How to Ensure Your Road Trip With the Dog is Awesome


how to ensure your road trip with the dog is awesome

Before you load your pup into the car, let’s look at some tips to help ensure your road trip with the dog is awesome.   

Everyone must be so excited about the upcoming adventure, even more so because this time you’re bringing the dog. Hang on a minute, have you done this before or is it your first time? Please don’t wait until the car is packed to put the dog in and hope for the best. 

First things first, does your dog like the car?

If the answer is yes fantastic, scroll down to the next relevant section but if the answer is “no” or “I don’t know” keep reading.

Helping your dog love the car

You can get him used to the car and hopefully even enjoying a ride using a technique called desensitisation. It means creating positive associations between one thing and another. In this instance, the use of tasty pinterest image for How to Ensure Your Road Trip With the Dog is Awesometreats/toys/praise (whatever motivates him) to teach him something really good always happens when he gets in the car.

Obviously I have no idea at what stage your dog is at – is he fine in it until you’re driving more than a few minutes, or does seeing the car send him screaming into the night? For the sake of this article I am going to assume it’s the latter so here’s what you do.

Step one

Grab some food he will do anything to get his paws on, the kind he only gets on a rare occasion, and cut it up into small pieces. Keeping them in a pouch attached to your belt or pocket will make it easy for you to access. If your dog is not food motivated, perhaps rewarding him with a favourite toy or praise is enough.

Step two

Start at the point where your dog is still fine. For example, I’ll say he’s fine when he sees the car in the driveway as long as it’s through the window of the house. Great, so while he’s looking out the window give him a treat. The next step is opening the front door for him to see the car more clearly (keep him on a leash!). If he’s still fine, give him a treat. Take a step forward, still fine, another treat. Another step, another treat, by the car door treat, open the door treat, sit in the car in the driveway treat, turn the engine on with him in the car… You will take baby steps until he’s in the car while it’s moving and he’s fine.

Step three

If you reach a point that causes panic, the slightest hesitation, or uncertainty that’s okay – don’t say anything, don’t give him any treats, go back in the house and be cool, like nothing happened. Try again later, starting from the point where he was still fine, and slow down the speed at which you move from step to step. You may have gone too quickly. 

How long will this take? 

As long as it takes! Every dog learns at a different pace, and level of anxiety will factor into it as well. It is important to take it slowly even if it’s frustrating, because moving too quickly can set his training back.

That’s all fine and dandy but we’re leaving in two days!

I would still start the training right now for two reasons – you can never go wrong teaching your dog something new, and he may get used to the car pretty quickly. 

How about trying a CD called Through a Dog’s Ear – it is bioacoustically designed classical music, proven to help calm dogs with anxiety. Start playing the 13 minute sample on Youtube until it arrives, and if you won’t get it in keeping your pups comfy on road trips with dogstime use the taster during the trip. An important point – the first time you play it make sure he’s relaxed, because it will build up the association between the music and feelings of calm. It is not guaranteed to work on every dog, nothing is, but the success rate is around 80% and it works for mine!

Rescue Remedy is a combination of 5 Bach Flower Remedies formulated to relieve anxiety, and Valerian is another natural option to help with stress. Alternatively your vet can recommend something mild to help take the edge off. Whatever you choose try it before the big day to see if it works. 

Ingress and egress assistance

My fancy way of asking if your dog needs help getting in and out of the car. Getting a small dog in and out is one thing, but a big one? That’s where pet steps and ramps come in handy. If you already use pet steps in the house try them for the car, if not a ramp should do the trick. They come in different sizes, some are adjustable and fold so they take little room in the car.

The next question is – will your dog use it? Let him have a go before you’re packing up the car. If he’s hesitant you can try my trick (well, not mine but something I’ve done that worked) – put a delicious treat at the bottom of the ramp. If he approaches the ramp and eats it no problem, put the next treat a little higher, then the next one a little higher. If he hesitates at any time leave it and try again later. Start at the bottom again, and very slowly work your way up. More effective if you keep all training sessions short.

If you’re running out of time and he’s not yet ready to use the ramp, you may consider bringing it with you and practicing on the trip.

