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Top Tips for Travelling with Your Dog in a Car

What is the safest way for dogs to travel in a car?

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Across the globe, we keep over 470 million dogs as pets. That is a lot of four-legged friends and waggy tails to look after. For many of us, having a dog means relying on friends or family to take care of them when we want to go on vacation. For others, we might look at other options such as dog boarding, kennels or dog sitting. These are great solutions for when you want to hop on a plane and take some much-needed holiday time in the sun… but what if you want to take your dog with you?

If you are like me, I can’t imagine taking a vacation without including my dog. And I am not alone either almost 95 percent of pet owners in 2018 was planning at least one overnight trip with their pet. But the first time you take a holiday with your dog it can seem overwhelming. There are a few things you need to think about and points to consider.
This is why we have compiled this handy guide to help you! Whilst this list is not exhaustive, we have covered off some of the Top Tips for Travelling with Your Dog by Car so you can your best furry friend can hop in the car and set off on an adventure, together.

Cute dog sits in the car and looks through the window in the forest.

Plan plan plan and make it a pet-friendly route.

Taking a road trip is one of the most fun-filled adventures and it is entirely yours to map out and plan. Whether you want to hit the road for a few days, a few weeks or even months your options are endless and that is why it is the perfect trip to take with your doggy.

With so many options available the responsibility does fall on your shoulders to ensure you have planned your trip to the best of your ability. Not just the car journey but your accommodation, hotel facilities and location need to be carefully considered for your dog. Review the details of your hotel booking or the Airbnb’s pet policy before booking your accommodations. Whilst the internet is full of information, if you have any doubt call the hotel directly as they can give you relevant, accurate and up to date details on their policies.

Then when mapping out your route you’ll have to plan around their needs. Check the map to make sure your route has plenty of safe places for you to park up and to let your pet stretch their legs, eat and go to the toilet.

Check your paperwork

Depending on where you are travelling you may need some paperwork. For example, if you are cutting through Europe and passing a country border, your dog will need a Pet Passport. You can find more details about this here. This will mean that your dog will require some vaccination updates and tick preventatives will be updated too. This is good practice even if you are not crossing a country border.

Before you begin your trip, make sure your dogs’ microchip information is up-to-date in the event that you and your pet become separated. Ensure that it contains the number you taking with you when you travel. You may also want to seriously consider a pet GPS tracker, which can help you to locate your pet quickly if they become startled and run off or get lost.

Take some practice trips ahead of time

Take as many practice trips in the car with your dog as possible. This will help when it comes to the big day as your dog will know what to expect. They will be used to travelling and therefore less frightened.

Try and make their first experience in the car a positive one by giving them their favourite toys. Let them smell the area, get used to space before you begin to travel. Then when your pet is calm, go for a short drive, offering them a treat when you park back up. A great tip is to also take your pet to their favourite place, such as the park so they associate the car with a good experience. If you can, you should repeat the experience in the lead up to your trip and increase the duration each time.

Check-in with your vet before you travel

If you need a Pet Passport or similar documentation for your road trip you will need to see your vet before you can travel as your dog will need a check-up and vaccinations. However, even if this is not a requirement for your trip a check-up is never a bad idea. Plus your vet can give you some helpful health advice for when travelling as well as medication if your dog is prone to travel sickness.

Pack all of the essentials

Generally speaking, you are going to need all the basics:

  • Food
  • Medications
  • Leash
  • Collar
  • Bowls
  • Water
  • Kitty litter
  • Litter box
  • Toy
  • Waste bags
  • Something to catch waste if necessary, maybe All-Absorb potty pads

You may need extra things that are specific for your dog but these are the main essentials that should be on your checklist.

Protect your dog and also… your car

It may be a lot more fun and the most enjoyable, but for everyone’s health and safety, it is much better not to let pets be loose or free or sit on your lap in the car for your journey.

Smaller dogs should travel in a carrier. This is the safest and easiest option. The larger the carrier; the better for your pet as you are giving them more space to move around.

For medium-sized and large dogs this is not an option. If your dog doesn’t comfortably fit in a carrier, they should have their own seat. It is best practice to attach the harness to the belt buckle.

Dogs absolutely love fresh air and will most likely dash at the chance to stick their head out of the window, but this is not a great idea. Dust and debris can get into your dogs’ eyes and ears and the last thing you want on a road trip is your dog suffering from an infection.

If you are pulled over though it is great if your dog can loll its floppy ears and panting tongue outside for a taste of fresh air. Just make sure they are properly restrained so they can’t make a getaway escape.

Lastly and maybe most importantly don’t leave your dog unattended in your car even if it doesn’t feel warm outside. Especially if you are travelling in hotter summer months or in warmer climates. It can get up to 19 degrees hotter in your parked car after only just 10 minutes:

“The temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º F in just 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, it can rise almost 30º F…and the longer you wait, the higher it goes. At 60 minutes, the temperature in your vehicle can be more than 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Even on a 70-degree day, that’s 110 degrees inside your vehicle!” – AVMA

As you can see it is never a good idea to leave your dog alone in a car.

