we like to get our dog’s energy out. We like to let him run around, go to the bathroom and tire himself out.
Starting out like this has proven to help all of our sanity levels.
3. Mental Stimulation
You know how tired you are after a full day of work or school (or both!), and all you want to do is well, nothing?
Using your brain is exhausting, and mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. Teach your dog something new, work on a new trick, just do something that makes them use their brain!
4. Stop Every Few Hours
Give your dog a chance to use the restroom whenever you stop, give them water, let them stretch their legs, etc. While our dog is wonderful 90% of the time, I know that if I am sick of being in the car, chances are he is as well.
We usually drive for 2-4 hours, stop, let him go to the bathroom, walk around with him, give him water and a treat or meal depending on when we stop, and then get back to it.
5. Find a Dog-Friendly Hotel to Stay At
There are some websites that will let you know how pet-friendly certain places are. You can also filter results on hotel websites to say “allow dogs”. But make sure to look past that, and actually look at the fine print. Some places will say they allow dogs but then only allow one or two dogs up to 20 pounds. OR you have to pay a huge deposit, that is not refunded and then your dog can stay with you. Some I saw were $75 or more a night. Look for hotels that have smaller pet fees if you are wanting to save $$$.
My dog doesn’t always do well when staying at unfamiliar locations for the night. We always try to bring his dog bed, his blanket or something else with familiar smells to make him feel more comfortable in this new environment.
6. Stop for Food/Activities
If you will be driving through a city and want to spend some time there before moving on, look for dog-friendly outdoor seating options at restaurants, and look to go to parks, walk around the town. Some cities, like Portland, are very dog-friendly and have so many options that you can all go together! Again, check out bringfido.com or another website like that with reviews on different pet-friendly activities.
Even if wanting to go on a hike, most national parks don’t allow any dogs besides service dogs. On the other hand, a lot of state parks will allow dogs, but they have to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Just do your research so you aren’t totally bummed when you get there.
In regards to eating, most of the time we just end up getting something to go (or who am I kidding, going through a drive through) and then having a picnic or eating on a bench outside. Guys, fresh air is so nice after being trapped in a car for hours with your dog and food. So. Many. Smells.
7. Safety Measures
Sad story alert: one of my old coworkers had a new puppy and took him for a ride in the car with the windows down, and he jumped out and they didn’t see him again. Honestly makes me sad thinking about it. So sorry for being a Debbie Downer, but sometimes extra precautions should be taken while driving with your little friends. Here are some of the main ones we recommend:
- Don’t roll the window down all the way
- Strap them in
- Strap them into a safety harness
- Put them in a kennel, or
- Strap them in a booster seat
Really whatever you decide, make sure that it is tested and effective. We just want the best for our furry friends, right!?
Tips for Driving With Dogs
I have been asked multiple times by people at rest stops, on the side of the road, or in a gas station when driving with our dog, “How he is comfortable driving with us?” “How did we do it?” “What can I do?”
If you are one of the ones struggling with this, know that you are not alone. While many dogs love the open road, there are also so many that don’t feel so comfortable there. But good news, there are things that you can do and try to help your pup feel better.
How Do I Get My Dog Less Nervous to Ride in the Car?
Associate drives with something good. Whenever we take our dog in the car, he is excited. That is because he knows he is going to be able to go on a hike, go to the dog park, or an open field (maybe even the pet store to pick out a treat).
Associating positive and fun things with drives has made it so he looks forward to going places with us. But heaven forbid, we don’t get to our location in a minute, and he starts screaming at us to get there faster because he is ready to play. (insert eye roll emoji here). He was a literal angel sent from heaven during our 32-hour drive to South Carolina, then we got in the car to drive 10 minutes to the beach, and would not stop whining. How does he know?!
Another thing you can do is keep special treats or toys in your car that they only get while in the car. There will be something else for them to look forward to!
My Dog Gets Car Sick, What Can I Do?
Sometimes this issue is more common in a puppy, and they will grow out of it as they age. Because their ear canals haven’t developed all the way, and ears have a lot to do with your dog’s balance, they can get thrown off while driving. This problem could go away by the time they are one, but in the meantime, you don’t want your dog to be suffering, or maybe they never outgrew this.
Here are some signs your dog could be experiencing motion sickness:
- Excessive drooling
- Yawning or panting
- Smacking/licking lips
Things you can do help with car sickness in dogs:
- Open up the window slightly for a little breeze
- Keep the car cool and well ventilated
- Let your dog face forward (if possible)
- Limit your dog’s food consumption prior to travel
- Get medications for your dog
If your dog does get motion sick, you can also talk to your vet and they may prescribe medication or help you further.
How Do I Make My Dog Comfortable In the Car?
Familiarize your dog with the car before setting off anywhere. Go in the car with them, give them treats and praise them. They may need some time to become comfortable here, so try this multiple times (maybe even daily) for longer periods of time each time. Then when they are doing better, take them somewhere close like a park or on a hike; then work up to longer rides. Slow and steady wins the race here.