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10 Tips for Taking Your Dog on a Road Trip


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Updated: 4/21/2021
Is there anything better than hitting the road with your favorite four-legged adventurer? We can't think of anything else we'd rather do! "Unfurtunately," taking your dog on a road trip isn't as easy as hopping in the car and cranking up the tunes. Thinking of taking a road trip with your best furry friend? We have all the tips and tricks to make this trip the best one yet!

Choose your destinations carefully

We know that life is about the journey, not the destination — but it's still a good idea to make sure your destination is pet-friendly. When planning a road trip with your dog, research the local laws and regulations for prospective stopping points. Some "pawpular" tourist destinations have breed-specific legislation and strict leash laws. It's essential you know these things beforehand so you can make alternative arrangements for bucket-list destinations. 

Be sure to investigate the rules of any parks or campgrounds you intend to visit to learn their stance on furry guests. Our city walking guides (like this one on San Francisco) are excellent tools for finding pet-friendly attractions throughout the US.

Wherever you go, there's going to be un-pet-friendly places you want to visit. Use Wag! Care services to find a dog sitter or dog walker to entertain your pup while you play!   

Don't expect Fido to "hold it"

When you hear that telltale whine, you'd better go ahead and pull off the interstate. Don't expect Fido to wait until the next exit because if you do, you may end up with a mess. Ideally, you should stop at a rest area every 2 hours or so for your woofer to relieve themselves.

If you're traveling with a dog under 12 months old, you'll need to stop more frequently. Puppies have much smaller bladders and therefore can't hold their water as long as a full-grown woofer. To be on the safe side, stop every hour if you have a growing pup in tow.

As any pet parent knows, potty breaks aren't always convenient and may not happen according to your schedule. Regardless of when you last stopped, if your pup starts doing the peepee dance, you should pull over or prepare to deal with the consequences. 

Never leave your dog in the car alone

Even on mild days, a vehicle's internal temperature can soar above the hundreds, causing hyperthermia, organ failure, and even death due to the rapid rise in body temperature. Heatstroke can develop in mere minutes, and the risk is even higher in dogs who are elderly, obese, or have short snouts (like Frenchies and Pugs).

Most people who leave their dogs in cars are well-meaning, but it's simply too big of a risk even if the windows are down. Data from two independent studies shows that, on a sunny day, the inside temperature of a car rises nearly 20°F in the first 10 minutes, even with the windows partially open.

Pack a canine-approved cleaning kit

Road trips with dogs can be a messy business. Spills, dusty paws, and accidents are just some of the surprises that may await you — heaven forbid your furry copilot is prone to motion sickness. Don't let the possibility of a highway catastrophe make you reconsider adventures with your canine comrade. For less than $20, you can assemble a full cleaning kit that will prevent stains and smells from dampening your doggy adventures.

The main things to have on-hand include: 

  • interior-safe cleaning spray
  • paper towels
  • microfiber cloths
  • towels
  • a lint roller 
  • a handheld vacuum
  • air freshener spray
  • an assortment of wet wipes

If you bring nothing else, bring along three different kinds of wipes: antibacterial wipes, baby wipes, and upholstery wipes. 

Antibacterial wipes are amazing for getting up sticky messes and animal waste but are too harsh for the skin. Baby wipes are gentle enough for humans and pups and are "furrific" for dirty paws. Unlike antibacterial wipes, vinyl and leather wipes won't damage car upholstery that gets caught in a sick woofer's line of fire.

Use doggy seat covers and booster seats

Don't stuff your SUV to the ceiling and expect your dog to sit contently while perched atop a drink cooler. Your dog needs to be comfortable on long trips, and you can expect to be miserable if they're not. Nowadays, there are tons of options for seating arrangements when traveling with a dog.

Booster seat installation kits, restraint harnesses, and doggy hammocks are just a few options for keeping pets — and their humans — safe and comfortable on long car rides. Soft-sided carriers are excellent for dogs with car ride anxiety or pups that like their privacy, since these are more comfortable than hard plastic or metal crates. Upright restraint harnesses are thought to be the safest option, but they are typically the most uncomfortable.

