10 Tips to Go Road Tripping With Your Dog

Two dogs sitting on rear seats of convertible car during road trip
Noah Clayton / Getty Images

Getting behind the wheel and setting out for a road trip is a classic American experience, made even better with your hound by your side. You’ll find that you’ll have to make more frequent stops than you would if you were traveling solo but, in the end, these stops are good for you too. You’ll stretch your legs, nourish and hydrate your body, and notice all of the green grass and nature along the way just like your furry friend. There are other things to consider when traveling with a pet like safety and comfort. Keep reading to learn tips and tricks for road-tripping with your dog.

Remember, Safety First

If you know from previous experiences that your dog is squirrely in the car, then you should take precautions to ensure their safety and yours. Many companies, like Kurgo, make crash-tested dog harnesses, that can be used for clipping in a leash for walks and to your dog to the seat like a seatbelt. The last thing you need when flying down the highway is for your dog to crawl into your lap and nudge the steering wheel.

Make Your Dog Easily Identifiable

Make sure that your dog’s identification tags are up-to-date with a current phone number. In addition to getting tags affixed to the collar, you may also want to get a Fetch Smart Pet Tag, which can attach to the harness or collar and notify you with a GPS location on your smartphone when someone finds your dog. Also, microchipping your dog through your vet is a great idea in case, for whatever reason, your dog loses his collar or harness. It may seem unnecessary but taking all possible safety precautions that you can when away from home is always a good idea.

Vaccinations are Important

You’ll want to have copies of your dog’s vaccinations and health record on-hand for a number of reasons. One, if you decide to board your dog for any reason, you’ll need to provide these documents. Two, when you cross state lines, the Department of Agriculture has certain entry requirements pet owners need to meet. Each state's requirements are different, however, most require a vet-certified pet health certificate and health records that show your pet is current on vaccinations (especially rabies). Third, if your dog gets sick or injured and you need to visit a new veterinarian in a different location, you’ll need to show these records. Of course, most of this information can be found online or faxed over from your current vet, but if the doctor is out of the office for a holiday or leave, it may be difficult to get documents in a timely manner.

photo of car interior with a man driving the car and a dog in the passenger seat
freemixer / Getty Images

Have Enough Space in the Car

Road trips may compel you to bring a lot of stuff, however, make sure you leave a dedicated comfortable and safe space for your dog. Don’t wedge him in between luggage or boxes and expect him to be happy about it. Ask yourself: If you have to stop or turn suddenly, will items in your car be a danger to your dog?

Also, be aware of the food you have in the car. Some dogs are quite the scavengers and will eat anything that has a scent. Make sure your dog is only eating the food you want them to eat so that your dog stays healthy and your car stays relatively clean. 

Some may find that it’s easier to bring along a hard-bodied dog crate where you can put a dog bed, pillow, blanket, or other comfort items for your pet. Make sure that your dog has been crate-trained and is comfortable being confined while in motion. The crate should be big enough that your dog can turn around in it but not so big that it could get jostled around.

Watch the Doors and Windows

Some dogs will stay in the car and only leave when you’ve called them. Others will bolt as soon as the door opens. Make sure that you know how your dog will respond and act accordingly. Put a leash on your dog before opening up the door and make sure that you’re parked somewhere safe, without traffic, when your pup jumps out of the car.

Windows are another concern. I know it looks cute when a dog sticks his head out of the window, tongue hanging out, on a car ride, but this is actually really dangerous. Perhaps you take a sharp turn or have to press the brakes suddenly—if your dog is hanging out of the passenger side, this could be disastrous. Maybe your pooch sees a squirrel or something it wants to chase and decides to jump before you can get a hand on the collar. Also, think about the bugs that smack on the window shield—if bugs hit your dog’s eyes at a high speed, their eyes could actually get injured.

Plan to Stop More Frequently

Dogs need to relieve themselves quite often. You’ll need to plan for stops along the way so that your dog can do its businesses, sniff around, and stretch its legs. After all, you want your dog to have a stress-free experience so part of that is letting it breathe some fresh air outside.

If you’re crunched for time, and traveling with another human, you can make your stops productive by having one person go into the store or restaurant to get food or pump gas while the other walks the dog around a grassy patch.

If time allows, you may even want to look up where there are dog parks available. Most forest preserves or dog parks have day passes available. And, be sure to offer your dog water at each stop. Staying hydrated is important for your furry pal. Purchase a foldable or travel water bowl for convenience.

burmese mountain dog in leg deep water with its tongue haning out
Wendy Altschuler  

Dogs Are Messy, So Be Prepared

Dogs are messy. They shed, slobber, chew, and have accidents. Think ahead and bring along a few garbage bags, cleaning supplies, an old towel for quick roadside baths, and if you’re worried about it, invest in seat covers for the front and backs of car seats. Baby wipes are useful as well for giving your pup’s fur a wipe down or for wiping mud off of their paws.

Pack the Essentials

In addition to comfort items for your dog like familiar smelling blankets, pillows, chew toys, stuffed animals, and treats, there are a number of other helpful things you may want to consider bringing. Of course, you'll want to pack plenty of dog food and water, but you may also want to bring a blinking light that can be attached to your dog's collar for safety during nighttime adventures. A longer lead is helpful as well for tying your dog up to a tree while camping or spending time outside.

If you’ll be staying in hotels, and you’re not sure how your dog will handle it, pack a foldable crate and set it up in the room. Of course, your dog should be familiar with the crate beforehand, but you may find that your dog loves having its own space, with recognizable items inside. A crate is a good way to keep pets off of the couch and beds as well. If you don’t trust your dog to behave and not chew up the furniture while you’re away at dinner or out of his sight, then a crate will ensure that you don’t get a huge hotel bill at the end of your stay for damages.

Be a Responsible Pet Owner

Never leave your dog’s waste for someone else to pick up or step in. Be sure you have an ample supply of dog waste bags and bring one with you every time you take your dog for a walk. Don't let your dog poop in freshwater supplies like rivers or streams.

Monitor the weather and be careful about leaving your dog unattended in the car, especially if it’s hot outside. If you walk away for a minute or two, be sure to crack the window so that fresh air can be accessed (but don’t open the window too wide for your dog to jump out).

You should also know what the wildlife situation is in the destination you’re in. Are there bears around? Moose? Raccoons? Protect your dog in areas with a lot of wild animals by keeping her on a leash, by your side at all times.

dogs and camping
Wendy Altschuler  

Research Ahead of Time

Of course, not all hotels and lodges accept dogs, but did you know that many campsites and parks have pet restrictions as well? A large number of National Parks, for example, do not permit pets. Be sure to check the National Park Service’s website prior to travel to learn if you’re allowed to bring your dog. Zion National Park in Utah, for example, accepts dogs on leash on certain trails, while Glacier National Park doesn’t accept dogs on trails or in the backcountry while inside the park.

The Best Drives for Dogs

To fully invest in the great American road trip, consider driving on Historic Route 66, which connects Chicago to Los Angeles. For views, drive along California’s Pacific Coast Highway and the Highway 1 Discovery Route. Learn your history along the Oregon Trail, or the National Historic Trail, and travel the route of the pioneers and pilgrims. Drive parallel to the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

Pet-friendly hotels may be found through PetsWelcome, an excellent aggregator that lists hotels in cities and towns across the U.S. Find out how many pets are allowed per room; what the extra fees are for bringing a pet; what, if any, amenities are available; and what the points of interests are nearby.

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