10 tips for travelling with a dog in a car

dogs travelling in a car

A road trip with your dog is nothing short of exciting. But before you can even consider where you’ll go or where you should stay, make sure your dog is safe in the car.

Ensure that your veterinarian approves your trip and that your dog is comfortable with car rides before you leave. Before transporting your pet, take them for a walk. Ensure you equip your car with a dog restraint and maintain proper air conditioning. 

In addition, please keep your dog’s head and neck inside the car during the trip, stop over at regular intervals, always accompany them, and reward them after the ride.  

Keep reading to know more about these safety tips when travelling with a dog in a car. 

Before Travel

Keeping your dog safe and healthy during a long car trip begins long before you get on the road. Pets, especially puppies, must be prepared for motion sickness and anxiety when travelling. Follow our tips below to ensure you’re heading towards the best way to transport your puppy or adult dog in a car before travelling. 

1. Obtain Your Veterinarian’s Approval

When travelling by car or other modes of transportation, it’s a good idea to consult your vet first. Make sure your dog is healthy and has no critical health issues before going on a road trip.

Puppies, in particular, suffer from motion sickness since their inner ear is still developing, which helps maintain their balance. This is why it’s best if your puppy is at least eight weeks old before deciding to bring it along for a long road trip. 

On the other hand, older dogs can also experience motion sickness due to several factors, like lack of conditioning. In this case, your vet may prescribe anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medications for your travel.    

2. Make Sure Your Dog Is Comfortable Riding in a Car

As mentioned above, conditioning your dog to be in a car without feeling anxious or over-excited helps maintain a smooth ride. Don’t risk going on a long road trip if you’re dog’s never been in a car unless it’s essential. If this is the case, you can ask your veterinarian for assistance.

If you have a puppy, bring them along on short rides around the neighbourhood. Observe their overall reaction during the first few times that you have the rounds. Bring items that can comfort them to ease stress, such as a toy or a blanket. 

Moreover, consider amplifying a calming car scent if they’re overly excited. Studies show that aromatherapy can help calm a hyperexcited dog during travel. 

3. Go for a Walk Before Loading Your Dog

Exercise before travel or even boarding an anxious dog in a kennel helps ease anxiety. This is because their body will crave rest to recover from the physical activity and will not be as distracted from the new environment as when they don’t have prior exercise. 

Plus, their happy hormones shoot up, which counteracts their anxiety. So, consider taking them for a short walk or playing a game of catch before getting them into the car. 

4. Do Not Overfeed Your Dog Before Travel

Much like humans, dogs may throw up or even have diarrhoea when experiencing motion sickness. These result from their heightened anxiety; for your puppies, it could be due to their undeveloped sense of balance. 

So, to avoid these unwanted mishaps, be sure not to feed your dog within an hour before travel. Also, don’t be overly generous with their food.   

5. Make Sure the Air Conditioning Is Working

Ventilation is of utmost importance for dogs, especially those with thick overcoats. If you’re planning to travel long distances with your dog via car, make sure there’s no issue with your vehicle’s air conditioning, especially during the summer. It’s a whole lot different story during winter, though.

Nonetheless, if you have dogs originally coming from areas with cooler climates, be more conscious of your car’s air conditioning. Otherwise, you’re risking heat stroke and heightened anxiety. 

These breeds include Siberian huskies, Saint Bernards, Pugs, Samoyed, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Great Pyrenees. 

During Travel

As soon as you board your dog in the car, you must ensure they stay still and feel less stressed. Depending on their personality, breed, and conditioning, dogs can become scared or hyperexcited. The following tips will guide you on the safest ways to let your dog ride in a car.

1. Get a Car Restraint for Dogs

The last thing you want when travelling with a dog is for your furry one to be jumpy inside the car and distract you from driving. It could put everyone in danger. 

