Taking a Puppy on a Road Trip

Traveling across the Country by Car with Your Puppy

Zoey, 4-year-old Boxer mix, loves car rides.
Conor B. Davis

Traveling this great country is a continued passion for most people, and traveling with your dog just takes the experience to whole new heights. I have recently had been setting out on the road with my Boxer/Lab mix Zoey, and I wanted to share with you the preparation needed to make the trip fun for everyone, two-legged and four!

Traveling with a dog is not just tossing some stuff in the car and pulling out of the driveway.

There are some things that you have to prepare for well in advance, as well as some considerations you need to take into consideration before deciding if a road trip with your dog is a good idea. 

The first thing you need to consider is the role your dog (or cat, bird, bunny, ferret, ocelot, or whatever) will play in your travels. As a human you know what you are undertaking - you understand the time spent in the car, the ever changing climates and scenery, and the new noises and smells that will be encountered. Your dog does not. Even the most seasoned car-riding dog may not be comfortable stuffed in the backseat of a car for 12 hours as you traverse the country. 

It is also important that you have prepared your dog for the trip before it rolls around so that if an emergency comes up, you can predict how your dog will handle themselves. 

So, let’s talk about some specifics of how we prepared for a 2,000-mile road trip with Zoey!

What Does My Dog Need to Bring On a Road Trip?

This question was one we pondered for quite a while before actually packing a thing. What things will Zoey need as we drive from Alabama to Colorado then down to Texas before heading back to Alabama? What are basic necessities? What are her comfort items?

What things can we bring along to enrich the experience?

Basic Necessities

Basic necessities were pretty easy. Dog food and Medication. Boom, handled. But wait, what is she going to eat out of? Where are we storing her food (it is a high-quality food, but wow does it stink of fish)? Oh, what will she drink water from? Hmm. Our solution: a 10-pound sealing food bin for her food, and then with the spare space within the bin, we packed her medications, a Ziploc bag containing her vet records, food bowl, water bowl, and collapsible, travel water bowl. That’s got it all. She can survive now. 

Comfort Items

Now on to comfort items! Zoey is not a very high maintenance dog. She loves some snacks, a couple good chew bones, and some comfy bedding to stretch out on and she is set! Luckily those are all things that we already have and can make sure they are accessible when we set her up in the car. 

Enrichment Items

Enrichment items are an interesting thing to think about for a dog. For a kid, it would books or some car games. Maybe some crayons and coloring books. But for dogs, it is a little harder. What are the things that could really captivate Zoey, or would get her attention and keep it distracted while we sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic?

Luckily, her comfort items will do this pretty well most of the time. But we have learned that if you take a little spoonful of dog peanut butter and stuff it down in her hollow bones, she will be distracted for HOURS! Know your dog's favorite toy and keep it handy.

Sweaters

And finally, Colorado during winter can get a bit brisk. Having a thin coat with no undercoat, as well as no body fat, Zoey can get cold very easily. So one more trip to the store to find some cute dog sweaters and jackets that fit her big barrel chest, and she is finally packed and ready!

How Do I Prepare My Dog For a Road Trip?

You may be wondering what kind of prep your dog needs to do before hopping in the car before a road trip (other than going potty, of course). But I have to tell you, it was WAY more than I expected.

I am going to break it down to a few pieces.

Training Preparation

Before taking your dog on a country-wide tour, you have got to make sure they are a good canine citizen. This means they:

  • Should politely walk on a leash without pulling,
  • Not jump on people they meet,
  • Will wait to get out of the car until you release them,
  • Has an ability to be social with new dogs,
  • And will come back to you in an emergency situation. Off-leash vocal control of your dog is essential to taking your dog out into the world.

These things don’t have to be perfect behaviors. Zoey loves to pull if she thinks she can. She jumps when someone gets her too excited. She accepts new dogs, even though she couldn’t care less about meeting them. But, she will come back reliably if she slips out of her collar, and 100% wait before jumping out of the car (This one is non-negotiable for me, just picture if you have a flat on the side of the interstate and need to open the door to the car where your dog is. Teach them to wait, period.) It will be important for your dog’s safety and happiness to work on each of these things beforehand. 

Medical Preparation

Before traveling with your dog, make sure they are up-to-date on vaccines and that you have a hard copy of those records. It would also be prudent to get a health certificate from your vet, just in case. These are required to fly a pet anywhere and may be helpful if you are confronted by law enforcement about your dog’s health.

We also had a thorough physical done on Zoey before we left, including having a lump checked that was on her side. (It actually turned out to be cancerous and they had to do surgery to remove it. Thankfully there was no spreading, and they are confident it will not come back!) This way we were confident she was in peak health before we traveled into the unknown and without a regular, known vet to immediately take her to.

Travel Practice

Zoey is a fortunate dog that she has gotten to travel a good bit by car before this point. She has been on near daily short car rides to work, she regularly goes on hour long car rides to the lake, and she has also been on a 10-hour car ride to Florida.

So she is darn comfortable in the car! If your dog has not been on many longer car trips, make a point to knock out a few. Usually, within an hour from any major city is a nice mountain, river, or lake that would be a great day trip.

Will My Dog Enjoy Going on a Road Trip?

I have never been a person that lives the sentiment, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” For me, the countless miles on the road looking at another field, or one more tree, or another grassy hill really starts to wear on me. I have to concentrate on the beautiful place I am headed… The feeling of parking the car, putting the keys in my pocket and not having to tick off another mile! But, sadly, dogs don’t understand that feeling. And nobody wants a bored dog in the car.

Your goal should be to make travel fun for your dog. Before getting in the car, make sure they are properly exercised and a bit tired. We have learned that a day of dog daycare is perfect for us! The day before we leave, we drop Zoey off for a day of daycare. We load up the car and clean the house without a dog underfoot, and Zoey gets to play with her little dog friends all day (we add on a bath for her, she likes her spa time). We get things done without stressing her out, and she’s good and tired for the car ride the next day. It’s a win-win!

Once you hit the road, take regular bathroom breaks so your dog can stretch their legs and sniff a new state. Treats should be a regular reward for being a good car pal. Keeping things fun will make sure that your four-legged companion will always want to hop in the car for the next leg of the adventure!

Keep on the lookout for more articles about traveling with your puppy as we continue this journey!