How to Keep Your Dog — and Yourself — Sane on Road Trips

Last Updated on July 2, 2021 by

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our June/July issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bi-monthly magazine delivered to your home.

Most dogs love a car ride. The feel of the wind through their fur, new smells wafting into the open window, and the chance to bark at new people, street signs, and clumps of grass are all part of the appeal. But if you’re going on a long road trip, dogs can start to resemble kids on the way to Disney World. Instead of “Are we there yet,” you’re besieged with whining, drooling, and barking. I’m not sure which is worse.

Over the years, I’ve logged thousands of road miles with my 
dogs, partly because of my hesitance to fly, and partly due to my penchant for packing heavy. Because I live in both Miami Beach and New York City, I drive between those cities several times a year, and I always bring my dogs. The dogs are the heaviest part of my baggage.

Miniature Pincher by Shutterstock.
Miniature Pincher by Shutterstock.

Keeping your dog entertained on a road trip isn’t difficult once he is used to riding for longer periods of time and is sure that the destination isn’t the vet’s office. My dogs are so used to long car rides that they sleep for the majority of our trips. During their waking hours, they are content to chew on a bully stick and are always thrilled when we stop for a potty break. They also delight in barking fiercely and frothing at the mouth when they see a tollbooth attendant, so that kills a few minutes, depending on which state we’re driving through.

If you’re bringing your dog along on this year’s summer vacation, follow these canine car-tripping tips:

Safety first

  • Bring a copy of your dog’s medical and vaccination records, in case you need to make an emergency vet trip or prove that he’s received his shots.
  • Make sure your dog has current ID tags on at all times.
Dog with ID tags by Shutterstock.
Yellow Lab wearing ID tags by Shutterstock.
  • Keep your dog properly restrained when you drive. Not only is this mandatory in some states, it’s much safer than driving with your dog loose or
 — gasp! — on your lap. So many things can go wrong if you leave your dog unrestrained, from the dog interfering with the driver, to injury or death in the case of an accident.
  • Do not remove the leash during the car ride. In the case of an accident, emergency personnel need a way to catch or control your dog. Remove the leash only when the car is stopped to avoid tangling or choking; reattach it when you start rolling again, ideally to a harness.

On the road

  • Generally speaking, you want your dog to sleep in the car, or quietly chew a bone or bully stick, or even serenely look out the window. You don’t want to encourage too much activity, because it’s not safe for your dog; offering too much food can cause stomach upset and a potential mess in the car, like peanut butter all over the back seat and windows.
Dog chews by Shutterstock.
Dog chews by Shutterstock.
  • If traveling with multiple dogs, give them each a bolster bed in the back seat. This helps them to stay in one spot.
  • Invest in a waterproof back-seat cover — just in case.
  • If your dog gets carsick, roll down the window and let him get a snoutful of fresh air. You can also give him ginger chews; plenty of “canine anti-car-sickness” products are on the market.

Taking a break

  • Games and play at rest stops are weather-dependent. Typically, on road trips, you’d only stop for potty breaks and to allow your four-legged friend to stretch her legs. It’s not necessarily safe or practical to spend a lot of time out of the car at rest stops or gas stations, since you don’t know where you are and where you stop is a little like rolling dice. This is because “when you have to go, you have to go” — not all potty stops are planned.
  • On all of my trips up and down the East Coast from New York to Miami and back, I’ve seen only one road stop that has a pet play area — South of the Border, a rest station between North Carolina and South Carolina — and I always stop there for about 15 minutes with the dogs.
Beagle stretching by Shutterstock.
Beagle stretching by Shutterstock.
  • Mature dogs can ride as long as you can without a potty or mental break. When you stop for a potty break or to stretch your legs, that’s the perfect time for Fido to stop, too. A good rule of thumb is to get out of the car about every three hours or so.
  • When you leave the car, always give your dog a potty break before you take yours. Offer water at every potty break as well.
  • Everyone knows that you shouldn’t leave your dog in a car on hot days, even if you’re doing the seated pee-pee dance. If you have to exit the car 
in the summer, pull into an area with a shady overhang. Blast your car’s air conditioner on high for a few minutes, crack the windows, run inside to do your business, and then hightail it back to your dog. The shade keeps your car cooler longer, and there should be enough people around to deter anyone from trying to steal your dog. If you need food for yourself, use the drive-thru or pack your own.
Drive-thru sign by Shutterstock.
Drive-thru sign by Shutterstock.

Can you leave your dog in the car in the wintertime to quickly grab a burger and fries from a rest stop? What about in the evening, when the summer night cools down a bit? Yes, but always crack the car windows and park close to the front window of the restaurant, where you can watch your car like a dog watching a squirrel. If you can, try to find a restaurant or fast food joint that offers outside seating. If you do sit inside, ask to be seated near a window, where you can see your car. Do not take your eyes off your car!

  • Finally, don’t stress. Your dog’s main happiness comes from being with you, no matter where you are, so a long car ride should be a blast for your best furry friend.

What to pack for your pup

Pack a bag just for your dog, including the following items:

  • Two travel bowls
  • Bottled water
  • Food
  • Treats
  • Plenty of chews
  • Toys
  • First-aid kit
  • Blanket
  • Towel
  • Bed
  • Potty bags
  • Puppy pads
  • An extra leash

Do you hit the road with your dog? Share tips and tricks in the comments!

Read more about traveling with your dog on Dogster:

About the author: Nikki Moustaki is a dog trainer, dog rescuer, and pet expert. She splits her time between New York City and Miami Beach, Florida, and is the author of the memoir The Bird Market of Paris. Visit Nikki on Facebook, on Twitter, and at

About the Author

Shopping Cart