Wondering how to travel with a dog by car? Traveling with a dog takes a lot of patience and preparation. But there’s nothing better than being able to hit the open road with your best friend.
I started traveling with my German Shepherd when he was just a puppy. Our first road trip was Cape Elizabeth, ME when he was six months old, and I’m not going to lie, it was ruff (pun intended). I was so anxious the entire time. What if he made too much noise in the hotel room? How about if he had an accident? What if there was an emergency?
I learned A LOT from that first experience and many more since, and now I’m here to share the answers to these questions and more with my fellow travel-hungry dog owners. I look back now and am so glad I put in the time and effort then so that I can enjoy his company when I travel now.
So if you’re ready to plan a road trip with your dog, get your paws on my top dog-friendly travel tips.
Packing List for a Road Trip with Dogs
Here’s a checklist of the essential items to bring with you when traveling with your dog by car.
- Portable crate: A crate creates a safe, den-like space for your dog when he is in unfamiliar territory. Make sure you get your dog used to it before leaving home. Even if you don’t plan on leaving him alone in it for hours, it’s good to have the option if you need to go somewhere that doesn’t allow dogs or can’t get him to settle down at night. Many hotels require a crate if you plan on leaving your pup in the room unattended. I’ve tried a few portable options and love this collapsible, soft-sided travel crate.
- Toys and treats: Bring a favorite chew toy to occupy your pup during long car rides, a tug toy or ball to burn off excess energy during rest stops, and plenty of treats to reward good behavior.
- Dog bed: Traveling with a dog bed can be bulky, so first evaluate if you really need one. Many hotels will happily provide one for you free of charge, so be sure to ask ahead of time. But if you have the space to pack your dog’s favorite, the comfort of home is nice to have. Or you can go with a travel bed that rolls up for easy, on-the-go comfort.
- Car seat cover: Muddy paws are inevitable when you and your dog are adventuring together. Keep your car free of prints with this car seat cover. It’s super easy to wipe down or vacuum when you get home.
- Travel dog bowl: It’s important for your pup to stay hydrated while traveling. This collapsible dog bowl is a great option for the car. I also love this water bottle designed for dogs, which is great for bringing on hikes or the beach.
- Towel or Blanket: Road trips call for impromptu stops along the way. Pack a towel so you’re always prepared for too perfect to pass up picnic spots or swimming holes.
- First aid kit: Accidents can happen, especially when on the road with your pet. Responsible pet owners love this first aid kit with essentials tailored specifically for dogs. From everyday tick removals to treating cuts, it’s perfect in a pinch until you are able to see your vet.
- Safety harness: Buckle up! Put safety first with this car harness for dogs. We discovered it’s a must-have after our dog jumped out of the window of our moving car to chase a bunny (don’t worry, both dog and bunny were unharmed).
- Travel tote: Why shouldn’t Fido have his own stylish suitcase? Stay ultra organized on the go with this dog travel bag. It has compartments for everything you need while away, including two collapsible bowls and two lined carriers to store 30 cups of food.
- Extra food: Make sure to pack enough food to cover a few extra days, just in case your trip gets delayed or you need to stay longer. The last thing you’ll want to do is try to introduce a new diet while on the road.
- Vaccination records and tags: Make sure to bring an updated photo of your pet, copies of their health records, proof of rabies vaccination, and a collar with up-to-date contact information in case of emergency.
Tips for Traveling with a Dog by Car
Before You Go
- Check with the hotel first. Always call the place where you’re staying to make sure you are clear on the rules ahead of time. Are there breed or weight restrictions or additional pet fees that may not have been clear on their website? Is there a dedicated dog run for your pup to do his business nearby, or are there areas of the hotel that are off limits? Oftentimes they are happy to provide suggestions for dog-friendly things to do in the area. And some even provide services like dog walking or amenities like a dog bed or water bowl, so that you can leave those at home.
- Get the number of the local vet. Program into your phone the contact info for the nearest 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital, as well as that of your regular vet. And make sure your pup is up to date on vaccinations and medications before you leave home.
- Consider microchipping your dog. The last thing you want is to have your dog get away from you, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar place. For peace of mind, ensure your pet is microchipped before you travel.
- Identify a few pet friendly restaurants. Dining with your dog limits your options, as many states have restrictions on allowing animals in a place that serves food. But if you do your research ahead of time, you can find destinations that offer dog-friendly dining, often on outside patios. Just be sure to have a back up plan, like cooking in your rental or ordering takeout, in case weather isn’t suitable for outdoor dining.
- Practice makes pur-fect. It’s important to get your pup used to being in the car, especially when their young. Work your way up with shorter car rides and day trips at first. And if you know you’re going to have to leave your dog behind in the hotel for brief periods while you go out, make sure he is comfortable being left alone in an unfamiliar room beforehand.
During Your Trip
- Stick to your normal routine. This can be especially hard – after all, you’re on vacation! But it’s really important for dogs to maintain their regular schedule. Do you normally go for a walk first thing in the morning? Make sure to keep that up. Does your dog normally sleep in a crate? Don’t let the rules slide and allow him to snooze on the hotel bed. And try to keep your feeding times as close to normal schedule as possible.
- Enforce the rules. If your pup is like mine, he’ll try to test the boundaries in unfamiliar territories. Your training is more important now than ever. Be clear and concise to let your dog know that the same rules apply here as at home.
- Make frequent stops. Pull over at rest areas to allow your pup to stretch his legs. We always bring a tug toy with us on long road trips and spend at least 5 minutes in the parking lot getting out some energy. We’ve found it’s not only healthy for our pup, but also better for us to break up the journey!
- Prevent car sickness. Does your pup get car sick? Give your dog a small meal before traveling to help mitigate symptoms. Make frequent stops for fresh air, ideally 15-20 minutes for every 2-3 hours of driving. And if you can do so safely, try positioning your dog in the front of the car.
Dog-Friendly Trip Ideas
Looking for ideas on where to travel with your dog? Check out some my favorite dog friendly trips below.
Cape Cod, MA
When the dog days of summer strike, there’s no better place to be with your pooch than Cape Cod! Boasting pristine beaches, an irresistible laid-back charm, and countless outdoor adventures, Cape Cod is the perfect summer destination for humans and dogs alike.
Discover my Dog Friendly Guide to Cape Cod, MA.
There are plenty of dog-friendly things to do in Nantucket! You and your dog will both love exploring this tiny island off of Cape Cod, with virtually no traffic lights and plenty of quintessential New England charm.
Stowe, Vermont is one of the most dog friendly destinations in New England. With plenty of pet friendly establishments and all-season outdoor adventures, Stowe is a must-visit for travelers with their four-legged friends.
Get my Dog Friendly Guide to Stowe, VT.
Do you have any other tips for traveling with a dog? Leave a comment below!
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