The key to a successful road trip with your dog is planning and preparation. Here are some road trip tips to help you plan out your big canine-filled travel adventure.
First, start with a basic checklist and then fill in the details.
- Plan your pet-friendly route. Find pet-friendly hotels, restaurants and places to visit with your pet, like hiking trails. Call and confirm they are pet friendly if you can as websites are not always updated. Also make a list of emergency vets along your route.
- Research local vaccination requirements and laws pertaining to pets, as well as common diseases in the area like heartworm.
- Round up pet gear and supplies, including food and car travel accessories.
- Prep your pet with training and car rides.
- Arrange for when you might need to leave your pet while on the trip by securing local pet sitters. If this is not possible and you need to leave your dog at times, rent a house and gate your dog into a section of the home or crate him. (Many hotels and RV parks do not allow you to leave the dog in a room or RV while you are away, especially if you have multiple dogs.)
Dog road trip plan
Plan ahead for any event and double-check that all plans are pet-friendly. Certified Professional Dog Trainer Kate Connell of Calmer Canines in California recommends a pet travel app and website (she prefers BringFido) for finding hotels, restaurants, activities and services where you can bring your pup. But you’ll still need to contact all locations to verify pet policies, because some may have a weight limit or breed restriction, a limited number of pet-friendly rooms, or only certain trails may be dog-friendly.
“Many dog folk who travel for competitions and conformation shows often stay at La Quinta Inn because the motel chain is very pet-friendly and affordable,” she says. (Note that most have designated pet-friendly rooms but not all. See La Quinta pet-friendly locations here.)
Kate’s taken multiple road trips from California to Nevada and Arizona with her two dogs.
“We have Ruff Land kennels, a training mat and a 6-foot and 15-foot leash for each dog, plus spare slip leads,” she says. “We have planned all of our hiking trails ahead of time and have also looked up pit stops on the way where the dogs could at least potty and stretch their legs about every two to four hours. But, we try to find a hiking spot at each stop whenever possible. Having the dogs crate-trained has made it easy and stress-free to go out to dinner without them, without worrying about them chewing or scratching anything in the motel room if they became stressed for some reason.”
Navigating local dog laws and pests on your road trip
Research if there are any specific laws about traveling with dogs in the states you will be driving in, says Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance
“For example, Oregon, Rhode Island and Connecticut have bans against dogs being transported unrestrained in the parts of a vehicle that are open, such as a truck bed,” says Dr. Wooten. “New Jersey law enforcement may fine you if you travel with a pet on your lap. Several other states have distracted driving laws that can fine you if you drive with a pet on your lap, and several states have laws against leaving pets in cars unattended.”
She also says to research off-leash dog laws in your destinations, because every city is different.
“Make sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations and has effective internal parasite (worms) and external parasite (fleas, ticks, mites) control,” she says.
Many states and cities also require you to carry your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate at all times as well as your municipal dog license and tag, so keep copies of these.
Ask your vet about specific infectious disease risks at your destination, says Dr. Wooten. For instance, if you are traveling to an area that has heavy heartworm or Lyme disease, then you need heartworm and tick prevention.
“I practice in Colorado, and while we don’t have Lyme disease here, I have had patients who traveled to Michigan and came back with Lyme disease — both the dog and the owner,” she says.
Traveling to national parks with your pet
One of the best things about going on a road trip is finding new, dog-friendly trails to explore.
“Finding a dog-friendly trail is equal parts art and science, navigating features like water access and steep terrain with leash regulations and dog rules,” says Dani Reese, marketing and PR manager for Ruffwear. “One consideration for your next road trip is knowing that typically, national parks have limited options for bringing dogs along. Dogs might not be allowed anywhere in the park or only on specific trails. … Most state parks and national forests welcome dogs.”
Before heading to a national park with your pet, visit NPS.gov to get detailed information about the park and if or where pets are allowed. National Park Service spokesperson Kathy Kupper says that some national parks are great places to visit with pets as long as it’s done responsibly — but there are times when it’s better to leave pets at home. She says for the safety of pets, fellow visitors and wildlife, there are some parks that limit pets to roads and developed areas.
“Four basic principles that will help keep you, your pet, other visitors, wildlife and park resources safe are incorporated into the B.A.R.K. Ranger Program,” Kathy says. “Bag pet waste. Always use a leash. Respect wildlife. Know where you can go.”
Prep for hikes by packing extra water, doggie bags and a leash no longer than 6 feet, says Orange County Parks Park Ranger Annelise Gannaway. Before leaving the house, check the weather and make sure it won’t be too hot for your pet, because dogs can overheat quickly, especially in warm weather.
“Be mindful of the ground temperature, too,” says Annelise. “Pet owners should touch the ground with their hands, and if it feels too hot, it’s best to keep your furry friend home to avoid burnt paws and heat illness.”
Dog road trip essentials
Going on a road trip? Create a checklist of what you’ll need and ensure that you’ve packed it by crossing it off the list once it is in the vehicle. Here’s some things for your dog road trip checklist:
- dog food (your dog’s regular food plus some enticement food or pumpkin if he doesn’t feel like eating or has diarrhea. Travel can make dogs anxious).
