Learn how to make car travel with your dog safe and comfortable

Just for kicks, say the word “car” to your dog. If she’s like our pups, she starts dancing at the door, ready to hop in and hit the road. Usually, it’s just a spin to the dog park and she’s off and running again. (For pointers on car safety in general and for quick trips with pups, check out this recent tip). But what about long car rides with your pup passenger? Read on. Your doggie’s safe and happy road trip starts here.

First Stop: The Vet

Before traveling any great distance with your dog, it’s smart to talk with your vet. This way, you’ll know in advance if your dog’s healthy enough to travel or if any health problems may be aggravated by the trip. Your vet can also help you determine if your dog’s temperament is well suited for a long trip, and may suggest medication or homeopathic aids for pups that get anxious or car sick.

Test Drive

If your dog is unaccustomed to car trips, start out by traveling short distances to fun destinations for your dog, so your pup gets used to car travel and associates it positive experiences. You already know how important it is to crate or restrain your dog in the back seat of the car, for her safety and yours. Use these test rides to try out your new car restraint since a long car trip is not the time to try it out for the first time.

Pack Your Doggie Bag

Just like you, your dog needs a few comforts of home when she travels. Here’s the checklist for doggie essentials she just can’t do without.

  • Pet ID tag with cell phone number and destination information and phone number
  • Recent pet photo, in case (gasp) she gets separated from you
  • Health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination
  • Leash and collar
  • A cozy pet bed, treats, food and water dishes and must-have toys
  • At least one gallon of home tap or bottled drinking water
  • Pet first aid kit and any medications she needs
  • Phone numbers: Current veterinarian, emergency pet hospital numbers, animal poison control center
  • Car safety restraints: crate/carrier, seatbelt harness
  • Towels and clean up supplies in case of car sickness

Relax & Enjoy the Ride

Keeping your dog comfortable is the key to a successful journey.  Set off only after your dog is well exercised and fed a light meal at least three hours before you go. Also, plenty of water and leashed bathroom breaks every two hours during the trip will help her stay relaxed and comfy. And never underestimate the power of fresh air. To help keep carsickness at bay, just crack a window a bit (but not enough for her to stick her head out).

Soothe the Pooch

Just like people, some dogs just don’t enjoy a long car trip. If they must come along, you can help soothe an anxious pup with peaceful music, their favorite toys, and the calming tone of your voice. Even better, if it’s possible, have someone sit in the back seat near the dog to help distract and comfort her from door to door.

The Scoop:

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Originally published March 2009; reviewed and updated March 2017.