These tips could make all the difference between a fun trip and a lot of stress—for you and your dog.

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“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, that 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. 

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 67 percent of U.S. households (or 85 million families) owned a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). And according to a 2019 Orbitz survey conducted pre-coronavirus, 77 percent of respondents said they planned to take their pets on a road trip in the summer. With the current travel restrictions around COVID-19, it's likely many dog owners who are traveling plan to travel by car instead of other methods of transportation, like flying on a plane.

As you’re planning any future road trips with your dog in tow, it’s important to consider how to make the trip safe and stress-free for your pup so you can all get excited for the adventure.

4 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 get in the car with you. 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 road trip 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. If you notice any of these signals, talk to your vet, because it may be a sign that your dog has car sickness or is genuinely fearful of being on the road.

shaggy dog sits in car by the window, tongue out
Credit: Jenny Dettrick / Getty

Wondering how to travel with a dog that gets car sick? Talk to your vet about options that may help calm him down.

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. Plan for emergencies.

One of the best tips for traveling with your dog in general is to mentally prepare for any potential emergencies once you arrive at your destination. This means researching emergency vets and pharmacies local to your destination and putting those numbers in 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 is microchipped and wearing a collar with ID tags in case he gets lost.

3. Plan your 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.

4. Research dog-friendly destinations.

When preparing for a road trip with your dog across 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 and activities you can partake in together with your pet. This will come in handy when you get to your final destination so you can start enjoying your time together on day one of your vacation. This could include dog-friendly restaurants, hotels, breweries, hiking trails or nature preserves, beaches, 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.