Thinking about taking your dog on a road trip? Dreaming of how he or she will feel the wind in their ears, with a world of new scents to enjoy? Excited about the notion of your puppy exploring a new section of the world with you? Well good news because I have now taken my dog on a handful of very successful cross-country road trips, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. I might consider myself an expert at dog road trips at this point… but I also have an incredibly good dog. So I’ll go ahead and say it’s both of our skill sets combined that allow me to put together this list of top tips for taking your dog on a road trip. He’d help me write, but he doesn’t have thumbs and that makes it difficult to type.
As a disclaimer, I have no experience in road trips with other types of pets. My specialty is road tripping with dogs. So if you’re trying to pack an alpaca or an iguana into your SUV, I’m no help. But if you’re getting your sweet floofy pup into the car and on the road, keep reading for my 17 top tips for going on a road trip with your dog.
The Short Version
- Make their riding space nice and cozy
- Pack extra water for them; pour them a bowl some at every stop & in between
- Have the necessities within arm’s reach
- Stock up on any pet medications
- Pack your own dog food
- Pack food flavor enhancers
- Bring a car toy or 5
- Consider playing fetch during your stops
- Leave no trace; doggy style (heh)
- Pack a collapsible water bowl
- Look up pet rules for your destinations
- Pay attention to their noises
- Make sure they’re up to date on vaccinations & those records are easily accessible
- Make sure their collars/dog tags have your contact info
- Bring a stepping stool
- Stay places according to your dog’s behavior
- Plan your stops to match with their potty schedule
The Long Version
1. Make their riding space nice and cozy
You want your dog to enjoy the road trip as much as you do, so making their area comfortable for the long haul is imperative. How you do this can definitely depend on the size of dog you have. For example, if you have a chihuahua, you might just need a dog bed in the passenger seat and you’re golden. For me and my 100 lb German Shepherd though, we needed a little bit more work. This is how I made my dude Bruce comfortable on this doggy road trip:
- Install a dog hammock that hangs between the front seats and back seats. This gives plenty of room for your dog to move around and you don’t have to worry about him/her slipping and falling onto the floorboards. I’ve used this inexpensive dog hammock for years and it’s held up great.
- If it will fit, bring a dog bed in the car. We brought one of Bruce’s extra ones that he uses and it worked perfectly. A little more cushion for him to lie down and get comfy was very appreciated by our big dude with arthritis.
2. Pack extra water for them; pour them a bowl some at every stop & in between
We’re the type of people who have like, 15 water bottles for no good reason. Well, turns out there *is* a good reason, and that reason is for road trips with our dog. We packed ourselves our water bottles and then another two for Bruce, making sure to fill them up at gas stations along the way. Again, Bruce is a big dog who drinks a lot of water, so we needed a lot on hand, but pack for your individual dog’s needs.
3. Have the necessities within arm’s reach
You shouldn’t have to scramble to get to your dog road trip essentials. Your dog’s leash, treats, toys and water should be easily accessible the duration of road trip. Pack it all into one bag and put it somewhere either you or your passenger (if you have one) can easily reach, but that your dog can’t get to. Nothing ruins a road trip with your dog quite like your dog getting into something he/she shouldn’t and being sick in the car. This doggy bag (ha, see what I did there) should contain the following:
- Water bottles
- Bowl for water
Our favorite spot is behind the passenger’s seat. Bruce can’t access it due to the doggy hammock, but we can quickly and easily access it from inside the car or from opening the back door of our Jeep.
4. Stock up on any pet medications
If your pet has any medication they may need while you’re gone, stock up beforehand. Ask your vet how they’d recommend you go about this with their practice.
Also, IF YOUR DOG GETS CARSICK, bring Benadryl. Bruce used to get very carsick when he was a puppy and our vet recommended Benadryl for him. Definitely consult with your vet about how much your pet should take and if it’s right for them given their medical history but this was a lifesaver for us.
5. Pack your own dog food
Some people think buying food once you get to your destination will help with storage space, but I definitely recommend against that. You can’t rely on stores at your destination to carry it or have it in stock (especially when there are logistics-related issues caused by COVID for example). Find yourself a tupperware container to store your dog’s food for the duration of the road trip.