In car safety for the four legged and two legged passengers

It is not safe to let a dog of any size have free run of the car or sit on anyone’s lap, especially the driver’s. He could not only hurt himself, but could distract the driver enough to cause a serious accident. Even if he is perfectly car safety on your road trip with the dogbehaved and sits still better than your kids, it is advisable to restrain him in some away, whether that’s with a doggie seatbelt or a crate. If you have to brake suddenly or are, heaven forbid, involved in a fender bender, your dog could get seriously injured. All humans are strapped in for that reason, why not your dog. He is a member of the family!

If you are interested in seeing what kind of products are available that can help keep your dog safe in the car, read my article on dog safety products.

Don’t let your dog sit in front of an airbag.

You often see dogs with their heads stuck out the window, wind in their fur but it’s not a good idea. He can get hurt by a passing car or flying debris. Nothing wrong with leaving the window open a bit for the breeze though!

Car seat covers/protectors

Spilled food, wet and muddy paws or even car sickness can do a real number on your seats. A sheet or blanket are options in a pinch, but a cover made specifically for cars is better.

Vet and emergency numbers

Whether you’re traveling to the next state or another country, prepare a list of veterinary practices and emergency hospitals in the area. The last thing you want to do is wait until you need one to start looking.  

Don’t eat and run

Feed your dog a light meal at least three hours before you leave. You don’t want him getting sick in the car.

What to pack for your dog

What, you thought you were the only one that needed to pack a suitcase? Even on our day trips the dogs have a bigger bag than we do! 

  • Health and vaccination records, including rabies certificate. Even if you’re staying relatively close to home, you never know when they’ll come in handy.
  • what to pack for car travel with dogsFood, especially if your pup is on a special diet, and always pack more than you think you’ll need
  • Water 
  • Bowls – regular or collapsible. On our two day road trip to Spain I used disposable for the convenience
  • Good supply of poop bags
  • Leash/harness – even if your dog doesn’t typically wear a harness it’s safer in a new environment and on the road 
  • Favourite toys
  • Treats
  • bed/blanket – good for the car, hotel…
  • Flea/tick medication
  • Motion sickness/anti anxiety medication
  • First aid kit – assemble your own or buy one ready made but do have a pet first aid kit handy. It may be an emergency that can’t wait until you find a vet, or you’re off on a hiking trail in the middle of nowhere, be prepared. For advice on what to do in an emergency this article will help. Print it out and put it in your first aid kit.  

Your dog should be microchipped and wear a collar with a tag – both with up to date contact information. In the unlikely event he goes missing, you want to make sure you do everything you can to ensure his safe return. An up to date photo isn’t a bad idea to have either.

Tire him out

Before you strap yourselves in, take your dog for a long walk, hike or run. It will burn off energy so he’s calmer in the car. 

Dog friendly resources on the road

You might have done the research, booked the dog friendly hotel and know where every dog park and vet are, but we all know when on a car trip it’s not hard to veer off course…and off schedule. If you find yourself doing just that these will help.

Bring Fido

American Red Cross Pet First Aid App

During the journey

Keep your dog hydrated throughout the journey, particularly if you are travelling in warm weather and don’t have air conditioning.

If you have been allowing your dog to jump out of the car as soon as the door opens, you might want to stop that. It could be dangerous, especially on a road trip in unfamiliar territory and hectic rest areas. Before any doors are car safety for dogsopen he should be attached to a harness, but having said that he should be restrained in the car so jumping out wouldn’t be an option. If he isn’t restrained…teach him to “wait” when the door opens, only allowing him to jump out on your command, after the leash is clipped on to him. 

Stop often enough to allow your dog to take care of business, and get some exercise. He’ll need to burn off some of the energy so he continues to be well behaved. 

Designated rest stops have plenty of light from gas stations and restaurants if your journey is taking you through the night. If you find yourself pulling over in a dark area have your dog wear a high viz vest so he can be clearly seen. A flashing dog collar and light up leash are also handy, as is a flashlight for obvious reasons. 

When stopping for a break for the humans in your group never leave the dog alone in the car, even if you think it will only be for a few minutes. It won’t take long for your dog to suffer heatstroke and die in hot weather, or freeze to death in cold. You also never know who spots him alone and snatches him.

Dogs have very sensitive hearing, so don’t blast the radio or movie player.

