Most of us vacation in the summer, when kids are out of school, and beaches and mountaintops are more welcoming, but taking the family dog with you on a road trip doesn’t have to be limited to summer. Weekend trips in spring and fall are a great option due to safer temperatures and less-crowded destinations. If kids aren’t a factor, you can always take a one or two-week vacation in the spring or fall instead of battling the crowds, insects, heavy traffic and high temps of summer.
No matter when you go, follow our tips for safe and comfortable travel with your dog. Need some travel gear? Check out our latest dog travel accessories deals on Doggyloot.
When traveling by car with your dog, it’s important that he or she has space to stretch out and sleep, a water bowl, and a harness, crate or confined area of the car. Some smaller dogs like to ride in booster seats that allow them to be safely buckled in but still have a window view.
For the larger dogs, I use a harness that buckles into the car’s seatbelt. Always have a leash for your dog, plus one extra leash that you keep in the car “just in case”. You never know when your hound might slip out of a collar, or run after a squirrel. For this same reason, it’s helpful to have a pocketful of treats. Don’t forget the poop bags!
Skip the food, but not the walk
In my personal opinion, it’s not a good idea to feed a full meal before a long car ride. Loosely based on the old wives’ tale about waiting an hour after eating before you swim, I find my dogs are less likely to get car-sick if we simply skip breakfast that day. I feed them after we’re settled at our destination. Similarly, walking the dog before you depart, and immediately upon arrival is a good habit. The last thing you need is a dog who has to relieve itself an hour into your trip. The walk on arrival is for the dog to “do its business”, but it also lets him or her smell, explore, and get familiar with the area.
Travel At Sunrise or Sunset in the Summer
Not only does departing early (or returning late) fit in with most dogs’ schedules (“What are we doing today, Mom?!”), it’s also smart to travel before the sun is blazing, or just as it’s setting, in order to keep your pets cooler inside the car.
Bring a Human Friend
If you must stop for a bathroom break for yourself, be sure you have a human companion with you who can stay with the car and the pets. Never leave your pet unattended in a closed, locked car in the summer. Several states have laws about this, so it’s best to have a plan in place and stick to it. Regardless of the laws, though, it’s not safe to have your dog unattended in the car as it can get very hot, very quickly and be very dangerous for the dog.
Run Your Errands Ahead of Time, Without Your Dog
I usually run my pre-travel errands the night before, without a dog. Fill the car with gas, get an iced coffee and keep it in the fridge for the morning (just add more ice and you’re good to go!), go to the ATM. If you must stop for refreshments on the road, choose the drive-thru. Bonus: some drive-thru personnel have dog treats on hand and will offer one if they see a doggie traveling companion!
Use a Leash, and Know What To Do If Your Dog Gets Lost
Let your dog explore the area upon arrival, as mentioned above, and always keep your dog leashed. Even a dog with perfect recall can get spooked by loud noises or in unfamiliar circumstances. Make sure your pet’s identification tags are up to date, and microchip info is current. Keep a current photo of your dog on your cell phone in case you need to report your pet missing. Find out if there is a lost dog network at your destination, or an animal control officer, and be sure you know how to reach them in case you need help locating a lost pet.
Make Sure Places You Visit Are Pet-Friendly
I’ll never forget the time I tried to bring my dog to the beach, only to be told “no dogs allowed” after we sat in line waiting to get parking space on a hot summer day! We were turned away and given directions to the dog-friendly beach (an hour away). Double-check your sources and be sure your pet is welcome at hotels, beaches, lakes and rivers, campgrounds, and elsewhere. Some hotels only accommodate dogs under a certain size and weight. Check their requirements while booking your reservation.
Above all: safety first, have FUN, and take lots of pictures!