Taking your dog on a road trip can be super enjoyable – and super stressful. When my boyfriend Ryan and I got our first dog, an Australian Shepard/Border Collie puppy named Charlie, it took a while for him to get adjusted to traveling with us. I remember one of the first nights we had him in my van, Charlie got scared and straight-up peed all over my lap.
Now, we travel with two dogs – Charlie and Gumbo – and never leave them behind. However, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your dog stays happy and comfortable in the car, and in this blog post, I share 15 tips for road trips with your dog.
Planning a trip with your dog? Here are 15 dog road trip tips to ensure a safe (and fun!) time.
Tips for Road Trips With Your Dog
1. Have up-to-date dog tags
Have you moved since you got your dog? Make sure your contact info on their dog tag is up-to-date in case your dog somehow gets away. The same goes for the contact information associated with their microchip.
2. Bring a copy of your dog’s vaccination record
If you are on your road trip and your dog either gets sick or needs to be boarded for a day, you will need a copy of your dog’s vaccination records. Usually, a copy on your phone will suffice, but you can also keep a copy in your glove box for safekeeping.
3. Give them their own dedicated comfortable space in the car
Don’t pack your car to the brim to the point where you dog has to squeeze between luggage with barely enough room to lay down. Compare that to the middle seat on a 10 hour, oversold flight. No one wants that, and your dog doesn’t either. The more room and dedicated space they have, the better behaved they’ll be.
4. Use positive reinforcement & reward your dog with treats
A well-trained dog is going to be easier to road trip with than a dog that is constantly misbehaving. We’ve trained our dogs using the positive reinforcement technique. What that means is when they do what they are told, we reward them with a treat.
For example, when Charlie first jumps up in the van, he gets a treat which shows him that getting in the van without being coerced is what he’s supposed to do. Then if we stop at a gas station, and he goes to the bathroom, he gets a treat. Then when we call him back into the car, and he jumps in, he gets another treat. On the road, if we are eating lunch in the car, and he sits quietly in the back without begging, he gets a treat.
Over time, they learn to simply do that desired behavior, treat or not, but when you first begin to road trip with your dog, positive reinforcement with treats is a helpful tool.
5. Always give your dog access to water
Your dog shouldn’t have to wait until you stop for gas to get a drink of water. Get a small stable water bowl that you can put on the floor by your backseat and let them drink at their leisure.
6. Don’t ignore their bathroom needs on long drives
If you have to pee, your dog does too. Even if you are in a hurry to get to your destination, you need to take a few extra minutes whenever you stop to let your dog out to do their business. Just like humans need to get out and stretch their legs on long drives, so do dogs. Do a couple of quick laps around the parking lot with your dog to make sure they’re not just sitting in a car for hours.
7. Get toys that will last
Quality toys are an important thing to pack and this is a dog road trip tip that is often overlooked. Toys help keep your pup occupied and provides mental stimulation. Charlie destroys his toys pretty quickly. He loves ripping them apart and spreading the stuffing all over everything, leaving a mess for us to clean up. When we road trip, we try to bring toys that are more durable, so they don’t fall apart one day into our trip.
A few toys I like to keep on hand are a frisbee, ball, or another toy (consider a glow in the dark one for nighttime stops). If your dog is into fetch, a quick way to get a lot of exercise is a chuck-it ball thrower. You’ll throw the ball much further than you can with your arm, meaning the dog runs a lot further in a shorter period of time. Plus with the chuck-it, you won’t have to touch that slobber-covered ball with your bare hands.
8. Find the local dog park
When you arrive in a new town, an easy way to blow off your dog’s steam is to stop by the local dog park. They will be bursting with energy, and it’s a good way to socialize them as well. Not sure where to go? This website has listings for nearly every town, and I’ve found them to be fairly accurate.
9. Camp rather than stay at hotels
Camping gives your pup more space to roam and can often be easier than finding pet-friendly hotels. While many campgrounds allow dogs on leashes, we prefer to dispersed camp so Gumbo and Charlie can be off-leash and have more freedom.
Whether searching for paid campsites with amenities or free dispersed camping, we’ve found The Dyrt campsite finder app to be super helpful. Their Pro version allows you to download maps and search for campsites offline, view amenities, photos, and reviews, and even plan out your entire road trip. You can also filter campgrounds by their dog-friendliness. Get a 30-day free trial of The Dyrt Pro here to try it out for yourself. If you’re signing up on mobile, use the code “Bearfoot”.
10. Bring a collapsable crate for your hotel stays
For those times when you do stay at a hotel or Airbnb, a crate is a great tool to help your dog feel safe in a foreign environment. Even if you simply don’t trust your dog to not destroy your car when you are in a restaurant, then consider bringing a crate with you on the road trip. A collapsible crate is best because it won’t take up room in your car when you aren’t using it.
You’ll want to practice with the crate before your road trip (ideally when your dog is a puppy). The key is making the crate feel like their home. You can put an old sweatshirt that smells like you inside the crate, along with a few toys to make the dog feel more comfortable. Then use the positive reinforcement method mentioned above when they get into the crate, rewarding them with a treat. Never use the crate to punish your dog or you will get the opposite result. Here’s a good resource if you are looking for more tips on how to crate train your dog.
11. Know your car is going to get dirty
Dogs are messy little creatures. Some shed, some slobber, and all of them get dirty. There’s no way around it and the best way to deal is to accept it. Don’t get mad at them for being dirty. Hopefully, the dirt means they were having a lot of fun, which is the entire point.
If you are worried about your car, seat covers and a portable car vacuum will go a long way. If your dog tends to roll around in poop or heavy mud, you can carry a short hose in your car and rinse the dog off at the nearest water hookup. Quick-dry towels are also convenient for drying dogs off when they get wet.
12. Know the regulations in your destination
Don’t show up somewhere assuming it’s dog-friendly. Most national parks, for example, have strict regulations about dogs. Pets aren’t allowed on most trails and must be kept on short leashes in campgrounds. If this doesn’t sound like the kind of vacation you want to have with your dog, go somewhere else. The bummer is when you don’t do the research ahead of time and show up after a long day of driving only to find out your dog isn’t allowed.
If you are dead set on a destination that isn’t dog-friendly, look on Yelp for highly-rated dog boarding services near the place you are visiting or find a local dog sitter on Rover. For example, during our ski vacation in Sun Valley, we dropped Charlie off at doggie daycare for the day while we skied, and it only cost us $20. We came home tired, and so did he.
13. Don’t leave your dog in the car on a hot day
The inside of your car gets hot when left in the sun on a summer day – if it’s too hot in the car for you to be comfortable, it’s also too hot for your pet. Be aware of this and don’t leave your dog sitting unattended for a long time in the heat. Use your common sense. Dogs can die in cars and you don’t want to lose your best friend to carelessness.
If you must leave them for a few minutes, crack the windows and you might even consider putting a portable battery-operated fan in your car to keep them cool. Reflective windshield covers also help keep the temperature down in your vehicle.
14. Pick up after your dog
Don’t be the jerk who doesn’t pick up after their dog. Not only is it gross to look at, or worse, step on, dog poop pollutes waterways. We like to keep a hearty supply of poop bags in the car so we are always prepared to pick up after our dogs.
15. Be aware of wildlife
We just got back from road tripping in Yellowstone, where it was very important to abide by leash laws at the campgrounds. Our campground host told us that bears and elk often strolled through camp, and the last thing we wanted was Charlie loose and barking at a bear. The point is you should know about the local wildlife and make smart choices so your dog doesn’t end up a bear’s next meal.
Are we missing any dog road trip tips? Or do you have questions? Share in the comments below!