- treats (calming treats or treats made for the road for easy giving if you are on a hike, chew treats to keep them busy)
- medicines your dog is on (including any anxiety or nausea meds)
- food and water dishes (lightweight and easy to clean)
- extra water dishes (if you are camping, RVing or hiking, you’ll want one for inside and outside or for the backpack)
- dog beds
- dog blanket if it may get cold
- harness and leash (glow-in-the-dark detailed leashes, collars or accessories are helpful in a dark National Park or campground)
- updated tags (include a tag stating your dog is blind, deaf or has any type of medical condition)
- favorite toys
- crate or doggie gates
- lots of water in easy to carry bottles or containers
- GPS tracker (if your dog is a runner)
- dog seatbelt or carrier that is car-crash tested and approved
- your dog’s records (particularly medical records on shots, an updated photo of your dog if he gets lost, any certifications like the AKC Canine Good Citizen)
- raincoat or coat incase of rainy weather
- grooming wipes, brush
- pet first aid kit
- poop bags and poop bag carrier
How to pack for your road trip with your pet
Use multifunctional products to reduce the number of items to carry, says Michael Leung, Sleepypod co-founder and lead product designer. For example, small pets can use a Sleepypod carrier as a cozy pet bed away from home as well as car safety restraint.
Lack of restraint of pets while traveling in cars increases risk for serious injury and death during an accident, says Dr. Jacqueline Brister, veterinarian and author at Embrace Pet Insurance.
“Injury due to the air bag going off, injury hitting the windshield or falling off the seat, escaping during an accident — and possibly being hit by another vehicle in the process — falling out of a vehicle, injury from having unsecured items fall on an unsecured pet, and injury to pet owners trying to secure an unrestrained pet during an accident are just a few potential means of trauma during an accident,” she says.
She recommends securing dogs while they are traveling in a car — either with a Center for Pet Safety (CPS)-approved harness or seat belt-type restraints, or a kennel/crate.
Also, think ahead when packing food: If your pet has specific dietary needs, bring plenty of his regular food with you.
“Do not abruptly change your pet’s diet while traveling as it can cause pretty severe stomach upset, especially with all the additional stress of traveling,” she says.
Bring at least one extra day’s worth of food, and bring plenty of durable chews to keep your dog occupied during downtime, says Kate of Calmer Canines. If your dog eats raw food, find a freeze-dried version of their food. Some fresh-cooked food brands like JustFoodForDogs have a shelf-stable version. There are also many brands of dehydrated, just-add-water foods. Bring along a powdered pumpkin supplement to keep stool firm just in case. Also, don’t forget training treats.
In case of an emergency, bring at least one extra leash. Kate also recommends bringing a 15-foot leash for walks when pet owners can give their dog a little more freedom.
She also recommends taking a pet first-aid course offered by Pet Tech or the American Red Cross, as well as bringing a first-aid dog kit including:
- Disposable gloves
- Sterile eye wash
- Vetericyn wound spray
- Sterile gauze and gauze wrap
- Paper tape and self-adhesive wrap
- Styptic powder
- A recovery cone
- A very long strip of soft fabric like fleece to make an emergency muzzle
- Paw wax/ointment
- Baby wipes
- Spare towels
And of course, don’t forget the poop bags.
Training help for a dog road trip
Some dogs may have a harder time on road trips than others — but a boost from your veterinarian and/or trainer can help.
“Other than teaching your dog a solid response to ‘come’ and ‘leave it,’ the most important skill to train your dog to do is to settle on a mat anywhere and everywhere,” says Kate. “Mat training can help them both relax and stay out of trouble in new places.”
Taking test drives can help your dog get familiar with car rides. Start small and build up tolerance. Discuss any anxiety or hyperactivity that your pet has with your veterinarian and trainer. Exercise can also help.
“Before you get in the car to start the journey, give your pet some exercise,” Dr. Brister says. “This could mean a really long play session, walk/run, or a trip to doggie daycare/playgroup the morning before you set out. This will help to expend extra energy that you might not want breathing in your face as you try to fight traffic on the way out of town.”
Make plans for pet sitters
Even with skilled planning and solid crate training, there may be times during a trip when you need to leave your dog alone for a longer period of time.
Rover.com offers local pet-sitting services, including at-home overnight stays, doggie day care and drop-in visits. Nicole, who uses Rover, says if you know where you’ll be and when, get the booking process started a few weeks early so you can connect with prospective pet sitters in the area.
“No one knows your dog better than you, so take the time for you — and your dog — to search for and get to know a sitter before booking,” she says. “It’s important that pet parents do their due diligence and invest time in finding the perfect fit that meets their dog’s individual needs.”
Reach out to a few potential sitters, ask specific questions and do a meet-and-greet so your dog can get familiar with the person who will be caring for him or her. Provide your sitter with specific care instructions related to food, bathroom breaks, snuggle or sleep requests.
Visit the vet before a road trip
There’s a lot to think about when planning a road trip with your dog. Regardless of where you go and for how long, one visit you should make is to the vet.
Dr. Brister says to have any of your pet’s prescription medications filled before the trip, as well as any meds your pet will need for car anxiety or car sickness. If your pet has any ongoing health issues, have your veterinarian perform a checkup before heading out. It is also a good idea to have a copy of your pet’s records with you in case of emergency.
Ultimately the goal of this trip is having a good time with your pet.
“Always maintain your sense of chill and adventure,” she says. “It might be a little challenging to travel together —especially at first — but don’t stress. It’ll just make your pets more stressed. Go with the flow and take problems as they come. It’s not going to be perfect, but with practice, it’ll get easier and more fun. Traveling with your pet opens up the whole world to you both. There’s nothing better than having your furry BFF with you when you hit the open road.”