Top 10 Tips for Traveling With Your Dog by Car

Whether you’re road tripping for the weekend or journeying cross country with your dog, these top 10 tips for traveling with your dog will help you prep for four-wheeled adventures with your four-legged friend.

We cover essential dog travel accessories to make the journey fun and safe for both of you, and follow up with answers to frequently asked questions. 

10 Tips for Road Trips With Your Dog

1. Double-check your dog’s identification.

You’re heading to unfamiliar territory: If your dog gets lost, he won’t be able to make his way back to you with ease.

More is better when it comes to dog identification. He should be microchipped and wear identification tags. A personalized dog collar with your cell phone number makes contacting you easy if someone finds your dog.

2. Gear up.

Make sure you have the essential dog accessories for the road and the duration of your trip. Here’s what you need:

  • Collar and leash
  • Water and food bowls
  • Medication, if necessary
  • Dog waste bags, preferably eco-friendly

3. Load up on the water.

You and your dog need lots of water on the road. Bring large jugs of water for the trip. A dog water bowl designed especially for travel lets your dog drink without too much sloshing.

4. Pack your dog’s food.

Traveling isn’t a good time to experiment with new food for your dog. Pack your dog’s usual food and dog treats in airtight containers or ziplock bags, and bring enough for the length of the trip—unless you’re sure you can pick up the same brand where you’re headed.

Pro Tip: Apportion your dog’s food ahead of time and feed him the same quantity at each meal as he gets at home to avoid overfeeding when you travel.

5. Hook up the dog harness.

Cars don’t come with dog seat belts, but a quality dog travel kennel secured to the back seat is the next best thing. If a kennel is not available, secure your dog with a special “seat belt” harness made for travel. Are dog car harnesses safe? Yes, travel crates and harnesses help keep dog and driver safe in three ways:

  • Preventing distracted driving. These car restraints keep your dog from wandering around the interior of the car and climbing into the front seat.
  • Preventing your dog from becoming a projectile during an accident. This is a danger to him and to any people in the car.
  • Preventing your dog from escaping after an accident. In the shock and aftermath of a crash, a loose dog will escape through any open doors or broken windows, and you won’t likely have the presence of mind to keep track of him.

Does your state require your dog to be restrained in the car? What about states you might be driving through to reach your destination? Do your homework ahead of time and exercise due diligence when it comes to the safety of all your passengers—the two-legged and four-legged ones—before you pull out of the driveway.

6. Cover your car seats.

A backseat protector or hammock seat protector can protect your car seats from doggy damage. Scratches from unclipped nails. Drool. Dropped snacks. And, the most dreaded of all—vomit. Car seat protectors are designed tough enough to withstand your dog’s worst, and clean up beautifully with a toss in the wash.

Are dog car hammocks safe? Hammock car seat protectors are designed primarily to protect your car seats, not for dog safety. But they are often made of materials that offer a more slip-resistant footing than leather seats, and many models prevent your dog from trying to climb into the front seat—which is a driving hazard.

7. Pack a car cleaning kit.

Even if you follow the above tip, dog messes happen and you need supplies on hand for easy cleanup. A helpful kit should include old towels, dog-safe cleaners, paper towels, garbage bags, and disinfectant wipes.

8. Bring along your dog’s comfort items.

If your dog is an anxious traveler, familiar items can help. Pack his favorite toys, blanket, and his dog bed so he can sleep comfortably wherever you stay. Some dogs enjoy the cozy confines of a crate—bring that along too if your dog digs his crate. Note: A crate and a kennel are two distinct dog travel accessories: A crate is designed to contain your dog but may not be a safe option in an accident, and a crash-tested kennel will keep him contained and safe.

9. Keep the car cool.

Keep the car temperature comfortable for your dog throughout the journey. This prevents overheating and can help with dog car sickness and car anxiety. Cracking the window so he gets fresh air is also helpful. Most dogs who suffer from car sickness eventually outgrow it, but the veterinarian can advise you about the best approach for treating car sickness in your dog before you travel.

10. Finally, stop at rest stops.

Just like you, your dog requires regular breaks to relieve himself and stretch his legs. Err on the side of more stops than fewer, since you can’t tell for sure when he has to go.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Can a Dog Ride in a Car?

A good rule of thumb is to stop every two to four hours for a leg stretch, a pee break, and the opportunity for water, and to try to limit your travel day to about seven hours total. Traveling with a dog in a car for a long distance can be taxing for him and for your human passengers; pay attention to his body language or other signals when you hit the road. Note: A puppy will need to stop more frequently during car travel.

Can Dogs Travel in a Car for 12 Hours?

You know your dog best, but 12 hours is a long stretch, and is certainly too long without taking breaks. Variables to consider include your dog’s age (puppies and senior dogs need more frequent breaks); medical conditions; motion sickness; and travel anxiety. If your travel hours occur overnight with a crated adult dog, he can most likely ride along comfortably for as many as eight hours while he sleeps, but a puppy will need a couple of breaks during the night, as he would at home. Talk to your vet.

What Is the Safest Way To Travel in a Car With a Dog?

The safest way to travel with your dog in the car is to secure him inside a sturdy kennel-style carrier anchored to the car’s back seat, or to clip him into the car’s seat belt system using a dog safety harness designed specifically for car travel. Remember to keep your dog fully hydrated on long road trips. 

Where Do You Put a Dog in the Car?

The best place to put a dog in the car is the back seat, secured within a safety restraint. Placing your dog in a travel kennel in the cargo area in your car or SUV is also acceptable, but be advised this is the crumple zone in some cars.

How Do You Transport a Dog in a Car Without a Crate?

Without a crate, a dog can travel safely wearing a travel harness designed to articulate with your car’s seat belt system. If you’re tempted to travel without using any kind of restraint for your dog, be advised that some states now require it. Do your homework before you go.

Never leave your puppy or dog alone in the car during the day or at night.

How Do You Travel With a Large Dog in a Car?

The same way you travel with a small one! Look for a dog travel kennel or seat belt harness system sized appropriately for a large dog, and secure him in the back seat of your car. Then observe the same 10 travel tips we’ve outlined above for your outsized companion.

What if your dog hates car rides? All is not lost, but the best strategy is to acclimate him long before your ambitious road trips using shorter jaunts that give him the chance to associate the car with all good things. Make car travel a habit, and then you and your dog can set off on your adventures excited to reach your destination—and stay comfortable and safe every mile of the journey.


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6 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for Traveling With Your Dog by Car”

  1. I love that you mentioned bringing my dog’s favorite toys and blanket for our trip. We are moving across the country and I want him to be as comfortable as possible. I will keep these tips in mind, and try to find other ways to make this trip relaxing for him.

  2. It is good to have your own car. Thank you for your advice! I want to note that when you book a car using the sites, you do not know from whom you will end up with a car in fact. It’s important for someone to book with a proven company, but it’s also scary, but what if the actual requirements are such that the dog better “hide”. I studied the requirements of the largest car rental companies, chose this site and was satisfied.

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