20 Tips For Heading On A Road Trip With Your Dog

road trip with dog

Traveling with your dog for the first time can be overwhelming and there are a few challenges that you will face. We have traveled with our pets for years and there is so much that we have learned along the way.

Being prepared and knowing what to bring along can make a road trip so much easier and more enjoyable for you and your four-legged friend.

Pssst! Make sure to check out our handy doggie road trip packing list at the end of this post!

We cover 20 helpful tips on how to prepare for a road trip with your dog:

(click on the categories below to see more)

Ease Into It With Shorter Trips

First experiences matter, especially to puppies, so you want to make sure that your dog’s first few times in the car are positive and enjoyable. Before you take your pup on a long road trip, get them used to spending time in your car, and slowly build up to a longer trip.

For starters, you can drive your dog to a:

  • Park
  • Drive-through
  • Friend’s house
  • Pet store

As time goes on, extend the distance by driving your dog to a hike further away from your home or to visit a family member in another city. By doing this they’ll learn that being in a car is a good thing and it leads to fun activities.

Once they’ve mastered being in a car on shorter trips, a longer trip will be a breeze.

Our pup snoozing off in the car

Exercise Your Dog Before The Trip

Exercise is one of the best ways to assure that your dog is tired and sleepy during a road trip.

Before you leave your home set aside some time to do an activity with your dog that will wear them out such as:

  • Walking or hiking
  • Throwing a ball or a frisbee
  • Swimming
  • Doggie day care
  • Dog park

When your dog is tired, the car will rock them to sleep and they will snooze off for a few hours or possibly the entire time, depending on their energy level. If your trip is early in the morning, you can also exercise your dog the day before.

Exercise and training is the best way to tire out your dog before a trip

Get A Crate Or A Front Seat Divider

When I’m driving, my dog loves to put his paws on the center console and lean in as much as possible but this is often distracting and potentially dangerous especially during quick stops and sharp turns.

While our dogs love to be co-pilots and be as close to us as possible, it’s not safe to have your dog move around the car to the front passenger seat or jump in your lap while driving.

To keep them safely in the back you can get a pet barrier that stops your dog from coming to the front. A mesh net will circulate the air while keeping your dog secure in the back seat.

If you have a smaller dog, a travel crate is the safest option for car rides. But ensure that your dog is comfortable and familiar with the crate before your trip so they don’t freak out when they are being placed in it for long periods of time.

Hard Sided Pet Travel Carrier

Pack Extra Dog Food

Busy packing for your trip? Don’t forget to pack your dog’s favorite food as well!

I’ve made the mistake of not bringing enough dog food before and finding dog food on the road is the last thing that I want to deal with.

I usually bring a few wet food cans as well because my dog is a lot pickier with food when traveling and doesn’t always eat all 3 of his meals. If he’s not up for lunch – I don’t force him to eat. Sometimes the car motion can make them feel nauseous and most often their appetite will return by dinner time.

The good thing about traveling is that if you do forget or run out of dog food, it’s usually easy to find some at the local pet or grocery store in your destination.

All packed and ready to go!

Carry Plenty Of Water

Along with food I also bring a few large bottles of water. Whenever I stop to get gas, food, or to stretch my legs, I will check to see if my dog wants some water – and then take him for a potty break after.

Get A Collapsible Dog Bowl

When traveling with my dog, I love to bring along a collapsible dog bowl that is easy to pack in a bag, purse, or a backpack.

Instead of dealing with large metal bowls that take up a ton of room and can be heavy, a collapsible bowl can fit into smaller spaces and is very light. It’s perfect for feeding your dog in the car or for trips to the park.   

A collapsible dog bowl is easy to carry with you everywhere

Bring Toys And Bones To Keep Them Occupied

For longer road trips I like to bring along plenty of dog bones, toys and treats to keep my pup entertained. Bored dogs can get antsy and make a road trip miserable in a matter of minutes.

I suggest packing any of the following to keep your dog busy:

  • Bones. Amazon, pet, feed, and grocery stores sell a ton of options for bones. I like to get natural dog bones that have a bit of meat on them for scent.
  • Bully sticks. These can smell pretty bad but dogs absolutely love them.
  • Kong Classic. I like to fill our Kong Classic toy with peanut butter treat and store it in the freezer for a couple of hours. When the peanut butter hardens it takes longer for your dog to get it out keeping them busy longer.
  • Toys or a durable chuckit ball to chew on.

Stop For Frequent Breaks

When traveling long distances in a car, stop frequently for pee breaks, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies can hold their pee for one hour every month of their age so plan their potty breaks accordingly (ex. 2-month-old puppy can hold their pee for 2 hours max).

With adult dogs, we recommend stopping for pee breaks and exercise every 3-4 hours.

If you’re flexible on time, throw a ball or frisbee around for 15-20 minutes on these breaks to get their energy out.

If your pup is not used to being outside of the house, you can use a longer training leash to give them extra space to run around while also making sure that they don’t take off.

Check The Ground For Hot Surfaces

Did you know that your dog’s paws can get burned from walking on hot surfaces like pavement, sand, concrete and sidewalks?

I spent most of my life living in cooler places so when I moved to a hotter city and adopted my pup, I was not aware of how sensitive their paws can be until mid-summer hit and the ground became too hot for him to walk on.

Tip: If you plan to travel in the summer, touch the ground before you let your dog out of the car.

If you see them looking for shade or whimpering, the ground might be too hot for them to walk on. You can also get dog booties to wear over their paws to help protect them from hot or rocky surfaces.   