6. Pack food flavor enhancers
This may not matter for your pet, but was a life saver for us. My dog is not super food motivated, which can be difficult on a road trip when activities are planned for your days and you can’t pack dog food for said activities. So bringing some extra flavor enhancers to make him super interested in his breakfast proved to be very helpful multiple times on this road trip with our dog. Flavor enhancers can really be whatever tasty tidbits you have and know your dog’s stomach can handle. We used a little bit of sandwich meat and bone broth most often; worked like a charm.
7. Bring a car toy or 5
Just as you’d get bored in a car with no distractions for hours, so will your dog! Bring some toys for the car to make this road trip with your dog more enjoyable for them. Also, consider some new toys! Extra distracting, extra exciting, and equates the car with a good time. But maybe avoid squeaky toys… for your own sanity.
8. Consider playing fetch during your stops
Depending on how long your dog road trip is, there might be some pent up energy going on with your floofy friend. Fetch is one of the best ways to expel lots of energy quickly, so pack a ball or five and play fetch in some grassy areas where you stop along the way. But of course, only if you trust your dog to do so without darting off. Not a great idea letting an untrained dog run wild in a new place without a leash on.
9. Leave no trace; doggy style
Yes, I’m a child and I laughed at that headline. But, it is very important and not simply a wildly clever innuendo. You should be picking up your dog any time he or she makes any sort of mess on your road trip, whether that is leaving waste on a walk or tearing up a toy in a hotel room. Your dog is your responsibility, not the responsibility of the town(s) you’re visiting.
10. Pack a collapsible water bowl
Collapsible water bowls are so helpful. You can pack them easily in your backpack if you’re going on adventures, camping, backpacking, the dog park… you name it. These ones are great and you can clip them to a backpack; so easy!
11. Look up pet rules for your destinations
Not everywhere is pet friendly, which can put a real damper on your road trip with your dog if you’re not prepared. These are the types of places I always check and make sure are dog-friendly before I depart on my road trip with my dog:
- Local, state, and national parks – check what areas of the park are pet friendly because not all are
- Wilderness areas
- Hiking trails
- Accommodations (hotels and rentals)
- If you’re renting a car for your road trip with your dog, make sure the rental campany allows dogs
12. Pay attention to their noises
My dog Bruce is SUPER vocal and always making noise but that’s no excuse to not be paying attention. Are they whining because they have to potty? Are they hacking something up? Make sure your music isn’t too loud and you can hear your furry friend.
13. Make sure they’re up to date on vaccinations & those records are easily accessible
You never know why you’d need their documents, but it is so much better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.
14. Make sure their collars/dog tags have your contact info
See tip #13’s description.
15. Bring a stepping stool
Depending on your dog’s age and size, getting in and out of a car, SUV, or otherwise can be hard on their little joints. My German Shepherd has arthritis and is still very active, but we have to be super thoughtful with him because he can’t jump like he used to. A stepping stool can definitely help get your little girl or boy into the car a little bit easier, especially if they’re hopping in and out multiple times per day.
16. Stay places according to your dog’s behavior
If you are staying in hotels or homeshares along the way, do so thoughtfully and book your accommodation based on your dog’s known quirks and behavior.
For example, for our dog road trips, we almost always book an Airbnb/VRBO that is a house or cottage all to ourselves; not in an apartment or condo. This is because our dog is a German Shepherd who will bark at bumps in the night. We know this about him and it’s just who he is, and while we’re prepared for it others aren’t. Don’t make potential neighbors hate you by bringing a yippy or barking dog into their communal space; book your accommodations appropriately.
17. Plan your stops to match with their potty schedule
If you can, plan to stop every hour or two to get your dog out of the car for a few minutes. Get their potty, water, and play break all taken care of together.
So there you go, my top tips for enjoying your road trip with your dog to the max! As always feel free to reach out with any questions, and be sure to follow me on Instagram and TikTok to see my floofy boy Bruce on the road with me!