Road Tripping With Your Dog

Road trips are a great way to get out and see new parts of the country. With endless miles of road to explore, why not explore it with your dog? With some planning ahead and the right supplies, you can have a fun-filled, memorable road trip with your dog.

There are a few key things to figure out before you hit the road.

First, you’ll need to properly contain your dog inside your car. A pet seatbelt or secured carrier are the best options. To avoid neck injury, be sure to choose a seatbelt that attaches to your dog’s harness rather than their regular collar. Also, look for crash-tested crates. Letting your dog roam loose in the car or sit on your lap is a distraction to you as the driver and dangerous for your dog’s safety. And as appealing as a dog sticking their head out the window seems, the wind is irritating to their mucus membranes and can blow debris into their eyes and other harmful objects their way. If you own a flatbed truck, keep in mind that pups should never be transported in the bed of a pickup truck. An estimated 100,000 dogs die in accidents each year because of this.

Once you’ve got safety checked off the list, there are a few key things to remember to pack to make sure Fido stays comfortable and safe on the road. Your dog will need food and water bowls, a leash, a bed, toys, treats and poop bags. Be sure to look into what each state recommends and requires for vaccinations, and update your dog a few weeks in advance. Always keep vaccination records easily accessible in your luggage. Your pup should have an up-to-date ID tag and collar, as well as updated microchip information for easy identification.

To get your dog ready to travel long distances, start by taking him for shorter trips and building up to longer distances. This will help your pup get comfortable with the car and avoid unnecessary stress. In addition, before heading out, try to plan rest stops or other places to stop and let your dog expend some energy. Finding nice little hikes along the way can be a great way for everyone to stretch their legs. If you find yourself at a smaller rest stop, grab a long line and do brain work or recall games with your pup. I like making it a habit to grab a handful of Zuke’s Mini Naturals and doing some brain work every time I get out of the car. This is a great way to practice impulse control and keep your dog focused on you. The last thing you want is your dog launching out of the car at every stop and not paying attention to you—this isn't only for training, it's for safety. If you're traveling through bigger cities, you will likely be able to find a dog park for your pup to run around in. Wherever we stop, we always try to give our dogs a balance of physical exercise and brain exercise.

To help eliminate some rest stop frustration, we suggest teaching your dog to go potty on command. The best way to accomplish this is to keep your dog on leash in a specific potty area and wait for them to go. Once they go, you can praise them and give them a treat. We don't recommend adding the verbal cue until after a few times of the treat and praise, so that Fido will better understand what he is being praised for.

After they go potty, we give our dogs an opportunity to walk around and check things out as a secondary reinforcer. If you're in a place where your pup can be off leash and run, this can also be a great way to get some energy out. We keep our dogs on leash until they go potty to keep them focused. That way, a potty break doesn't also become a play break. But once they go, it's game on!

Road trips are a great way to include your dog in your vacation plans. Traveling is a skill set, so be sure to practice and build up the tools you and your pup will need to have a fun family vacation!


Amber with her dogsBlog author Amber Pickren, BA, CPDT-KA, is the owner of GentleCanineLLC in Durango, Colo. After earning her bachelors in Psychology, Amber found her passion working with dogs and has never looked back. Since 2004, she has been training dogs, specializing in behavioral issues. When she's not busy helping other pet parents with their dogs, she can be found running and climbing around Durango with Sadie, Lily and Imogene.

Main image by "professional weekender" Brianna Madia. Follow her road tripping adventures with her pups on Instagram at @briannamadia.