During summer we like to spend a lot of time along the Central Coast where weather is much cooler.

Use A Seat Cover For Your Car

If you plan to go on a lot of car rides and trips with your dog, you might want to invest in a car seat cover. Even if you frequently groom your dog, they will get dirty from running around in sand, mud, or swimming in the water. This can cause permanent damage to your car seats but can easily be prevented by using a bench back-seat cover.

Bring Your Dog’s Veterinary Papers

If you plan to travel to another country with your dog, you might need to bring along your veterinary records.

We have traveled to over 15 countries with our pets and some places often require special veterinary checkups before you can cross the border.

Before an international road trip, check regulations for your destination and confirm that you can bring your pet without needing extra paperwork or pet quarantine.  

Make Sure Your Dog Is Up To Date With Vaccines

When traveling outside of your home base your dog will be exposed to new places and environments.

Before hitting the road it’s a good idea to look over your dog’s vaccine papers and ensure your dog is up to date with their latest shots especially:

  • Parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Canine Hepatitis
  • Rabies
  • Tick Medicine

If your dog has other prescription medicine, be sure to take it along!

Work On A Few Basic Commands

If you have a well-trained dog, it makes road trips so much easier because they know what is expected of them.

One of the first things that I taught my dog after adopting him from the shelter is the “stay” command. This helps with car rides because my dog knows that it’s not ok to jump out and bolt as soon as I open the car door. I recommend using food and positive reinforcement so your dog associates training with yummy treats and a good time.

TIP: Teaching your dog a command to go potty can speed up the bathroom breaks. You can build up to this command at home by giving your dog praise when they go to the bathroom in the yard. We use the phrase “go potty” for pee and “hurry up” for poo.

Use A Harness

I have a high energy dog and sometimes it can be challenging taking him to new places because he gets overly excited.

Whether we’re heading to the park or going on a road trip, I always use a dog harness because it makes walking him so much easier.

I use the 2 Hounds dog harness which has two points of contact for the leash (on his back and his chest). This gives me more control and helps with pulling. The 2 Hounds harness is also easily adjustable as he grows bigger.

With this harness I don’t clip the leash on my dog’s collar but he does wear one with our contact information in case he gets lost.

Bring Extra Poop Bags

When traveling outside of your home base, be considerate of your pet’s waste especially at parks and outdoors.

So what’s the big deal if you leave your dog’s poop out in nature? Dogs carry diseases and bacteria in their waste that other animals are not used to and can potentially harm them. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, please carry out all of your dog’s waste because it can be destructive to nature and wild animals.

For poop, we use environmentally friendly pet waste bags . These bags are compostable which creates less plastic waste in the long term and is better for our planet!

Pet Proof Your Car

Before heading out on your trip, look around your car and clear out anything that your dog could potentially eat.

Crating your dog during a road trip will help eliminate your worry of them eating something that they’re not supposed to. But if your dog is too big to be crated in a car, clean out anything that they can eat or swallow especially things like:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Onions or garlic
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Alcohol
  • Weed
  • Medications
  • Batteries
  • Anything small that can get stuck in their throat

If your dog consumes something they’re not supposed to, you could end up being stuck with a large emergency vet bill – a situation that you certainly want to avoid.

Pack Some Comfort Items

If you think that your dog might get a bit anxious during the trip, pack a familiar item with their scent.

Our pup has a plush lamb toy that has been with him since the day that we adopted him from the shelter. He loves to fall asleep snuggling with it so we bring it with us anytime we plan to stay somewhere else away from home.

A comfort item can be a toy, cozy blanket, or even their bed that smells familiar and might help them relax.  

Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone In The Car

Most people know that leaving a dog in an extremely hot or cold car is potentially dangerous for them but did you know that leaving your dog alone in the car is also ILLEGAL in 31 states?

These same laws allow other people to forcibly enter your car to rescue your pet if they consider him or her in danger. If you’re planning to run errands or stop at the grocery store during your trip, you might want to get that done before you leave.

Fun Fact: Some of the newer electric cars like Tesla offer “Dog Mode” setting that will keep the car at a comfortable temperature even while you’re away from the vehicle.

Avoid National Parks and State Parks

National and State Parks are some of the least dog-friendly places in the United States.

At National and State Parks you typically can’t bring your dog on any of the dirt trails and are often limited to paved roads and campgrounds. We brought our dog with us on a National Park road trip before but ended skipping most of the fun stuff and hikes.

As an alternative, National Forests and BLM lands are very pet friendly.

One of our favorite states for road trips in the US is Oregon because this region has a lot of National Forests and Oregon beaches often allow dogs as well. 

Stay At Dog-Friendly Hotels

If you’re going on a long road trip, you might need to stay at a hotel overnight. There are a few hotel chains that allow dogs with a small pet fee. Some popular pet-friendly hotels to consider are:

  • Hilton Inn
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Vagabond Inn
  • Extended Stay America
  • La Quinta
  • Motel 6
  • Best Western
  • Airbnb’s

Note that some locations might not allow dogs or could have size limits so it’s always a good idea to call and ask ahead of time!

Ready for a road trip with your dog? Here is a handy checklist to make sure that you have packed everything you need for your trip!

Pin this list, screenshot it or download it below!

Looking for more travel inspiration? Here are a few other resources and blog posts that you may like:

Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:

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1 thought on “20 Tips For Heading On A Road Trip With Your Dog”

  1. Good info. Thank you for the reminder to bring the dog’s veterinary papers. And it’s good to know that 31 states have laws against leaving your pet in the car. We take turns sitting with the dog in the car if need be.

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