Cute dog sits in the car and looks through the window in the forest.

Make sure your dog is super tired

It is a simple fact: A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.  So, before you begin your journey make sure your dog has had a lot of exercises and is tired and content. This was you are sure to get the best behaviour during the journey as your dog will be resting. There are so many good reasons why physical activity is super great for your pets, and one of those is that over time it can actually help your dog t0 be more well-adjusted for new situations which have stressors like taking a road trip vacation.

Keep your dog entertained

Comfort is important, if your dog has a favourite blanket, dog bed or cushion, bringing it will help your dog to relax and feel calmer. But there will be moments when your dog wants to be a dog. Spending a few hours on the road can be pretty boring in a dog’s eyes so don’t forget to pack their favourite toy to keep them entertained.

And that goes for when you take a break at the service stops along the way. You may not be able to play fetch as you might have little space, no enclosed area and your dog will be in an unfamiliar place which could make them disorientated. A good toy to bring is a rope toy where you can play tug of war. This means your dog can use up their energy and you have more control too.

Stay safe on and off the road

Firstly, make sure your dog is fully secured before you begin your journey. This includes securing the carrier in place or harness. Crack the window an inch to allow air to circulate but don’t open the window too wide so your dog can stick its head out.

When you take a break, you need to remember that your dog might be very stressed and anxious as well as being in an unfamiliar area filled with new smells and distractions. Your dog may have a lot of energy built up so don’t be surprised if the moment you open the car door they try and make their great escape.

Be prepared. Have the harness securely clipped, keep calm and keep yourself grounded on your dogs’ level so they can come to you for reassurance whilst they adapt to the new area.

Don’t ignore what your dog is telling you

We can always expect our dogs to act differently when we take a road trip, especially in those first few miles. They might howl and cry, they could be anxious and tremble, there could be physical actions too like passing gas, weeing, pooping or being sick.

Any of these things are totally normal.

But if this behaviour continues then you should think about pulling over and checking on your pup. Having your attention and soothing them to know all is okay can make the world of difference and if it doesn’t you should think about speaking to your vet about some anxiety medication that could help.

First, you need to be very cautious about using products without consulting with your vet first. For example, your dog could get very sick from ingesting or being exposed to some essential oils. If these products do not work for your dog, and you can’t avoid bringing your pet on the road, then there are other options. You can ask your vet about anti-anxiety medications that are safe for animals and they will talk you through how to use them.

Take frequent breaks

You know that feeling when you have been in the car for hours and you just want to get out and stretch your legs? Well, imagine you have four of them. Lots of breaks are exactly what you and your pup need to make the journey as enjoyable as possible.

It is always the best idea to check the map before you go to make sure you can space your stops. But if you see a wide-open space that you want to sit back and relax for ten minutes and let your dog hop out of the car… why not. They won’t be complaining, that’s for sure.

Enjoy!

This is the most important part of your road trip… Enjoying it.

You have completed all of this prepping and planning so that you can take a holiday of a lifetime with your furry best friend. Think of all the places you will see, the sights you will discover and every moment will be together. That is totally priceless.

So, whilst there is that added stress, and extra thought you will need to put into your travel preparations it will be completely worth it.

Luna and Me

I have travelled through Spain many times in my car, via the train and the coach so I like to think I have seen a lot of this beautiful country in a different way. When I took the trip with my dog it was totally different.

My dog, Luna, is not a great road trip dog because she does get travel sick. I have to plan out her meals really carefully making sure I leave at least 2 hours between her eating and us hitting the road. She also has a lot of energy; she is a 4-year-old Galgo (Similar to a greyhound) So she loves to run and be active. Long periods of time in a car are not her idea of a good time at all.

However, the moments when we set off hiking together in the wide-open spaces in the foothills of the Pyrenees it all became worth it. She ran for hours, bounding around enjoying the great outdoors. She adored hotel life and was petted and stroked by a range of new best friends and got to eat the best stuff whilst we were out in local towns and villages because who wants regular dog food when they’re on holiday.

I wouldn’t travel with Luna for every vacation. For example, city sightseeing days are not enjoyable for her in the slightest and it becomes tiresome and stressful. But hiking, outdoor, camping and exploring holidays I would never go again without my dog, I mean, who else will keep my feet warm!

Every road trip has to begin with great prep. You begin with an amazing idea, then you take the time to plan your route, you begin making your packing list, you head to the store and stock up on your favourite road snacks, and you craft the perfect road trip playlist with lots of upbeat summer songs ready to get you in the mood for an exploration.

And now as you are dreaming up your next road trip with your dog by your side, remember to plan for the needs of your pup as well and your furry best friend will have the holiday of a lifetime.

Safe travels!

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