How to ensure your road trip with the dog is awesome – conclusion

By following these helpful tips on your next road trip with the dog, you’re ready for an awesome adventure.


Safe and happy travels!


Do you take your dog with you on car trips? How do you keep them calm and safe during the drive? Sharing helps others so let us know by leaving your story in the comment section below, or on my Facebook page if you’re traveling with a senior dog.



Hindy Pearson

I have wanderlust so find it difficult to live for years at a time in one place. I am also a huge animal lover so while I can still travel and re-locate it does take some planning. My other website is called Caring For a Senior Dog, I am a certified dog trainer, I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and I am currently working on setting up a spay/neuter program in Spain.


  1. Kamira G.

    I’ve never traveled with a dog on the road however have taken a road trip with a cat. Using some of your tips like keeping them in the back seat not in front of an airbag, make stops along the way and staying hydrated definitely made for a comfortable ride. These are great list of tips for pet owners before taking their dogs on the road.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I’ve actually only flown with cats, never taken a road trip. Glad you like the tips and they definitely apply to more than just dogs!

  2. debbie

    These are great tips! We do a LOT of traveling with our dogs, so we have lots of practice. Great tips for getting your dog comfortable in the car. It’s so important, especially for dogs who only go for rides when it’s time to go to the vet.

    The one thing I would add is a people/canine first aid kit. You just never know what may happen and it’s so important to make sure you can temporarily treat any injuries in order to get to the vet (or doctor) especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks for reminding me. I had written it for another post and was planning on adding it to this one and, as usual, my multi tasking doesn’t work!!

  3. Lori Hilliard

    Like you, I love to travel, but we’ve sharply curtailed recent travel because of our senior pets. When we retire in a few years, however, we will be buying an RV and hitting the road. In the meantime, I’m bookmarking all your travel tips for pets so that we’re ready when we pull up stakes and hit the highway with our pets.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      That sounds amazing!! Put the dogs in the RV and travel the country. I wish I could do something like that.

  4. Sonja

    Great timing. WE DID A HUGE road trip this past summer. Before that our trips were more walking, train and flying scenarios. I found car travel to have different challenges. Like car sickness. And not stopping enough for ALL of us to stretch. Not sure it’s our favourite way to travel but we will do it again.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Your road trip must have been amazing. Like yours our trips tend to be walking, trains and flying, with car trips (except for last year driving from England to Spain) just day outings but it feels like we need just as much stuff!

  5. Heather Wallace, Bridle & Bone

    Great advice for all travelers with their dogs. I don’t travel on long trips with my two dogs because I already have enough to handle with three small children. That being said, my dogs love the car and I have a cargo mat by Fowl Dog that works a treat and they relax in the cargo area very happy to be on the road.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Heather! I can’t imagine how hectic that would be! Makes life so much easier when you have a dog that enjoys the car, my neighbour had to walk everywhere with her dog because she wouldn’t get in the car for anything.

  6. Joely Smith

    Wow this is such a great post! Truly helpful! I am trying to get my dogs used to car travel and I am going to try all of your advice here. You have such unique yet practical ideas! I also love how you point out how important hydration is! That is one thing I did know – dogs get dehydrated when traveling by car.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Joely, glad you found it helpful. Good luck getting your dogs used to the car, and if you have plenty of time to do it, it makes it easier.

  7. Ruth Epstein

    Great post and am blessed that Layla loves adventures on bussess, cars or trains so have had no problems with her. I love Dr. Bach but too her off it because of her enviromental allergies so am now using CBD oil 🙂 when necessary.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Ruth, and happy to hear Layla is so easy going when it comes to mode of travel. Jack has environmental allergies and although I’ve never used flower remedies with him, I’m glad you mentioned keeping Layla away from them. It’s such an obvious connection when you say it but I doubt it would have dawned on me to avoid it!

  8. Dear Mishu

    These photos are so cute! I appreciate you attention to dog safety in the car. Now, where are we going…?

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Mishu, and yes we do take car safety very seriously! That’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately!!

  9. Tenacious Little Terrier

    Mr. N travels with me in the car pretty often. He’s fine if he’s in the seat next to me (he doesn’t weigh enough to set off the passenger airbag) but he tends to whine if he rides in the back.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I know Jack can sympathise with Mr. N. He’s much happier traveling on his dad’s lap and is not impressed we’ve relegated him to the back seat with a seat belt!!

