7 tips for taking your dog on summer road trips

A golden retriever's head sticking out of a car window on the open road.
Photo by Mat Hayward/Shutterstock

Everyone knows what an excellent companion a dog can make during retirement—but what happens when you want to get away? If you’re travelling overseas, you might look into a good kennel. If you’re hitting the road for a camping trip or to spend some time at the cottage, however, you might want to bring your pooch along. After all, who loves frolicking in the lake or spotting chipmunks more than your dog? To ensure the ride is as enjoyable as the destination, here are seven tips for taking your dog on summer road trips.

Plan ahead

If you’re not travelling along a major highway, or you’re unfamiliar with the route, it might be best to map out your rest stops before you leave. That being said, the beauty of being a dog is that you can go nearly anytime, anywhere, so if there’s somewhere safe to pull over, don’t hesitate to stop—especially if your pup seems a little antsy or suddenly won’t stop staring at you. Even if your dog is fully grown and capable of holding his pee, he’ll thank you for the opportunity to stretch his legs. But the first thing you should research is whether or not your destination is pet-friendly. You might be surprised to learn how many campsites don’t welcome dogs.

Know how to spot and prevent motion sickness

No matter how much dogs love to stick their head out car windows, they are prone to motion sickness, which means you should avoid feeding them right before a big trip. It’s not good to feed them while you’re moving, either. Instead, give them small snacks that are high in protein while you’re stopped along the way. If you follow these rules, you shouldn’t have an issue, but it doesn’t hurt to recognize warning signs. Panting, whining, a wet nose, and excessive drooling are all signals that they could get sick.

Get the right gear

If you’re struggling to get your dog comfortable in a vehicle, it might be time to go shopping. There’s a ton of gear made for travelling with your pooch, from collapsible food and water bowls to special covers that will provide more space for them to lay down in the backseat (and keep your car clean). But you don’t want all brand new stuff, either. Make sure you cover the back seat or pad the crate with his favourite blanket and bring along at least one of his favourite toys or bones to help him relax.

Burn some energy beforehand

You probably know better than anyone, but if you’ve got an energetic dog, you’re going to have to get up extra early before hitting the road. The ride is going to go a whole lot smoother if your pooch has already played and is ready to settle into his mid-morning nap. This is also an important step if you plan on crating your dog, which well-recognized trainers consider a smart and safe idea for travelling with your pet.

Get your dog familiar with a crate

Although some people shy away from using crates, many dogs are more comfortable in them. It’s also safer for you and your dog, who is otherwise riding without a seatbelt and could try to jump into the front seat while you’re driving. Plus, if you’re ever planning to travel with your dog by plane some day, it’s great practice for them. Before crating your dog, make sure they’ve burned off some energy so they feel like resting, present the crate in a positive manner, and let your dog enter on his own. It’s also smart to practice this process ahead of your trip, so that it’s familiar to him.

Don’t ever leave your pet alone in a vehicle

This one should be a given, but considering the number of news outlets reporting on people breaking into hot cars to free dogs, it’s still worth mentioning. So here we go: never leave your dog, or any pet for that matter, alone in a vehicle. Even if the windows are cracked, a car can start to feel like a sauna pretty quickly. If you’re travelling alone, it means you’ll have to plan ahead. You won’t be able to make any pit-stops for food, unless you’re using the drive-through, and as for bathroom breaks? Your best bet might be the side of the road.

Try to avoid any medications

With as many pharmaceuticals for dogs as there are for humans, it might be tempting to sedate your pup before travelling, but it’s best to abstain. As with anyone, it can lead to an unhealthy reliance on pills, and you’ll never be able to go anywhere with your dog without drugging him. It might take a little more work in the beginning, but getting your dog comfortable with travelling by using a crate, making regular stops, keeping him well-hydrated, and bringing along his favourite chew toy are all better long-term solutions to any anxieties he may have about riding along in the car. If things don’t go well the first time, he probably just needs practice. Start by taking him on short trips to places like your local park. Eventually, he’ll learn to associate car rides with positive places.

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