Picture it: the open road, your best friend at your side, any destination you want. You may have never realized how much you needed a road trip with your dog until now. There are plenty of do’s and don’ts in planning a road trip for you and your furry companion, and we have all the dog travel tips you need for a safe and memorable trip you’ll both remember furr-ever!
First Stop – the Vet!
It is always a good idea to stop in at your veterinarian for a check-up, especially if you’re planning a cross-country road trip! Here are the questions you should ask your vet:
- Is my dog healthy enough for a long journey?
- Are all of his/her vaccinations up to date?
- What should I do if my dog comes across fleas, ticks, or heartworms on our trip?
- Is my dog microchipped? (Ask if they can test scan the microchip!)
We’ll dive into pup-proof road trip safety later, but if your dog has any health concerns, it’s important to ask your vet specific questions about that health issue and travel or first aid! For example: Which medication should I bring with me? And which should I be sure to bring extra? All of these answers from your trustworthy vet will help you, and your dog have a safe and happy adventure!
Map It Out
After you’ve chosen a destination (we suggest some great ones below!), it’s important to look at the route you’re taking to make sure there are dog-friendly options. Make sure all the rest areas have a grassy area for your dog and that you have plenty of food options that are pup approved! You can use helpful websites like bringfido.com or dogfriendly.com to choose the spots suitable for dog travel.
When looking at your route, choose the major milestones. Look for spots such as after you’ve driven off of a parkway and onto an expressway, major cities, halfway points, and of course your destination(s). In those areas, look for trusted veterinarians and animal hospitals. Of course, we hope that nothing out of the ordinary happens to your pup on your trip, but that does not mean you don’t need to prepare! By having a list of vets and animal hospitals along with your roadmap, you will always have a plan to put your pup in good hands.
Drivers, Choose Your Vehicle!
Road tripping with your dog means that the more room, the better. We recommend using an SUV or van so that there is room for your dog in all forms of travel – the long haul, and the short drives from your hotel to the destination that day (dog park, beach, etc.). If you don’t have access to an SUV or van, then consider a sedan with a larger back seat. Avoid front-cab-only cars like regular trucks or sports vehicles for dog travel, as they put your dog close to the front airbag. Even if your dog is in a crate, the powerful front airbag can do more damage instead of providing a cushion. Airbags were designed with a much larger, human body in mind, so be aware of the airbags throughout the car so you can put your dog in a safe spot, like the backseat where there are smaller, side airbags! For this reason, it’s also important to make sure there is room on either side of your dog, or the crate they are in so the airbags don’t completely squish them.
Creating a Dog-Safe Space
If you don’t drive with your dog often, then we recommend putting them in a crate for the long trip. Don’t worry, you can put them in a larger crate than normal for some extra room, and include blankets, toys, and their favorite chew toy! Placing your dog in a crate helps you avoid that crawling-all-over-you thing our pups love to do when they’re anxious. That way, you can focus on safe driving. If your pupper is comfortable in a moving vehicle, or if you have another person coming along with you to keep an eye on your four-legged passenger, then your doggo doesn’t need to ride in a crate. You can purchase doggy seat belts and harnesses that you can attach to the backseat and existing seatbelts, so your pup can move freely, but not too freely. We also recommend seat covers that double as hammocks or slings, so your doggo won’t fall off the backseat if you need to brake quickly! Safe dog travel is the best way to go!
Supplies to Keep in Reach
Your packing list is important, but the supplies you have on hand in the cabin of the car can be a life-saver! Make sure you have food, treats, and water on hand. We recommend collapsible bowls for food and water, so they can easily be stored when not in use. You can organize all of your supplies in a hanging travel bag – that’s right, like the one you use for toiletries. Hang it on the back of the passenger seat, and you’re good to go. The most important thing you need to have in reach is a leash! Whether for pit stops, an unlikely accident, or any other situation, a trusty leash like our Minimalist leash is essential to keep in reach during your road trip.
Practice Makes Perfect
Your vehicle is picked out. Your pup-safe space has been created in the backseat. What next? Practice run! Whether your dog has been on many car rides or only a few, it’s important to take your pup for a test drive to make sure you’re ready for anything. Pro Pupper Tip: your dog travel test drive should be somewhere fun, so your dog associates the car with something positive. Take your dog to the park, the pet store for a treat, or to visit a friend they love! If you want to plan multiple practice trips, we suggest that the closer you get to your trip, the more positive and exciting the destinations should be!
