How to plan a fun (and safe) road trip with your dog

September 9, 2020

Learn how to plan a fun and safe road trip for you AND your dog!


A family on a road trip with their dog

Road trips are an exciting way for you and your family to explore the Lone Star State and beyond. But if your family includes a four-legged friend, you may have to make some adjustments if they're coming along for the ride.  From planning a pet-friendly route to packing wisely, there's a lot to consider before you embark on your journey. That's why today, we'll show you how to plan a fun (and safe) road trip with your dog!

Planning a pet-friendly route


Dogs can't tell you when they need a pit stop, but they can (and often will) have accidents in the car. If your road trip is two hours long, they may not even need a break. However, if it's fourteen hours long, you'll have to be a little more careful in your planning. In order to plan the best, safest, and most comfortable route for you and your pup, consider some of the following tips.

Plan for plenty of rest stops. It's better to take more rest stops than you need. Your trip might take a little longer, but you and your pup will enjoy it more. When planning your route, take a look at possible places where your dog might be able to answer nature's call. If possible, try to sync those stops with ones you already have to make, such as gas stations or lunch breaks. 

Perfect pit stop locations might include rest stops off the highway, gas stations with plenty of open grass, or any point where your dog can safely stretch their legs a bit and do their business. If you are limited on options, any parking lot with a small patch of grass will do in a pinch - just make sure to pick up after your dog. 

Find pet friendly hotels, campgrounds, or Airbnbs. If your road trip includes multiple days, you'll need pet-friendly accommodations over night. When planning your route, make sure to call any hotels, Airbnbs, or campgrounds where you might stop for the night just to make sure there won't be any issues.

This is especially important because certain places may be hesitant to allow certain dog breeds, or may have rules and restrictions regarding the size or weight of your dog.
 
Make note of vets or emergency clinics on the way. Let's say you take a pit stop, and your beloved pet runs into a snake or is stung by a bee. Don't panic - it's a solvable situation, but you'll need to know where the closest vet is. While you probably know where to go if something happens at home, it's important to have a good idea of where to find a vet during your trip. When planning your itinerary, take some time to look at your route and make a list of vets along the way and keep their phone numbers handy.

Printing out a map in advance and highlighting the relevant points can be a big help. While smartphones are equipped with some of the best navigational tools, they do rely on cell signal, which you may find yourself without depending on where your trip takes you.

Prepare for the trip


Before a trip, you probably pack all your things, let people know that you're traveling, and get a house sitter or someone to watch your plants. Your dog, of course, can't make those arrangements — you need to do it all for them.

Head to the vet. Make sure you're current on vaccinations, especially rabies, and get a vet checkup to make sure your pet's feeling great. You don't want a medical emergency on a trip.

Take a practice trip. Try taking a shorter, practice trip before a long road trip. That'll give you more insight into how your pet performs during longer journeys and how often they need bathroom breaks.

Exercise. Before your trip, take a long walk, exercise, or hike. A tired pet is (usually) a calm, well-behaved pet. Your dog will behave much better on the road if they're already tuckered out.

Adjust feeding schedules. Depending on your trip's schedule, you should try to avoid feeding your pet just before you leave. Just like people, dog's can get nauseous and motion sick while on the road, and a belly full of kibble could spell trouble. Furthermore, what goes in always must come out, and adjusting their feeding schedule can prevent more frequent bathroom stops. 

However, dog's are creatures of habit and routine, so making abrupt changes to their feeding schedule can be difficult for both of you. If possible, start slowly shifting their dinner time to something more trip-friendly at least a week before you leave. Depending on the length of your trip, you may find it works best to feed them when you've finished traveling for the day. Alternatively, you could aim to feed them when you stop for a longer break (such as a lunch stop) so they have a little time to digest and use the bathroom. 

Make sure the vehicle is prepared. Before you pack your pooch into the car ask yourself if you've chosen the right vehicle for the trip. Of course, this depends on what you have available, as well as the length of your trip, the number of human passengers, and the luggage required. If you don't think you can comfortably fit it all, consider using a different vehicle, or renting one if needed.

Once you've picked the right ride, make sure that the vehicle itself is ready for your canine companion. Before you leave, designate a specific part of your vehicle for them and lay down blankets over the seats if necessary. Try to leave them a reasonable, comfortable amount of room and avoid overpacking the car with luggage. If possible, remove or lay down unused seats to make extra room. If your dog is a chewer, try to remove anything that could be reasonably confused for a chew toy.

Remember, the more preparation you do before the trip, the less likely you are to run into last-minute difficulties or worse - problems on the road.

Pack up for your pet


Depending on the number of passengers and the length of your trip, you may have a huge checklist to see to. But as you're going through and crossing items off, don't forget about your dog's luggage! Make sure you pack:
  • Essentials, such as treats, food, a water bowl, and plenty of water.
  • Crates and leashes. Dogs are often more comfortable traveling in a crate.
  • Cleaning items, in case of accidents.
  • Toys and comfort items (like blankets), to keep them distracted.
You might also want to keep their vet documentation with them just in case. This could include information about special medical conditions they have, but most certainly should include their current vaccination information. 

Hit the road


You're prepared, and it's time to hit the road. Most dogs absolutely love traveling, and you'll be headed toward a journey that you both will remember. But while on the road, you should also make some concessions to your pup.
  • Take plenty of breaks. Pay attention to their bathroom needs; they're most likely to need to go to the bathroom just after they've eaten or had a drink. If you have to take a break on the side of the road, make sure to pull over a safe distance away from traffic. When taking your dog out, make sure they stay on a leash at all times!
  • Don't leave your pet in the car when parked. Cars can get extremely hot very quickly. If you're traveling with other, keep the car on and have them wait while you pump gas or get road snacks. 
  • Keep them busy or entertained. Treat balls that have treats inside of them can be a great distraction, as can Kongs filled with peanut butter.
  • Make sure they're secure. Having a loose pet in the car can be very distracting! Either secure them in the back or keep them in a crate. There are a number of special harnesses, crates, and other products designed to keep dogs safely secured while on the road.
Any road trip requires a lot of pre-planning, but the more planning you do, the more likely you are to have an enjoyable trip. Your pup may create some complications, but also make the journey altogether more memorable. As long as you follow the above tips, you should have a safe and comfortable journey.

A woman with her dog on a road trip

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.