How to prepare for a road trip with your dog

Lauren Corona

With the proper planning, your dog will be an excellent companion on your road trip.

Your dog is your best buddy who goes everywhere with you -- even on road trips! Whether you're moving across the country or simply going on vacation and don't want to leave your four-legged friend behind, you'll need to plan your journey carefully with your dog in tow.

It's important to consider the needs and safety of your canine companion when you plan your trip. If you're not sure where to start, you've come to the right place. Read on to learn how to prepare for a road trip with your dog.

Safety first

Properly securing your canine companion in the car should be at the top of your list, for your safety as well as that of your dog and other road users. It doesn't take much for a loose dog in the car to cause an accident, which could injure you and your dog, as well as others on the road. Should you have a collision, a properly secured dog is far less likely to be hurt or die.

Common safety restraints for dogs include canine seat belts and hard-sided dog crates. If you choose a seat belt, be sure to use it with a harness, not a collar, because a dog seat belt attached to a collar would likely prove fatal to your dog in a collision. If you choose a crate, it should be strong enough to offer protection in case of an accident. Place it somewhere secure, so it won't slide around when you brake.

Practice makes perfect

Unless your dog is already used to taking long road trips, you'll need some practice. If your dog has hardly traveled in a car at all, start by taking short 10- to 15-minute journeys and work up to an hour or two. If your dog is okay with car travel but rarely goes far, try taking your dog on a day trip first to see how she copes. Dogs who are uncertain about car travel might need some positive reinforcement for encouragement. Enlist the help of a friend or family member who can sit next to or close to your dog, giving her ample treats and praise as you drive along. You can also try creating positive associations related to driving by always taking her on a long walk at the end of a car trip or giving her a favorite toy to play with as you drive.

Plan your route

Your dog will need breaks every two to three hours to stretch his legs and relieve himself, so factor this into your journey. He'll need one or two longer walks throughout the day, too, so choose a route that goes past some dog parks or dog-friendly hiking trails. When traveling out of state, research leash laws, breed-specific legislation, and other dog-related laws so that you stay out of trouble. If you'll be driving over several days, plan where you'll stay each night, and be sure to choose hotels or motels that allow dogs.

Pack appropriately

You're packing for your dog, not just yourself, so be certain you've packed everything she needs. Canine essentials include food, water, bowls, collar or harness, leash, poop bags, blankets, toys, and any required medications. We recommend packing her vaccination record, too, just in case you need to board her in an emergency.

Eating and drinking

If possible, your four-legged friend should have access to water at all times. When using a crate, you can buy bowls that attach to the inside, giving your pooch constant access to water. Otherwise, place a bowl in the footwell or somewhere near your dog. Should it be impossible to offer your dog water throughout the whole journey, stop every couple of hours so your pooch can drink.

In case of emergency

It's more than likely that your road trip will go without a hitch, but you should be prepared for emergency situations. In case you lose your dog, she should be wearing a collar or harness with tags. These tags should include your cell number, since you obviously won't be home to pick up a call. Your dog should also be microchipped, and you should have a recent photo of her with you if you need to ask around. You should also bring a doggy first aid kit complete with bandages, vet wrap, gauze and dressings, styptic powder, and something for cleaning wounds.

Keep your pet entertained

A road trip can be quite boring for a dog, so bring some your pooch's favorite toys. A KONG or similar toy filled with peanut butter can keep a dog entertained for a solid hour. Any toys you bring must be safe enough to use without close supervision because you'll be concentrating on driving.


Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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