Travelling with a dog can be fun, but it requires extra planning compared to “human-only” road trips. Aside from keeping your pet safe, you also need to ensure he doesn’t get anxious, stressed or bored.
With that in mind, here are five tips for a safe and enjoyable road trip with your dog.
Remember to Pack the Essentials
Dogs travel lighter than most humans, but there are still many items you need to pack.
The most important are a harness, leash (plus a spare), water bowl, food bowl, and enough food for the journey. While you can always buy more kibble or wet food, switching to a new brand can cause an upset stomach – which is the last thing you need on a trip.
If your dog takes any medication, remember to bring enough for the whole journey. You should also take medical records and vaccination certificates, along with any grooming equipment you might need.
Other essential items include:
Plenty of dog bags
A dog first aid kit, with items such as cotton wool, gauze, sterile pads, and bandages
Your dog’s bed and blankets
A crash-tested harness or crate (see below)
A chew toy or bone to entertain your pet in the car
Other favorite toys, such as tug toys or a ball, to play with during stops
A recent photo of your dog
You should also make sure your dog is microchipped and his tag’s contact information is up-to-date.
Plan a Dog-Friendly Route With Plenty of Stops
Setting off on a road trip without a fixed destination can be a liberating experience, but it’s probably not a good idea if you have a dog. It’s important to check that your route is dog-friendly before you leave.
If you’re staying overnight in a hotel or B&B, you’ll need to find one that allows dogs. This limits your route, as many hotels won’t allow dogs in rooms.
Dogs also need regular breaks on a car journey. These stops aren’t just for going to the toilet, but also for allowing your pet to stretch his legs and relieve boredom.
Most motorway service stations in the UK have at least a small patch of grass. These are perfect for giving your dog time outside the car, although you’ll need to keep him leashed. If you’re travelling on smaller roads, you might need to plan rest stops more carefully.
Keep in mind that some dogs get car sick. It’s best to feed your pet several hours before you leave each day, as this minimizes the chance of sickness.
You should also research veterinary surgeries along your route – including those providing an out-of-hours service. If something were to happen to your dog, getting him to a vet quickly could be vital.
Decide Whether It’s Fair to Take Your Dog
Some dogs love spending time in the car and will happily go on a road trip. Unfortunately, other dogs find cars scary or stressful, which would make a road trip a horrible experience.
It’s important to be honest about whether your dog would enjoy a road trip. If your pet is terrified to go near a car, it isn’t fair to take him on a long journey.
The good news is that positive reinforcement training can often teach a dog to find journeys less stressful.
Start by taking your dog near the car, while giving lots of praise and a few treats. Gradually progress to getting into the car, giving a few treats, then getting straight back out. Once your pet is happy to do this, you can start turning the engine on without moving, pulling in and out of the drive, and eventually taking short trips.
This process can take weeks or even months, so start long before your road trip. Always watch for signs of stress, as these indicate that you’re moving too fast for your dog.
The above process works best for dogs with mild anxiety about car rides. If your dog is petrified of the car, put any plans for a road trip on hold and contact a qualified canine behaviorist.
Safely Restrain Your Dog
It’s frightening how little protection a regular dog harness or crate provides. During crash tests, most disintegrate on impact, either allowing the dog to fly through the car or be crushed by their own crate.
For this reason, you should only ever use a harness or crate that’s been thoroughly crash-tested. Crash-tested harnesses are great for smaller dogs, but larger dogs need a tough crate to protect them during an accident.
You should also never allow your dog to put his head out of the window. Aside from the risk of being hit by a road-side object, the strong winds can damage a dog’s ears and eyes.
Make Overnight Stops as Comfortable as Possible
Dogs are creatures of habit, so many feel uncomfortable sleeping in a different environment.
An easy way to help your dog settle is to bring his normal bed and blankets. It’s best if these haven’t been washed for a few days, so they still smell comforting.
You may also want to use white noise to cover up sounds that might disturb your pet. A dog in a new environment is often more alert to new noises, which can make it difficult to sleep.
A road trip with your dog can be a wonderful experience. Many dogs love coming on family trips and exploring new places.
It’s your responsibility to keep your pet safe and happy though. So, when you’re planning your route and the attractions you want to see, remember to plan for your dog’s needs too.