How to Plan a Road Trip with Your Dog

Dog on road trip in backseat with restraints.

If approached correctly, road trips are often more about the journey than the destination. We've all seen the crazy movies scripted around the unplanned, spontaneous road trip with a group of friends; but when taking your dog on a long jaunt in the car, planning ahead makes life easier for everyone. Of course, most of us start with the gear, (harness, leash, travel crate) but there are a few less obvious things you will need to act on before hitting the highways.  

Make a vet appointment

First things first... make sure your pet is in good health. You’ll want to make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations and heartworm preventives. Depending on the destination, you might want to talk to your veterinarian about extra precautions for fleas and ticks. The last thing you want to deal with is a pest infestation in your car, camper, tent or hotel room!

A quick vet appointment will ensure your pet is healthy and ready to hit the road.

Organize your pet’s ID and documentation

After your visit to the vet, request your pet's updated medical records and a Certificate of Veterinarian Inspection*.  Many people don't realize that this certificate is not only required for plane travel, but actually required for vehicle travel between states! Keep copies of the certificate (or at least vaccination records) in the glove box of your car for easy access. With Fido's certificate/vaccination records handy, you can access a groomer, vet or doggy daycare along your route. 

*Really?? We had no idea!

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Also, take a minute to download the Red Cross Pet First Aid App before your trip. The app not only offers valuable pet first aid instructions for emergencies, it also gives you a place to store all your pet’s medical information, microchip number, and veterinarian’s contact information.

This should go without saying, but your pet’s ID tag should always be up-to-date. If your pet is not chipped, be sure to include contact information on the tag! If your pet is chipped, make sure the chip is registered and in the database through an online microchip registryRemember to revisit the registration site and make updates before any trips so that you can be reached if someone finds your dog wandering around.

In vehicle safety

Do some research and invest in the best car restraint appropriate to the size of your pet. Small pets should be confined in crates, boosters or carriers that are travel-safe and secured. Larger pets should be appropriately restrained with harnesses and attached to the car's seat belts or in large crates secured in the cargo area. Bring a small toy or blanket to calm your pet and make him more comfortable.

Take some test drives

If your pet hasn’t spent much time in the car outside of short drives to the park or the vet, you should give them a chance to get used to longer drives before embarking on a long haul trip. Take your dog for a few day trips to allow her to get accustomed to riding in the car for several hours at a time. This will give you a chance to see if your dog has any issues with motion sickness or anxiety due to travel restraints.

Plan your route

Yes, spontaneity on a road trip can be fun, but it’s not ideal if you are taking your pet along for the ride. You’ll need to plan for regular breaks so your dog can stretch and relieve him or herself.  Dogs also require longer breaks than you might plan for just yourself. Try using a road trip planner or app such  GoPetFriendly or BringFido to locate dog parks or pet-friendly green spaces so that your pet can sniff around and explore different environments for 15-30 minutes per break.

[Photo credit: You’re Welcome Savannah •]

If you’d like to dine at a restaurant, you’ll also need to research pet-friendly restaurants. If the weather is nice, you might be able to find some restaurants with dog-friendly patios. If not, you’ll be limited to grabbing fast food and eating at a rest stop. Never, ever leave your dog alone in the car for more than a few minutes! Not only will your dog be at risk of weather-related issues such as overheating or freezing, your pet is also more likely to panic in the unfamiliar environment. Whenever possible, stay in view of your dog so that they can keep an eye on you and remain calm. You don’t want to risk your dog panicking and bolting when you open the car door.                          Photo credit: You’re Welcome Savannah

Plan accommodations ahead of time

Not all hotels or even campgrounds are pet friendly. Make sure you do your research on every place you plan to stay. It’s always best to call each hotel or campground to double check on their pet policy to ensure that there are no surprises regarding fees, dog breed restrictions, or rules for bringing pets. Also, as traveling with pets has become more and more popular, so have blogs and Facebook groups dedicated to researching and compiling information to help you locate services that best fit your needs. 

Couple of tips on gear

When planning a road trip with your pets, you’ll want to make moving around with them as simple as possible. Chances are, you have some fun day-trips planned for you and your loyal friend and the gear you take along can make life easier and more enjoyable.

  • Keep an extra collar close at hand when out and about with your dogs.

Collars are likely the most used, and because of this, the least thought about piece of gear. Your pet's collar is subjected to everything he/she drags it through, and if it is damaged or lost during an outing, safety could become an issue. Throw the extra in your backpack or glove box so it is always available should the need arise. 

  • Bring along a portable travel crate 
A collapsible crate will allow you to keep your pet’s items close by and also provide them shelter in places like campgrounds and parks. For small dogs, a travel crate like Wrapsit™ uniquely allows you to carry a seat for yourself, a kennel, several daytime essentials, and even a leash, all in one hand. It’s perfect for short hikes, dog park stops, or roadside picnics.

Rethink the doggy bag

When it comes to planning a road trip with your dog, the definition of doggy bags transforms from restaurant leftovers to an easily accessible bag filled with all your dog supplies. You don't want to rummage through all of your belongings in search of dog treats, harnesses, toys, poo bags or anything else your dog might need. Pack your pet’s items separate from yours so you can always access them without a hassle.

Now that everything is ready to go, you can feel safer, more comfortable and a bit more flexible while traveling with your dog.  If you plan properly, you and your furry friend are in for a great vacation. 


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