Whether you’re making a cross country move or just looking for a fun vacation a road trip with your pup can be a fantastic, memorable experience. You both get to see new things and have some great experiences - maybe even try a new treat!
Related read: The Best Pup-friendly Road Trips in the U.S.
Before you hit the open road, you’ll need to do a little planning to make this trip the best ever. For the comfort and safety of both you and your pet - you’ll want to do all of your research so that you are ready for any bumps in the road (literally and figuratively).
We consulted Robert McLaughlin, the owner of HD Dog Training in Philadelphia, PA for some tips on getting your pup ready for a big adventure. “First things first, I always train my dog to enjoy car rides.” he says. “Some dogs have anxiety when you are putting them in the car and contrary to belief the only way to get dogs over their fears is to expose them to the things that they have an issue with little by little. If my dog is car sick, I train the dog to just hop into their crate in the car and then treat them heavily upon entering. I then let them out very soon after, rinse, wash, repeat, do things multiple times a day weeks or even months before your trip.”
He reminds pet owners to “Make sure you are consistent and when the dog looks forward to getting into the car begin to take them places they will enjoy. NOT ONLY TO THE VET OR TO BOARDING! Dogs need to have many more positive experiences to associate with getting into the car. Dogs who only get in cars to go to veterinarians usually not be excited about car rides.
Now that you’ve got your best friend super excited about getting in the car, here are a few tips to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
8 Tips for the road trip of a lifetime with your dog
1. Plan your route
If you’re taking a long trip you’ll want to plan your route carefully. Know that you’ll need to stop for potty breaks for both of you and also to sleep. Driving too tired is dangerous for you, your pup and other motorists - you don’t want to get in an accident. Check to see that your route is up to date and includes pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, dog parks, and rest stops. We've rounded up the top pet-friendly hikes in each state to give you and your pup a change to stretch your legs.
2. Check with your vet
Tell your vet about your trip. Confirm that your pup is mentally and physically healthy enough to travel with you. If your pup gets anxiety in new places or has a medical condition - ensure that you have your vet's approval. He or she may recommend some modifications to help you both get the most enjoyment out of traveling together.
3. Make sure your pup’s vaccines and microchip are up to date
While you’re at the vet, check to see if your pup is up to date on all needed vaccines and that their microchip is in good working order. This way, should you be separated for any reason there is a much better chance you’ll be reunited.
4. Update your dog’s ID tags
Before you leave, give your dog an ID tag with their name, your name and cell phone number. Your pup should wear these at all times when you’re away from home. If something happens and you were to be separated - these tags could help your pup not end up at a shelter in a strange place. You should also include proof of rabies vaccine with your pup’s id. The vet might give your pup a separate tag to wear to show he’s up to date. Keep this on your dog while you’re on the road. (Pro tip for if you're camping along the way, add a paper tag with your campsite number on it as well.)
5. Pack wisely - make sure you bring the right things
You want to have plenty of your pup’s food with you, especially if what they eat isn’t widely available in pet stores. If your pet is eating Ollie, you can follow our best tips for traveling with their food and you can have some fresh Ollie shipped to your destination for your arrival. Dogs have sensitive stomachs and making big, fast changes to their diet can result in tummy trouble - not something you want on the road.
You also want to pack their bedding or a favorite blanket, plenty of poop bags and wipes to clean up after your pup, and some chews or toys for play breaks.Long stretches in the car can be boring for your dog. Robert also reminds clients to keep an extra leash handy. You should bring a first aid kit and some medicine so you're prepared should your dog get sick while you’re traveling.
6. Safety first
Get a good, safe crate for your dog to relax in while you’re driving. For long trips, this is the safest way for your dog to travel. Do not use a wire crate like you’d use at home for this. For shorter trips you can use a car seat or a seatbelt. Do not let your dog travel unrestrained.
You should also wait to load your dog into the car until right before you leave. You'll want to get the car warmed up or cooled down to a comfortable temperature for your pup this way they aren't waiting for you to finish loading a too hot or too cold car.
7. Practice the call back
In order to let your dog run free while on the road you must practice recall at home. When your dog is standing around relaxed, but not too distracted, say their name. The moment they look at you say, “come,” and start moving away from them. Their instinct to chase should kick in and when they arrive next to you give them a treat, lots of praise and then repeat.
Once they're rocking recall at home practice in your local park, building up the level of distraction over time. Reward and praise generously everytime your dog comes to you to build up the excitement. You want your dog to think coming to you is the best thing ever! If your pup ever slips out of the car, or even a hotel room, you want to be sure you can call them back to you and keep them safe!
8. Create a 'settle' cue
This comes in super handy at an outdoor or seaside restaurant: Start by luring your pup onto a mat that you’ll be able to bring with you. When their feet hit the mat say “yes” and give them a treat, then ask them to get off the mat and repeat. Once they consistently choose to run back onto the mat, ask them to lay down.
Repeat the process a few minutes a day saying “settle” just before they lay down on the mat. If you are dining out with your pup bring their food and water as well as a long lasting chew that they can enjoy while you have your meal.
9. Practice makes perfect, take some shorter trips first
Before embarking on a trip that stretches for days or even weeks at a time, try some short car trips first. This will help your pup get used to being in the car and going to new places. Consider taking a trip a few hours away to a dog friendly location.
Maybe head out for an afternoon of adventure, grab some dinner together and head home before bedtime. This will slowly expose your dog to road trips. If that goes well, you can take an overnight trip and work your way up from there.
10. Keeping your dog entertained on the road
Long stretches in the car can be boring for your pup. This means you want to give them plenty of breaks. While potty breaks are important, consider that your dog will still need exercise while you're on the road. Research some parks or walking trails along your route. While it may take you longer to get to your destination, your pup (and your legs) will thank you for the stretch breaks.
For bad weather or time in the hotel room, consider packing a kong or some interactive puzzle toys to stimulate your dog mentally. While the new scenery and smells will be exciting in the short term, you want to make sure your pup isn't getting bored.
What should you put in your first-aid kit for a road trip?
In addition to packing food, toys, treats and poop bags for your pup, you want to have the supplies on hand for any situation you may find yourself in. You can either purchase or pack your own first aid kit for your dog. At a minimum, your first aid kit should contain:
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- A blanket
- A towel or washcloth
- Any prescription medication your pet takes
- Collapsible food and water dishes
- A gallon of water
- Some extra food for your pup
Tips to combat motion sickness for your dog
If your pup is prone to getting car sick, you don’t want it to ruin your trip. Try to keep stretches of driving shorter when your dog is awake. You’ll want to stop for potty breaks and to feed them every few hours, and more frequently if your dog is under a year old.
When you feed your dog (every 4 hours or so) give them time to digest and use the bathroom before getting on the road. While this won’t get you to your final destination quickly or efficiently - it will make the trip much more pleasant. Check out more tips for helping your pup combat car sickness here.
You can also give your pup a break from the car by spending the night in a dog-friendly hotel. It is important to make sure you’ve notified the hotel that your pup is with you before you show up. Some hotels have dog size restrictions whereas others do not. Kimpton hotels are known for being very pet-friendly. Some properties even have a menu in their restaurants specifically for your dog. If your pup has really bad motion sickness or isn’t tolerating being in the car for long stretches, consider skipping the road trip and spending a night or two in a fancy pet-friendly hotel!
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.