  10. Lola The Rescued Cat

    There is so much to think of when you’re taking a road trip with your dog. I don’t travel with my pets, so I don’t realize the amount of work that goes into it. My niece’s dog does not like the car at all and I’m going to share these tips with her.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      There certainly is Lola! The only time I’ve ever traveled with cats in the car was to the vet or the airport to put them on a plane!! I hope some of these tips help your niece’s dog at least tolerate the car. Let me know if she finds them helpful.

  11. Jana Rade

    I wonder how many people don’t that question even let to cross their mind–does my dog like the car? Our guys love rides, long or short. But I’d definitely not be planning a road trip if I suspected they might hate it.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I wonder that too! I have no facts to back this up but I imagine a lot of people just put their dogs in the car for their road trip. start driving and hope for the best. Hopefully this post will help.

  12. Pawsitively Intrepid

    Great thorough article! All are good points. I love the reminder about training to enjoy the car and about car safety/restraint during driving.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thank you! I must admit I’ve been guilty of not always restraining my dogs in the car, but I have learned my lesson. Red always rode in her carrier so there was never an issue and Jack absolutely gets strapped in with a doggy seat belt.

  13. Debi @ RescueDogs101

    Awesome tips. It’s funny because every dog I’ve had has reacted differently in the car. So far the best dog has been our Ginger. And I really think it’s because when we first got her I’d take her in the car with me all the time, even to pick up the kids from school, or run an errand. So she got comfortable in the car quickly. Although, looking back, she use to get car sick as a puppy! Thank goodness she grew out of that in a few months.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Debi!! I’m sure it helped that you took her in the car for fun times, not just when she had to go to the vet!

  14. Beth

    One of my dogs really doesn’t like to go for car rides. I’ll have to try this with her.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I hope these tips help your dog, let me know how it goes.

  15. Paul Kirhagis

    You always have such thorough and well organized posts, I always feel like I learn so much that is going to equip me for the future.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I don’t know what else I can hear that would make me happier. Thank you Paul!

  16. Michelle

    Great travel tips, we often forget about our dogs before going on a long journey, they have different requirements to us and to make the journey as bearable as possible.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Glad you found them helpful Michelle. I know many of us just tend to put the dog in the car and go, but I believe planning and preparation makes for a much more pleasant experience for everyone!

  17. Sandy Kubillus

    My dogs always get used to being in the car with me by driving them to fun places near my home, like the forest preserve. I think frequency is the key. My sister gave me her 12-year-old cocker who would vomit during car rides, but after I owned him, I took him out for short rides to the store and other areas and he learned to adapt. After a few months, I no longer had to worry about if he had an empty stomach.
    One other tip, is to schedule a long dog walk if you have an active dog and a long trip. We try to find a forest preserve or park near the highway and try to wear her out.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Sandy, frequency does help and certainly taking him to fun places. He’s not going to be too happy in the car if everytime he’s in it he either ends up at the vet or the groomer! That’s amazing your sister’s dog stopped being sick in the car. Thanks for reminding me about the long walk – I was sure I had added that somewhere, I’ve done it now.

  18. The Daily PIp

    This is such a great post! I’m going to share it widely. We are lucky because Ruby just wants to be with us all the time – whether it is in the car or at home. I don’t think she even notices the car as long as we are with her. We have taken a few long trips with her and she’s done quite well.

    I always get upset when I see dogs hanging their heads out the window – so dangerous! I love your tip about feeding the dogs 3 hours before you start out. I have never thought of this, but such a good idea.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing, much appreciated! You are lucky Ruby is happy being with you no matter the circumstances – makes things easier doesn’t it! I agree about dogs hanging out the window, so many hazards – the obvious being having a car or truck hit them but also flying debris can cause serious eye or head injuries. Sadly it takes an accident for some people to realise.

  19. sara lafountain

    These are such great tips! Our dog Molly just hates the car. We adopted her and she has hated the car since the first day we got her.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      My neighbour had a dog who wouldn’t get in the car for anything. It seems her owner threw her out of a car and she’s been terrified ever since. Perhaps some of these tips will help Molly. Let me know if they do.


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