If you like to travel, you probably have a road trip checklist that includes snacks, water and entertainment for the long hours ahead. Do you have a similar checklist for your furry four-legged travel companion?
The safest way to travel with a dog in the car is to be prepared. Adding a dog to your long-distance trips doesn't have to be difficult. If you follow a few best practices for driving with dogs you can make the trip less stressful for both you and your dog.
1. Restrain Him
The safest way to travel with a dog in the car is to secure him in a crate. If that isn't an option, try a seat belt specially made for dogs. We've all seen a dog with his head lolling out the window as his pet parent zips along in the passing lane, but letting a dog roam around your car is not safe. A dog who's unrestrained in a crash could be ejected from the vehicle or injured by an airbag. It's also for driver and passenger safety: If a dog gets nervous or excited on the road and begins bouncing around the car the distraction could cause an accident.
2. Make Sure He Wants to Go
While many dogs are excited about taking a ride in the car, others are not interested. Dogs can get carsick, become anxious or otherwise prefer to stay on solid ground. Take your dog for test drives before setting out on an epic road trip to gauge his comfort level in the car. If he's nervous you might want to consider finding a pet sitter or kennel for him instead. If you must travel together by car, talk to your veterinarian about possible solutions for car sickness or anxiety.
3. Prepare a Pet Travel Kit
Just like your own travel bag, a kit for driving with dogs should have snacks (dog food and a bowl), drinks (water and a bowl) and entertainment (nylon bones or a favorite toy are a good start). The pack should also contain a leash, grooming supplies, waste bags and any necessary medications. Your pup may appreciate a comfy blanket to rest on if you expect it to be cold or there is no dog bed in his crate. Need more ideas? Make a list and check it before every trip. Make sure to keep any food, treats or medication out of his available reach though. What you don't want is to wind up at your destination only to find out that you need to make a trip to the pet store to pick up more food because he secretly ate his trip rations in the back of the car.
4. Update His Tags
The worst feeling in the world is to realize your dog has gone missing. Before setting out on a road trip — or any time you change your address — make sure your dog's tags are up to date. You should also check that the address and phone number on his microchip are current. You don't want to lose your pup hundreds of miles from home! If your trip takes you out of state or out of the country, be sure to bring his most recent vaccination tag or proof of a rabies shot to comply with local pet laws. It is always a good idea to check country, state and local pet laws before bringing your dog with you to ensure you are compliant with all of the requirements.
5. Keep Him Hydrated and Comfortable
You might want to just keep driving to get to your destination as quickly as possible, but a long trip with no breaks isn't fair to your dog. Bring jugs or bottled water for your pet, and give him a water break — along with a chance to stretch his legs and relieve himself — every few hours. Unless you're going on a multi-day trip, avoid giving him food during a road trip. You could easily wind up with a carsick dog. It's a good idea to plan out your stops in advance of your road trip to ensure that he will have amble grass to relieve himself.
Doggy comfort stops can be an adventure all by themselves. Find restaurants with outdoor seating, take turns at rest stops and search for pet-friendly hotels. Never, ever leave your pet alone in the car, even with the windows cracked. A locked car can quickly and dangerously overheat. Many states even have laws that allow them to break into your car if they see your pet is left alone in a car.
Finally, make sure your pup has a relaxed ride by keeping the car a comfortable temperature for him. You can open the windows if he's in his crate, but avoid letting him stick his head out since he could injure himself. Never let him ride in the back of a pickup truck outside of a secured crate.
Feeling a little more ready to take on a road trip with your pup? Great! With a little preparation, you will both have a great journey and make lots of memories together.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.