Car Travel Tips for Dog Owners

Heading out on the road with your dog soon? Read our list of car travel tips for dog owners to make sure it’s an enjoyable experience.

Can I see your license? By: Rusty Clark

My dog loves going for car rides. As soon as she sees the car door open, her tail goes into super wag mode until she can hop in.

Most of our rides are short distances around town, but longer trips require some preparation. If you’re planning a car trip that involves your dog, here are some helpful car travel tips for dog owners to make it a smooth experience.

Harnesses and Carriers

Your dog should be restrained in some way. This keeps him or her from running around the car and distracting you, and it can also provide extra protection in case of an accident.

Carriers are typical choices for many pet owners, but make sure they are large enough for your dog to stand, sit, lie down and turn around. Avoid putting too many items in the carrier that take up space or could cause injury to your dog. Carriers on seats can slide around, so consider securing it with a seat belt or by other means.

Harnesses are another idea, although they have recently come under scrutiny. If you are considering a harness, check out this video of a dog owner trying a harness on her older dog:

If your dog is not familiar with a crate or carrier, try using it in the home before your trip to get your dog accustomed to it. Always leave the door open and add some of your dog’s favorite things inside to spark curiosity. Ensure the carrier has enough ventilation to allow air to pass through freely, either through gated areas or holes.

If your dog makes a mess inside the crate, carry the crate into a confined area such as a bathroom before letting your dog out. This allows you to clean the crate without worrying about your dog running away.

Small dogs are cute and may fit in your lap perfectly, but you should not drive this way or allow your small dog to lie on a dashboard or other areas in the vehicle. This causes a distraction for you and increases your dog’s chances of being injured.


This is an important topic for any pet when it comes to car travel. Be aware of what the temperature will be in the areas to which you will be traveling, and never leave your dog in the car. It takes only a few minutes for the temperature to rise to dangerous levels inside the car, and this can occur even in mild temperatures such as 75 degrees. Lowering the car windows is not an effective way to ventilate the car — and may even allow your dog to escape.

The same can be said for the cold: Dogs can get hypothermia or die from dangerously low temperatures. Keep extra blankets with you, and again — don’t leave your dog in the car.

Hotels, Motels and Camps

If your trip includes staying overnight, check with the place you will be staying to learn about their pet policies, costs and other concerns.

If you plan on finding a place to sleep as you go, make a list of dog-friendly places located in the cities or states you are traveling through so you know which ones to head to first.


Traveling across states, you might be asked to produce your dog’s rabies vaccination information. Plan to take a copy of all your dog’s records, as well as current photographs in case your dog becomes lost.

Consider getting your dog a microchip before the trip to provide an extra chance of finding your dog.

Here’s something exciting to know: You can get reimbursed for the cost of microchipping under Embrace Pet Insurance’s Wellness Rewards. Curious about the cost of pet health insurance? It’s more affordable than you probably think. Get your FREE, no-hassle quote here (affiliate link).

Keep a copy of the paperwork and a picture of your pet in three places: your car, taped to the carrier and with you at all times. Add your contact information so someone finding your dog can contact you.

Make sure your dog has a current tag on the collar — and bring an extra one in case it needs to be replaced while you are on the road.

Food and Water

Limit your dog’s food intake before traveling to reduce the possibility of sickness or nausea.

Take extra food and snacks with you for stops or when reaching your destination so you’re not forced to find a store that sells pet food. They may not have the brand your dog is used to eating, and changing food during a stressful situation such as travel might be a combination that causes stomach upset, diarrhea or other unpleasantness for your dog.

Consider taking bottled water — and lots of it — with you on your trip. Water quality can vary in different areas, and there are dangers in your dog licking up water or other liquids on the ground in places you stop along the trip. Ensuring your dog drinks only the water you bring will help reduce the likelihood of health problems.

Dogs can be seriously injured by riding in the bed of a moving truck. By: Mike Baird

The Pickup Truck “Don’t”

Don’t let your dog ride in the open bed area of a truck. This is dangerous in many ways. Your dog may jump out of the vehicle and run away or suffer serious injury. In the event of an accident, your dog may be thrown from the vehicle or crushed.

Many dogs are injured every year because of traveling this way. If your only means of travel is a truck that is full without the dog, consider leaving your dog with a family member or a boarding facility until you return home.

See the Vet First

Whether it’s time for your dog’s annual visit or not, a vet visit is a good idea before a trip, especially for long trips. Your vet can check your dog’s health and make sure travel will be okay without issues. Sedation should be discussed with your vet if your dog is stressed, anxious or has significant issues during travel.

Never self-medicate your dog or give your dog medications created for humans or other animals as these could be deadly. Make a list of vets or emergency animal clinics that are located along your travel path to find quick help in the event of an emergency.

Pit Stops

Try to plan your stops every three to four hours to ensure your dog has ample opportunities to stretch, potty, drink water and get a break from the car.

Don’t forget to bring along poop bags and/or a scooper to clean up after your dog. Keep your dog leashed and make sure nothing is licked up or eaten while in a strange area. Be alert for stray dogs or other animals that may harm your dog, and don’t walk too far away from your car.

Talk to the Kids

If you are traveling with children, talk to them about allowing the dog to enjoy personal space without distraction. Discuss behaviors they shouldn’t do, such as hitting or shaking the carrier, feeding your dog their food or snacks, teasing, hitting, pulling, opening the crate or releasing the harness or loud noises.

Any of these behaviors can add stress to your dog, and the goal is to keep your dog as comfortable and happy as possible.

Pet-Friendly Food Options

Take a look at the restaurants you will be traveling near on your trip to see if any of them are pet-friendly. You definitely don’t want to leave your dog in the car, so doing a little research may turn up a list of possible food stops where the dog can go with you. Otherwise, plan on drive-through establishments or pack your own meals.

Although this is not a completely inclusive list, I hope these tips have helped you prepare for your upcoming trip. If you have a travel tip you would like to add, tell me in the comments below. Also, do you have a cat? Check out our cat travel tips.

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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