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How to Do a Road Trip with Your Dog (The Ultimate Guide)

If you’re considering taking a road trip with your dog, and want to do it the right way, then there’s a lot to prepare for.

With that being said, let’s cover all you need to know to ensure a smooth and memorable adventure and that your pooch stays calm, happy, and enjoys the trip as much as you do!

Taking your dog on a road trip requires careful preparation to make sure they are comfortable, safe, and happy along the journey. This includes taking into account their travel history, age, habits, the time of year, preparing a travel kit, planning rest stops, and properly securing your dog in the vehicle. 

Make sure they want to go 

Lots of dogs can be excited to go in the car with you, but some will resent the idea, and this will be obvious through their actions.

If your dog is exhibiting anxious behavior when they see the car, this means that you should ease them into the traveling process.

Train for new environments

To help your dog prepare for the road trip, especially if they aren’t used to traveling in a car, it’s best to start with shorter journeys and take them for test drives before embarking on longer ones, as this can help dogs who aren’t used to traveling to new places feel more comfortable in unexplored surroundings. 

To do this, a week or two before the journey, take your pooch to approximately three new locations that they have never been to before.

Once out of the car, you can give them treats as they interact with the environment around them, as using positive reinforcements can help them associate new places with things they look fondly upon.

Using this method can help to gain an understanding of your dog’s behavior. Therefore, if they exhibit unwavering distress each time you go out, then you can carefully consider if it’s worth taking them with you on a road trip. It might be best practice to find a pet sitter or take them to the dog kennels instead.

Visit a vet before your road trip

If you have any worries about taking your dog on a long road trip, or if they are exhibiting odd behavior when going near or in a car, then visiting a vet can help set your mind at ease.

For instance, if they have recently recovered from illness or sickness, then your vet can make the necessary checks, giving the all-clear to travel, and provide any necessary medications such as anti-carsick or anxiety tablets.

Also, your dog may need vaccinations to prevent known parasites. Some US States require that you travel with an up-to-date veterinary inspection certificate, showing the pet has the latest required vaccines and is fit and healthy.

Regulations for pet travel

In the US, States and counties set their own requirements regarding pet travel, so it’s best to read up on these before your road trip. 

For instance, New Jersey is the only State that imposes an animal cruelty law violation if your dog is not properly restrained inside the vehicle. You’ll encounter a hefty fine if caught.

As another example, in Connecticut, they may impose a penalty under the distracted-driving law if you’re traveling with a pet on your lap.

Also, if you’re traveling outside the US through land borders, read the destination’s pet requirements to avoid any unnecessary issues arising. 

Update your dog’s tag

It’s common knowledge that your dog must wear a collar and tag when out and about in public. As a precautionary measure, if you’re planning a road trip, then you need to ensure your phone number and address are clearly visible and updated with your current details. 

The last thing you want is for your dog to run away from you somehow, and because their collar has worn out, your address isn’t visible anymore, or it has an outdated phone number on it. 

Dog-friendly applications

While on your road trip, there are some helpful applications for dog parents that will make for an easier ride with your canine friend.

Pet information

Traveling with your dog’s vital information is essential if any sudden issues arise, so you can quickly locate the required info.

Applications, including Pet First Aid, allow you to log important information about your pooch, including their medical history, vaccine info, microchip number, insurance info, and more.

Additional advice is also provided, such as how to provide first aid and other immediate assistance efficiently should any issues arise whilst on your road trip. 

Dog-friendly locations

Locating places where your dog is welcomed will lift the spirits of the whole family throughout a long driving day. 

For instance, the location-based app BarkHappy allows you to locate dog-inviting parks. Also, it will help you find restaurants, stores, hotels, and dog-happy events along your route.

This can make for an exciting adventure because if you find places where both you and your dog are welcome, this will save you time, negate the stress of being unwelcomed, and make for a spontaneous and fun-filled ride! 

Vet locator

In the unfortunate circumstance that you need a vet while on your road trip, some applications can help with this issue. For example, the functional online/offline app VetFinder helps locate the nearest vets, just in case an emergency arises! 

You can filter info by animal type, the issue at hand, or even track emergency vets who will travel to you, and it will only show results of vets that are open and in service.

Prepare a pet travel kit

Similar to preparing for yourself, when traveling with a dog, it’s best to be prepared for different scenarios you may encounter along the way. 

Items may include:

  • A dog food and water bowl
  • A familiar toy/bone and something that makes your dog feel comforted
  • A dog leash and collar with ID tags
  • Waste bags
  • Puppy pads for the cage
  • A blanket if traveling in colder months
  • Emergency medications, including calming spot-ons and anti-sickness tablets

Alongside this, it’s important to pack appropriate food for the journey. Try to stick to familiar foods, as new foods can cause upset stomachs, especially in the driving environment. 

