Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Road trips are an American pastime, and with summer here, more and more people will be hitting the roads—from scenic weekend drives to cross-country road trips and family vacations. For many people, that also means figuring out what to do with the dog. For me, that means loading the dogs into the back seat of the truck with their travel bed, food, bowls, toys, leashes/harnesses so they can enjoy the trip too!
While traveling with your dog can bring a whole different experience, it also means taking special precautions, limits on where you can go and what you can do, and potential schedule changes.
Below are several tips for traveling with your dog, based on my own experiences.
Start with Short Trips
Not sure how your dog will fare with travel and car rides? Like many humans, dogs can experience motion sickness and get sick in the car. Start with a few short day trips to make sure he/she can handle riding with no issues.
Pack Extra Water
It usually seems like water is everywhere. Until you need some! I have a gallon jug that I fill with water before we leave so we always have water when we stop. I just put a little in the water bowl and let them drink that, then refill as needed. If you’re camping, campgrounds usually have hoses where it can be refilled; gas stations may also have areas where you can fill water jugs.
A fun walking/hiking accessory is the Highwave Auto Dog Mug. This water bottle includes a bowl on the top, so you just squeeze the bottom to fill it up. Best part, once you release pressure, the water sucks back into the bottle, or you can just dump it if there’s dog slobber!
Finding a pet-friendly hotel can be difficult, but they are definitely becoming more common. Websites such as Hotels.com and Expedia have filters for pet-friendly hotels, helping to narrow down the search. There may be size and breed restrictions, and usually, you’ll have to pay an extra fee. As for campgrounds, in my experience, dogs are usually allowed but must be leashed at all times. And of course, you are required to pick up any pet wastes (please, please, please do this wherever you are!).
We do a lot of national forest camping, so of course, dogs are welcome! If you let your dog off the lead, be sure they don’t run away. It's a good idea to also take a long lead rope with you so you can tie the dog up while cooking, prepping camp, or doing other things where your attention may be away from your dog.
Of course, your dog will need food and water for your trip, but there are other supplies that might not seem so obvious.
Take treats for extra energy during hikes and other outings
Pack extra plastic bags so you can pick up waste during your trip
Toys to keep them busy during the ride, and for something to do once you’ve stopped for the day
If you’ll be near water and plan to do some swimming, don’t forget the lifejacket, eardrops to help dry the water and towels.
Bath soap may be helpful if your dog likes playing in the dirt and mud, or if you’ll be near water for an impromptu bath! We keep the dog brush and soap in the camper so we have it all times.
Dog-safe insect sprays and sunscreen
Be sure your dog has a collar or tag with your contact information. Worst case scenario: he/she runs off or gets lost. Make sure whoever finds them has a way to contact you. Personally, I’m a fan of embroidered collars instead of tags. Both Jake and Boone have embroidered collars from Orvis. These are very affordable, high quality, and come in a variety of colors. If your dog is microchipped, make sure the information is up to date: Have you moved? Changed your phone number? Did you recently adopt the dog?
Car safety is also extremely important. There are a variety of restraints available for dogs of all sizes. Make sure your dog is seated appropriately and won’t interfere with the driver. We have a 4-door truck and when traveling, we fold all of the back seats and keep both dogs safely in that area. Many people use crash-tested crates for travel, but I have not personally used one.
Make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations before heading out, and ask your vet if there’s anything special your dog should be vaccinated against prior to traveling depending on where you might be going. If you’re crossing borders into Canada or Mexico, check on any vaccinations or paperwork you’ll need for your pet.
Be sure to pack any medications your dog would normally require, be sure they are up to date on their flea and tick treatment and heartworm treatment.
Plan Your Route
You should plan to stop occasionally for the dog to not only use the bathroom, but also to take a break from the ride and to have the opportunity to walk around and stretch his/her legs. I typically plan for 10-20 minutes every 4-5 hours of driving; this is consistent with normal outside time during the day for my dogs. If stopping at road-side rest areas, be sure to look for dog-specific walking areas. Plan ahead and look for dog-friendly areas on the route, such as dog parks where you may be able to take them off the leash and run around.
If you need to stop, make sure you have a plan for your dog. Vehicles can overheat quickly, especially in the hot summer months. Many retailers are dog friendly which is helpful if you need to make a stop, so they can go in too (check online for a list of stores). If it’s not a dog-friendly store, have a plan—if there’s two people, one can go in and one can stay in the AC with the dog. You can also invest in a car-cooling fan to use if you have to leave your pup in the car. I have not personally used one, so be sure to check the consumer reviews and always have a backup plan in case of a gadget failure!
In my travels, I’ve found that state parks are typically more dog-friendly and allow leashed dogs on hiking/walking trails. Most national parks only allow dogs “anywhere a vehicle can go,” so in parking lots, roadways, etc. but not on walking/hiking trails, boardwalks, etc. If you know where you’re heading, check the park’s website for their rules/regulations before you go, and always follow any posted signage once in the park.
Traveling with your dog can be a fun experience, just make sure to be ready and able to adjust plans as necessary to ensure the safety of your dog.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey, pronghorn and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras and Brand Ambassador the BaseMap app. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.