Not all dogs will tolerate being strapped in for long periods; it might be helpful to have a couple of options in the stowaway compartment. Dog hammocks may help your pet stay in their own space (and off your luggage), but know that big dogs can easily climb over the cloth walls if they put their mind to it. 

If your dog only stands for free-range riding experiences, a basic car seat cover might be your only option. Car seat covers can be used in addition to most other doggy car seat types and are inexpensive and widely available. You can use a fitted bed sheet in a pinch to prevent debris and claw marks from ruining your car interior. 

No matter which seating arrangement you choose for your pup, you should put the setup in practice before committing to its use while driving cross country with a dog. Curious how your ride measures up in the safety department? Check out our car safety article to make sure your car is up to par! 

Don't underestimate the power of a dog carrier

A lot of crate-trained woofers rely heavily on their crate for a sense of security at home. Dog carriers serve many purposes outside of the home, too, especially while traveling with dogs. Kennels can keep your dog calm in unfamiliar surroundings, contain them in the event of a car accident, and prevent them from rambling in your belongings when they get bored. 

Crates come in many forms and price ranges. There are soft-sided carriers for small breeds that want a luxury feel, blackout carriers for pups who crave privacy, and mesh carriers with bubble windows for doggos that enjoy nice scenery. Big dogs have fewer options, but you can make any kennel homely with some pillows, blankets, and plushies. 

Try to abide by your pet's normal schedule

Pets behave best when they have a structured schedule. While road trips certainly change the pace of daily life, it doesn't mean your pup's agenda has go completely off-kilter. Try to schedule your pet's meals, walks, and potty breaks at their normal times — this will reduce anxiety and prevent regression in dogs who are still learning their bathroom manners. Keep up with Daisy's flea, tick, and heartworm preventative medications, especially if you're visiting Southern states with substantial mosquito and tick populations. 

Take precautions in case your pet gets lost

The last thing any pet owner wants is to lose their dog, especially away from home. One search and rescue canine handler said nearly a fifth of all cases they've assisted with were dogs on vacation with their parents. Thankfully, you can take preventative measures before traveling with a dog to reduce the risk of losing Fido and make locating them easier. 

Before you head out, update your pet's ID tags with multiple contact numbers for yourself and any friends or relatives local to your destination. ID tags aren't a perfect solution. Sometimes these get hung up in branches or fall off, so it's a good idea to have a secondary form of identification. Collars with engravable metal plates are great for this purpose.

Most vets recommend that all dogs have microchips to identify them if they go missing and are taken to a shelter or vet. GPS collars are another invaluable tool for tracking a canine escape artist, and many connect directly to smartphones, allowing you to track your pet's movements in real-time.

Be vigilant about the dangers and risks of wild animals, loud noises, and your dog's prey drive. Many dogs run away when posed with perceived threats and might even pull the leash right out of your hands. When traveling with a dog, always keep them with you and never leave alone, tethered or otherwise. 

Keep some nausea meds on deck just in case

Even the most seasoned car-riding pooches can fall prey to motion sickness. Overeating, anxiety, and medications can all contribute to that queasy feeling. Puppies seem to be more prone to car sickness than older dogs since the balance control centers in their ears are still forming. When traveling with a dog, pack some anti-nausea meds in your first aid kit. 

Medications containing dimenhydrinate or meclizine are generally safe for most dogs, but you should always ask your vet before giving new meds to Rufus. If over-the-counter options aren't controlling your fur-baby’s nausea, you may need to talk to your vet about something stronger like the prescription-only medicine, Cerenia. 

Some owners also find success in using lavender essential oils or pheromone sprays on the dog's belongings to combat motion sickness, but there's no concrete evidence on its effectiveness.

It's also worth remembering that unexpected accidents can occur at any time, whether you're at home or out on a road trip. With this in mind, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like FIGO and Nationwide.

Want more info on how to plan the best doggy road trip ever? Check out our list of top activities for dogs who like road trips.

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