6 Practical Tips for Taking a Road Trip With Your Dog
"A vacation isn't a vacation unless the dogs come along," Colby Lehew says.
The owner of Dogletics, a dog training and walking company based in Chicago, is serious about her love of going on road trips with her dogs in tow. So much so, she named one of her two Australian shepherds Haven after her favorite road trip destination of South Haven, Mich., about a two-hour drive from home. On several occasions every year, Lehew loads up her car with 2-year-old Haven and 4-year-old Loki. And she isn't the only one.
According to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 70 percent of U.S. households (or 90.5 million families) have a pet. And more than 60 percent of pet owners love taking their furry friends on vacation and are always in search of the next dog-friendly destination.
As you're planning a future road trip with your dog, it's important to consider how to make the event safe and stress-free for your pup so you can all get excited for the adventure.
6 Practical Tips for a Road Trip With Your Dog
1. Create Positive Associations With Your Car
"A lot of dogs are afraid to go for a ride in the car because the only time they go anywhere is when you take them to the vet or to get groomed," Lehew says.
If this is the case with your pet, you may want to start planning some fun things locally to get your dog more excited to go with you and be more comfortable in the car. That way, he won't associate car trips with stressful situations. Take him to a dog park or visit a nearby pet store and make sure he gets a treat out of the excursion.
"If you constantly do fun things, they will no longer be afraid, and from there you can go so far as to start planning a cross-country road trip with your dog," Lehew explains.
It's a good idea to start with small distances (30 minutes to two hours) before traveling long distances, and to pay attention to stress signals from your pooch. These signs can come in the form of yawning a lot, licking their lips, or even vomiting.
Another important thing to think about when bringing your dog along on any car trip is how to secure him safely. There are several types of restraints, and it pays to do some research on what kind of travel gear you should get for your individual pet, including a carrier, harness, crate, or a car seat.
2. Know How to Ease Motion Sickness
Wonder how to travel with a dog who gets car sick? It doesn't happen to every furry pal, but there are some key reasons it might. Kingsbrook Animal Hospital notes that it's common with young dogs under a year old because parts of their inner ears, which affects orientation and balance, aren't fully developed. Other dogs also have middle- or inner-ear infections or vestibular disease that causes nausea.
Additional symptoms of motion sickness include:
If your pup is fairly acclimated to riding in the car but still prone to getting queasy, help them stay calm by keeping the interior cool, especially where they're riding. Maybe only offer a small nibble 6–12 hours before the trip starts to reduce the chances of stomach upset, and have plenty of fresh water available.
Finally, talk with your veterinarian about anti-nausea medications, such as Cerena, that may help. However, if your poor pooch has anxiety-induced motion sickness, your vet might prescribe something to help mitigate that first.
3. Research Dog-Friendly Destinations
When preparing for a road trip with your dog anywhere in the U.S., try to plot out a few fun dog-friendly stops along your route. This will give both you and your pup opportunities to stop and stretch your legs, as well as take in more of the sights in different areas before reaching your final destination. Especially if you can stop in places with walking trails to get your dog some much-needed exercise.
"I like to look at AllTrails for great places to go with Loki and Haven," Lehew says. "You can filter by dog-friendly trails. It's a great app to look at when planning road trips with dogs."
Before you leave home, do some research on dog-friendly places you can go to and activities you can partake in together. This will come in handy when you get to your final destination so you can start enjoying day one of your vacation. This could include dog-friendly restaurants, breweries, and wineries, as well as hiking trails or nature preserves, beaches, lakes, and anywhere else that piques your interest.
Apps like BringFido or BarkHappy are free and helpful resources for pet owners looking for pet-friendly travel options, and can help you find many attractions both you and your canine companion can enjoy. This includes pet-friendly Airbnbs, hotels, and cabins.
4. Plan for Emergencies
One of the best tips for traveling with your dog in general is to mentally prepare for any potential emergencies. This means researching emergency vets and pharmacies local to your destination and putting those numbers into your phone. And make sure you have your own vet's 24-hour emergency helpline (if they have one) in your contacts.
Some signs to look for that would indicate a potential emergency include:
Make sure you know some basic dog first aid techniques such as how to do CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, and always ensure your dog has an updated microchip and wears a collar with ID tags in case he gets lost.
5. Also Plan Potty Breaks
Try to stop for a bathroom break once every 90 minutes, Lehew recommends. While putting together your itinerary, check maps to see where you can stop along the way and make an effort to visit a few parks or trails so your pooch can run around for longer than just a few minutes.
"Just like it can be hard for a child to sit in the car for a long period, it's the same for many dogs," Lehew says.
6. Exercise and Play Often
Abide by your dog's exercise needs, even while traveling. This ensures they'll stay in tip-top shape the entire trip. Couple regular opportunities to leave the car with special vacation toys that your pooch can only play with while on excursions away from home. This positive reinforcement training means soon, your pup will point a paw in the direction of your next adventure!
Additional reporting by Melissa Locker.