Stay aware of your dog’s needs

Unlike humans, dogs can’t talk and tell you what they need. Therefore it’s of paramount importance to stay aware of their needs whilst on a road trip.

For instance, driving as fast as you can without appropriate rest stops might suit your needs, but does it suit their needs? 

Rest stops

For dogs, similar to humans, guidelines state to allow a comfort break every 2 hours, but does your dog require more time out of the car than this?

» MORE: How Often Should You Stop on a Road Trip?

You should be aware of your dog’s behavior patterns, so if they regularly go to the toilet at home, then you’ll need to stop more often than the recommended guidelines to allow comfort breaks on your road trip.

Keep your dog secured

Keeping your dog safely secured in your vehicle can lead to a happier, safer, and calmer ride.

Pet crates 

Regardless if the trip is 5 minutes or 20 hours, one option to keep your dog secured in the vehicle is to use a pet crate.

It may feel like the right thing to do to allow them to stick their head out the window, or roam free in the back seat and stretch their legs out, but in reality, this isn’t safe, and at any moment could cause an accident, or shock and injure passengers in the vehicle.

Securing your dog in a protective crate will also prevent issues such as unwanted toilet mishaps and general distractions in other parts of the car.

You can put their favorite toy inside the crate to help provide a sense of homely comfort and set them at ease. Toys also provide entertainment, keep your dog stimulated, and serve as a prevention method for chewing on seatbelts and other items.

Using a car harness

Another option to keep your dog secured inside the car is to use a dog car harness. These are attached to the rear passenger seat belt.

Car harnesses make sure that your dog is comfortably restrained inside the car. A high-level dog car harness will be comfortable, with a cushioned vest that evenly distributes pressure, and is crash-tested, so in the event of an unfortunate accident, they have a better chance of staying safe.

Give them space

If you’re using a pet crate, buy one that appropriately fits their size and allows them enough room to stretch their legs out.

Also, if you are letting them roam free on the back seat, avoid cramming them next to lots of items, preventing them from stretching out their legs. 

The age of your dog

When traveling in the car with a puppy, they are going to have different requirements than traveling with a seasoned veteran of car journeys. 


Traveling in the car with your puppy is generally encouraged, as this can be a great way to introduce them to new experiences and get them prepared for the outside world. Yet, with younger dogs, it’s going to be especially important to slowly introduce them to car journeys to help them gain confidence. 

Additionally, when compared to an older dog, puppies are going to be a lot more excited in the car and exert more energy.

In this instance, it might be wise to use a car harness, ensuring they are thoroughly secured. If you’re using a crate, place puppy pads inside, as due to sheer excitement, there will be toilet mishaps during the ride! 

Also, especially with excited puppies, feeding them while driving can easily lead to a car-sick dog. This is especially true if they aren’t used to the food you’re giving them. 

Older dogs 

With older dogs, familiarity and comfort are essential for them to have a positive experience. Firstly, place familiar items inside the crate, such as their toys, beloved blankets, and so on. 

It’s also important to protect their joints, so if they are in a crate, make sure they have something soft to lie down on that can protect against unwanted car jolts.

Lastly, older joints are prone to becoming stiff when sitting in one spot for too long, and older bladders are often prone to bathroom accidents, so regular car breaks will help your older dog stretch out their legs, ease any aching bones and prevent bathroom accidents from occurring. 

The temperature in the car

It’s important to remember that when traveling during warmer and colder months, this may involve packing additional items to improve your dog’s overall well-being.

Higher temperatures

If it’s hot outside, then don’t leave your dog inside the car, ever. Temperatures can rise in a matter of minutes, and with this, your dog can become highly distressed.

In addition, some States have “good samaritan” laws in place, and if a passerby witnesses a hot and distressed dog, by using reasonable judgment, they are within their rights to break the window.

If you must leave your dog inside the car for a few minutes in warmer temperatures, make sure to leave the air conditioning on to help ventilate air throughout the vehicle. 

Lower temperatures

In colder temperatures, you’ll want to make sure your dog isn’t shivering in the back of the car.

To help keep them warm, one option is to buy a dog coat, and if you do, make sure it fits their size, and try to avoid knitted fabrics, as these can easily get caught up in the seatbelt or car harness.

Other options to keep your dog warm include portable heated pads and self-warming pet pads. 

Adjusting music volume

Dogs can be very sensitive to the sound of music. It has been proven that just as humans have musical preferences, so do dogs. 

So, stay mindful of this, and make sure they aren’t visibly distressed if you’re playing a certain type of music at a high volume, especially over a longer period of time. 


When planning a road trip with your dog, it’s important to understand that as part of the family; they have equal needs to everyone else. As you’re in charge of their welfare, careful preparation is essential to ensure a smooth and enjoyable ride.

A road trip done right can be a fantastic bonding experience for everyone, and if done right, your dog will enjoy the trip as much as you will!