Choose a pup-approved dog travel bag for your best buddy for the most important step: packing pup’s possessions. Here is your packing list – feel free to print it out and check off each item!
- Food & treats – pack enough, and extra so you don’t have to stop and pick up anymore on your trip, risking having to try a new brand that might not work well with your pup’s taste!
- All pet medications & vitamins
- Food & water bowls – collapsible and easy to clean will be one of the best choices you make this trip!
- Pet bed or blanket (depending on your pup’s preference) – we recommend not washing it beforehand so that it smells like home!
- Lots of chew toys
- Towel or two, especially if you’re visiting a beachy place
- THE. POOP. BAGS. No explanation needed.
- T.B. (Emergency Tennis Ball) trust us — if you need to grab your dog’s attention for any reason, pull the E.T.B. out of your glove compartment to wrangle your dog back into the car or to sit still in the backseat with laser-focus!
- Pet insect repellent or sunscreen, ask your vet for recommendations
- At least one extra leash, if not two. Make sure you choose a reliable make of leash.
- Dog first aid kit
Dog First Aid Kit
Ready for another list of supplies? You should always have a human first aid kit on hand during trips, but make sure you have one for your pupper as well. Here is everything you need to avoid a doggo disaster:
- 3% hydrogen peroxide (for wounds)
- Vet wraps that cling to legs/paws, but don’t snag fur
- Non-adhesive sterile pads
- Thermal blanket
- Styptic powder (Pro Pupper Tip: cornstarch also works when mixed with water! It clots bleeding)
- Plastic card, like an expired credit card, to scrape stingers out of your pup’s skin
- Mini flashlight
- List of emergency numbers:
- Your Vet
- The vets and emergency pet hospitals you mapped out
- Animal Poison Control Center
Pro Pupper Tip: Many vets and animal hospitals will give you some of these supplies if you ask nicely! If you have pet insurance, don’t forget to pack your insurance card! You should also download the American Red Cross Pet First Aid app to help patch up any dog travel injuries.
Have you ever made a last-minute list for yourself? You know, a list of what you need to do the week leading up to your trip, or pack the morning of departure. Do the same thing for your pup! A week or two before your departure, make sure your dog’s tags are legible, and the address or phone number on the tags are up-to-date. If they’re faded or out-of-date, get some new ones printed. Along the same lines, make sure your dog’s collar isn’t falling apart! You want a reliable collar, like a sleek leather one. Or show off your shiny new dog tags on a fancier collar. Just in case, pack a recent photo of your dog. Whether it’s a printed version or easily accessible in your phone’s photostream, better safe than sorry if your pupper goes rogue during dog travel!
The morning of departure, don’t feed your dog right before you start the engine! If your pup is ready to feast at any hour, then get up early, so they have time to eat and go to the bathroom before you hit the road. Otherwise, give them a light meal, so their tummy isn’t rumbling the whole trip. If you’re slowly rolling down the street, a cracked window is fine, but once you’re on the highway, roll the windows up – they can be very harmful to your dog’s ears! Pro Pupper Tip: use the kid-safe window lock if your car has one, so a pup’s paw won’t accidentally push the window-down button!
You know your pup better than anyone, so you know if the slightest sound or feeling will set off their nerves or anxiety. Ask your vet if there is anything you can do, specific to your dog, to help ease their nerves. There are options like pressure wraps or pheromones you can provide to your dog for natural relief. But the most important thing is to pay attention to your dog’s nerves. If needed, take frequent breaks so your dog can calm down and have some snuggle time. Anxious panting can dehydrate your dog quickly, so keep track of their water intake.
Believe it or not, your dog can get carsick, too! Again, your vet’s opinion should matter most in this regard, but spotting the signs of nausea are helpful. If your dog is drooling, making loud coughing or gagging sounds, or seems a little off after a backseat nap, then your pup might need a break from all the motion! Choose one of your pet-friendly stops, let them breathe in the fresh air, and reset before the next leg of your trip.
