As the days turn warmer and kids get out of school, you may feel the desire for a road trip coming on. You may also be wondering: can I bring my furry best friend with me?
Maybe you’re already smiling, thinking of how much your dog will enjoy hiking, camping, or just exploring a new place with you. Another nice bonus? Bringing your dog with you allows you to avoid spending a pile of cash on boarding – or putting out friends or family to dog-sit.
But can it really be done? Absolutely! Many people pull off successful road trips with their pup each year. It just takes a little extra upfront organization.
Read on for our essential tips for a road trip with your dog!
Planning Ahead Now = More Fun Later
If you only take away one piece of advice from this article, it’s to look ahead. Think about all your dog’s daily needs and how you’ll meet them on the road.
This can include:
- Meal schedule
- Walks and exercise
- Potty breaks
- Stress and separation anxiety
- Protection – from illness, other dogs and people, or getting lost
You could figure out all of these on the road. But improvising will make everything more stressful. Instead, make a plan for each item. That way, you can get the materials and information that you need well before the trip.
Visit Your Veterinarian Early
One of the most important tips for a road trip with your dog is to see a vet before you head out. Don’t wait until the day before the trip to see your veterinarian, either. Plan on a wellness exam for your dog at least a week, if not several weeks, before you hit the road.
The exam may reveal certain medical issues that need to be addressed before your dog hops in the car. Afraid something major will come up? Imagine having to deal with in transit or in a far-away place. Doesn’t that sound much worse? At that point, you would be relying on cell phone service and Google searches to find a veterinarian.
Besides, it’s far more likely that your veterinarian will have simple recommendations. If your pet is due, the veterinarian may prescribe heartworm and flea medication so you don’t run out during the trip. They may also suggest anti-anxiety treatment if you know your dog gets anxious in the car.
A veterinarian visit also gives you the opportunity to make sure your dog is microchipped and that their microchip information is up to date. Of course you’re going to be careful and keep your eye on them at pit stops. But you never know what could happen. If your dog gets lost during the trip, make it as easy as possible to be reunited.
Last but not least, obtain up-to-date vaccination and medical records, both paper and digital. These are good to have on you when crossing state lines and in case of emergency.
Do “Test Drives”
Has it been a while since your dog has ridden in the car for long periods? Is your dog historically nervous on longer drives? Or perhaps you have a puppy, and you don’t know where they stand when it comes to car trips.
Even if you believe your dog will be calm in the car, it’s probably worth testing them with a shorter drive to foresee any behavioral issues.
Also, keep in mind: many of us have not traveled much in the past few years. That means your dog might now only associate the car with unpleasant errands, like going to the veterinarian or groomer.
Acclimate your dog to enjoy driving again gradually. Start with short trips, and work up to longer ones. Treats are always a winner to help your dog associate positive feelings with the car. You can also plan drives to other fun destinations for your dog, too, like the dog park or a hiking trail.
To Crate or Not To Crate?
If you can keep your dog in a secured crate during a road trip, this is widely believed to be the safest option. Some dog parents have found that throwing a blanket over a crate creates a “safe den” that helps calm dogs. However, for some dogs, this doesn’t work for them.
Anxious dogs may want to see out the window. Other dogs experience separation anxiety, and they crave more closeness to their dog parents – without actually sitting in their laps, which may be cute, but is also incredibly dangerous for both of you.
Bring a crate in case you need a safe spot for your dog anywhere along the way. Also practice with car-safe doggie seat belts and harnesses in case your pup isn’t a fan of the crate.
Whether you crate or not, make a designated spot for your dog in the car. Then, get them accustomed to their place. This way, they’ll know where to stay when in the car and feel safer there.
Research Lodging and Break Options
Your pup will need a break every 2-4 hours to stretch their legs, go to the bathroom, drink some water, and perhaps eat a meal. While most highways have marked rest areas, check your route beforehand to be in the know.
This can help you choose rest stops that have a dog-specific area – instead of ones that don’t. Adding them to your route ahead of time will give you an idea of your travel itinerary – so you can plan out meals for everyone, too.
It will also circumvent many headaches if you check that hotels, motels, or campsites are dog-friendly well before you go. Once again, this is meant to save you from scrambling at the last minute, which could lead to both you and your dog having a stress meltdown.
Our Essential Packing List
Last but not least in our tips for a road trip with your dog that is both successful and fun, consult this handy list when you’re packing:
- Food and water bowls – bring extra food in case of delays or schedule changes
- Dog bed – plus any comfy blankets or cushions that make your dog feel at home
- Crate – if you’re worried about space, find a collapsible one
- Leash or harness for outside the car
- Doggie seatbelt
- 1-2 favorite toys for entertainment/distraction
- 1-2 favorite treats
- Current vaccination and medical records
- Current prescriptions
- Printed photos of your dog (again, just to be safe in case your pup gets lost)
- Poop bags (lots of them!)
- Towels – for messiness along the way
- Anti-anxiety supplements, if needed
- Weather/water protection, like coats, booties, or a life jacket, if needed
It’s true that there are pet stores in other cities and states – but they may not carry the food, toys, or treats that your dog likes.
That said, don’t overdo it. Packing too much is just as stressful as packing too little. Your dog will hopefully be entertained by all the things you do together on your trip!
You Did It – Enjoy Your Vacation!
This may seem like a lot to do, but it will all be worth it. Put in the work ahead of time, and you’ll find yourself making fantastic memories on the road with your best friend.