So, to avoid this issue, it’s best to put your dog in a car restraint. You have several choices depending on your dog’s size, temperament, the number of passengers you’ll have, and other factors. Below are options you can consider:

  • Safety harness: Think of a safety harness as the seatbelt for dogs and more. If you plan to have your dog stay in the backseat, make sure you have a safety harness you can directly attach to the seatbelt. Car dog harnesses are usually crash-tested and come in different sizes. Choose the one that fits perfectly with the dog’s neck and chest.   
  • Carrier: Several dog carriers can also be attached to the seats. They can be sturdy for extra protection or foldable for convenience. A travel carrier is a good option when a harness can’t restrain your dog. However, it may suit smaller dogs and puppies more than larger ones. 
  • Crate: If you’re planning to place your dog in your car’s cargo space, a crate may be your best option to keep them safe while on the road. Crates provide ample space, especially for large dogs. It’s particularly effective for transporting dogs who have undergone crate training as they consider the crate their comfort zone.    

2. Don’t Let Your Dog’s Head Hang Out of the Car’s Window

You may have seen tons of videos where dogs happily put their head out of the car window and may think – that looks fun for my dog. But think again, as letting your dog’s head out of the window poses many dangers. 

For one, they may bang their head off twigs, posts, or other dangerous items. But even if that’s unlikely, you will expose your dog to specks of dust and other debris carried by the wind. These could damage their eyes and nose. 

3. Take Short Stops When Travelling Long Distance

If you’re going on a long car trip with your puppy or dog, don’t forget to schedule several stops. Then, let your dog out of the car to stretch or drink water. 

Also, if your dog starts to bark after a long time of staying still, don’t ignore it. It could signify discomfort brought by their urge to urinate or defecate. Make sure you have the items needed to clean up their mess, like a waste bag, a poop scooper or picker, and wipes. 

4. Never Leave Your Dog Unattended in a Closed-Car

Tons of dogs have suffered severe health consequences from getting left in a closed car. That’s why various countries have several laws about leaving dogs unattended in any land-based vehicle. 

For one, when travelling during the summer, dogs left alone in cars may suffer from a heatstroke. This condition can be life-threatening, and you may find your dog extremely dehydrated, disoriented, having seizures, and even bleeding spontaneously. Worse, leaving them too long in a highly humid car can even cause death. 

5. Reward Your Dog When You Arrive at Your Destination

The first time you successfully transport your dog to a new location, don’t forget to reward them. This will signal that their behaviour during the ride is acceptable, increasing the likelihood of having another smooth and safe experience when you bring them along on another trip. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where should my dog sit in the car?

Ideally, dogs should be placed in the car’s rear seat with a safety harness or a carrier attached to the seatbelt or other anchors. Also, if your car or SUV has a hatchback cargo space that connects to the backseat, that would be a perfect place to put the crate.

It may seem cute to have them in the passenger seat next to you like two friends going on an adventure – but that could go sideways on a rough road. Also, seatbelts may not be compatible with a car dog harness. 

What is the safest way to travel with a dog?

When travelling with a dog in a car, your safest option is to have them inside the car, strapped with a safety harness, or put in a carrier or crate. It goes without saying, but dogs should never be placed in a closed trunk. It may aggravate anxiety and worsen motion sickness. Also, it’s highly discouraged to have them on the back of a truck, as they become exposed to the debris the wind carries.

How do I keep my dog calm in the car?

Boarding an anxious dog in a car is no easy feat. You may want to prep your vehicle by diffusing therapeutic aroma and putting in a seat protector and harness. It also helps if your dog is already acclimatised to riding a car. However, if none of these works, you can also introduce a prescribed sedative by your veterinarian. 

Pablo Matamoros

I love animals and technology. I've developed software and led technology teams for 25 years, and I've owned pets since I was a toddler. This blog allowed me to combine both passions and, in the process, help my partner promote her art and pet-sitting business. For more about me, visit: https://pablomatamoros.com/

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