You have all your puppy-potty spots picked out at the rest areas along your route, but it’s important to keep track of the time of day you fed your dog, or gave them a drink of water. That way you can coincide potty breaks with gas refuel and your own food stops! If you take pride in your dog’s obedience, here’s a Pro Pupper Challenge for you: practice commands for quick potty stops, like “go now,” to speed up the process and get back on the road. (We know a certain corgi that will do her duties when told “be a good girl, go potties!” but it requires an embarrassing fairy-like voice. Worth it.)
Half the battle of the road trip will be keeping your pup entertained. While we wish dogs could play word games and eye-spy during the car ride to pass the time, making sure you have plenty of chew toys on hand will do. Regularly switching out toys will keep your dog’s interest, but when in doubt, just talk to your dog in a calm voice. There really is nothing your pup loves more than hearing you tell him or her how much you love them and list everything you’re going to do on your trip!
Hotel, Motel, Puppy Inn
As a proud pupper parent, we know you did your research to find the perfect hotel to accommodate your furry child. Remember to make a reservation well in advance, because some hotels only have a certain number of rooms that are pet-friendly, and hotels that welcome pets fill up quickly if you save it until the last minute! Pro Pupper Tip: if your dog usually barks at the smallest sounds in your backyard, the chance of that happening at a busy hotel is even more likely, so bring a white noise machine or download a white noise app to block out the outside noise. That way, you and your pup will have an uninterrupted sleep, and you will avoid being that noisy guest with a barking dog!
If you need to go somewhere without your dog, it’s important to have a back-up plan, so your dog stays safe. We recommend always bringing a kennel or crate, even if you aren’t using it in back seat travel, so if you need to leave the hotel, you can put your dog in the crate and avoid any mishaps. If you want your pupper to be supervised, make it a priority to find a safe and clean kennel or boarding services during your pre-trip mapping. You never know what emergency may come up that requires you and your pup to separate for a little while, so it’s important to have a plan!
Although we are sure your pupper is in good hands, we want to remind you of the never-ever-evers in the pup road trip adventure:
- Do not leave your dog in the car unattended
- Do not roll the windows down at high speed – it hurts their ears!
- Do not let your dog freely roam the car
- Do not let your dog ride in a pickup truck flatbed
- Do not let your dog sit in your lap while driving
- Do not let your dog hang out of the window
- Do not forget the water in the car!!
Make sure you know the dog travel laws in your state, as some states have officers that will write you a ticket for “improper pet transport!”
We saved the best part for last – choosing the dog travel destination for your road trip! Here are a few suggestions that are pet-friendly and offer fun for the furry and human alike.
If you’re looking for a northwest adventure that is pup-friendly, let us introduce you to the San Juan Islands. Drive into Washington, and at the port in Anacortes is the Washington State Ferry. The ferry is dog travel-friendly (with a few reasonable rules!), and only an hour trip on board. Once you see land, it’s time to choose an island. The San Juan Islands include Orcas, Shaw, and Lopez. We recommend Orcas, which has miles of shoreline, great restaurants, and Moran State Park, which is one of the largest parks in Washington! Leash up your pup and explore the 38 miles of trail.
You and your pup. Shades on. Cruisin’ down the Pacific Coast Highway. Where are you headed? Carmel Beach, dude! The beach, the town, all of it is ready to welcome your pup! If your dog is well-trained, they can roam off-leash and play in the waves. You can also walk along the Scenic Path (no, really, that’s what it’s called) during sunrise or sunset with your four-legged friend in tow.
History Buff / History Ruff
One of the greatest dog travel destinations for the smarty-pants history buffs out there is Boston’s Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is designed with red bricks and painted lines for you and your pup to walk the steps of our forefathers and four-legged-fathers (their dogs, of course). You can grab an audio tour from the Visitor Center if you don’t want to make your pup walk with a crowd of tourists. All that’s required is a leash! Afterward, make your way to Boston Commons so your pup can socialize.
Need More Options?
Maybe you’re not sure whether you want a cityscape or a beach vacay for your dog travel, here are a few more pet-friendly destinations:
- Great lakes – plan on Chicago & Lake Michigan
- Tennessee – visit Shelby Farms Park
- Missouri – Gateway Arch Park is pup-approved!
- Vermont – Dog Mountain. A mountain made for dogs.
- New Jersey – Wildwood & Ocean City dog beach
- South Carolina – Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Well, it looks like you’re all set to hit the road. Pack your bags, grab a leash, and buckle up! Be sure to take plenty of pictures to remember your fun (and safe) pupper road trip!