Road Trips with Dogs

Torn between your wanderlust and a wagging tail? Don’t give up on either. Road trips are all about bonding with family and friends.

Plus, an amazing 78% of pet parents do not mind their fur babies tagging along on vacations. However, just because you and I like to bring them along doesn’t mean that they’ll always be the best travel buddies.

Oscar and sadie in the car for a road trip.
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Essential tips for pawsome road trips with dogs

To put things into perspective – having a dog cooped up for hours inside a car is no different from traveling with a toddler. No matter how well-traveled they are, long car rides aren’t easy on animals.

But there are a few things you can do to keep them comfortable and happy. The key to a stress-free road trip with kids or dogs is a good plan and prep. Here’s what you need to keep in mind before setting out on a long drive with your pets.

Prep your car to be pet-ready

It’s a good idea to get pet-proof seat covers and floor covers. That’s my dogs Oscar and Sadie in the photo on the Michigan car seat cover. We have that cloth cover over a waterproof seat cover.

Also, once the car gets moving, Oscar likes to sit on the floor behind the driver’s seat. So, we’ll put down a blanket so he can be comfortable. In addition, we invested in Weather Tech floor liners for our Subaru Forester to make it easier to clean up dirt, sand and dog hair he might leave behind.

Also, we always ensure that our dogs are harnessed and secured to the car seat with a seat belt. A harness is better than a collar, and never use a choke chain. With smaller dogs, you’ll probably want to Invest in a carrier (like you might use for taking your dog on an airplane) for them to travel in. Then, you secure the carrier to the backseat for safety.

Dogs on your lap could be against the law

Here’s one reason not to let your dog ride in the front seat with you. Experts say that airbags could be dangerous to pets in case of an accident. Also, it could be against the law — especially if you have your dog on your lap.

In New Jersey, there are animal anti-cruelty laws, and it is illegal to transport an unrestrained animal. If you drive with a dog on your lap, you could be pulled over and fined up to $1,000. With distracted driving laws in place to limit cell phone use, it is conceivable that you could be fined for having a dog in your lap while driving as well.

New Jersey isn’t the only state that has distracted driving laws that include a pet in the lap. You might get a ticket for driving that way in these states: 

  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island

There is a reason that driving with a dog in your lap could fall under the heading of distracted driving—it is unsafe to do. For you and for your pet.

Take more breaks road trips with pets

Experts highly recommend taking a break every two hours. Apart from bathroom breaks, this also gives your pet a chance to exercise.

Just like kids, a tired and happy pet is a better traveler. Always be leash-ready for rest stops.

Pet-friendly rest stops

Don’t forget to research and find pet-friendly rest stops on your way. Mostly, it is a designated area at a rest stop for dogs to relieve themselves.

Another idea: locate the PetSmart and Petco locations along the way. These are dog-friendly stores that also have bathrooms for humans to use. So, it is convenient for you, too.

Stick to your pet’s regular schedule

Try to keep up with their usual feeding times. Do not feed your pet in a moving vehicle. Give them a light meal 3-4 hours before your drive begins, and make regular stops for the rest of their meals.

Don’t forget a portable water bowl and a large bottle of water as well. Finally, if your pet tends to get car sick, speak with your veterinarian about medicine you can give them to help make the trip more pleasant for them and you, too.

Find pet-friendly places to stay

At the end of long drives, you and your pet would be craving a comfy place to sleep. The excellent news is that pet-friendly vacation rentals and hotels are on the rise. In fact, we just did a round up of the top 10 hotel chains in the United States and which ones are truly pet friendly.

Be prepared for emergencies

Traveling pets are better off microchipped – if not, ensure they have a tag with up-to-date identification details. If you are going on a cross-country road trip with pets, include information about your destination. Even when microchipped, get them a flat collar with an ID tag.   

Before hitting the road, call or visit your vet to confirm all vaccinations are up-to-date. Discuss any health concerns and possible remedies for emergencies. Diarrhea, restlessness and, as mentioned earlier, car sickness are common concerns while traveling. Make sure you have all medications and supplements needed for the journey.

Scan all your pet’s medical records and other documents onto a USB drive or phone before your long trip. It will come in handy in case of a vet visit during your road trip.

What to carry on road trips with dogs

Not everyone loves packing, but you can’t be sloppy about your pet’s kit for the road. Here’s a list to get you started:  

  • Medication, vitamins and other supplements
  • Pet-specific first-aid kit  
  • Proof of vaccinations  
  • Leash (not longer than 6 feet) and collar – many places require you to leash your pets. 
  • Food and water – if your pets get an upset stomach easily, it’s better to carry drinking water and familiar foods. Don’t forget can openers for canned food.
  • Bowls for food and water. You’ll also find cool water bottles for pets with attached cups.  
  • Waste disposal bags, potty pads and wipes to deal with any mess.
  • Toys – as many as you can – and treats to keep them interested.  

Two more things to remember  

Be considerate: Not everyone enjoys the presence of pets. It’s hard to understand why; I get it. Your floof could be the most adorable thing to you, but others might not feel the same way.

Make sure your pet isn’t causing any inconvenience to anyone. For example, if you go out to eat with your dogs in tow, keep them away from other diners like we did with our dogs when we visited this outdoor restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine.

oscar and sadie at outdoor restaurant in bar harbor maine
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Leave room for error: when traveling with pets, everything’s not going to turn out perfect. As you go, your plans might need tweaks, and that’s part of the experience. Just go with it and let nothing stop you from having a great road trip with your pup.

This story was produced by and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media. Celine Jerly contributed.

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