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Tips for Awesome Road Trips With Your Dog

Even with higher gas prices, the summer road trip is a traditional expression of freedom celebrated ever since people sat behind the wheel of an automobile. Inviting your dog to join you on these highway adventures in a car or an RV makes you a much better person (just ask your pup).

A road trip with your dog takes planning. It doesn’t require anything major, just some intelligent forethought and consideration for your 4-legged traveling companion.

The “Well, Duh!” Basics

If you’re reading this story on your phone as your road-trip vehicle idles in the driveway, your dog sits in the seat next to you, and you’re pausing to finish packing the car, stop. You’ll still have a great road trip, but you should have started thinking through this journey with the dog a few weeks earlier.

That’s when you would have gathered your pooch’s essential traveling tools like vaccination records, medicines, and a current dog tag with your mobile number on it. Of course, your pup has an ID microchip implanted because you love your dog, right? OK, be sure to save the chip number on your smartphone.

A pre-trip visit to the vet is a good idea to ensure everything is in order. And vet runs are always good practice for how well a dog travels.

The Right Set of Wheels

Another important pre-road trip consideration is which vehicle to take. Of course, there’s no option if you’re a one-car family. But if you have a choice, choose the SUV with AC vents for the back. Your dog will worship you if you can get cooling air to the rear seats where most road trip dogs travel. Summer heat is unforgiving, especially to canines.

Although SUVs work best for road trips with dogs — lots of extra gear comes along — cars will work just fine, too, and you won’t get any complaints out of Fido either way. It is essential to keep the second row (the back seat) clear of luggage and gear so your dog can take ownership of the space and feel secure.

Leather seating cleans easier, but you must protect the rear seat from scratching nails if you’re a big-dog owner. Choose a pet hammock seat cover to help keep your dog safe and protect the upholstery from natural pet behavior. It’ll also make cleaning up after the trip — dogs are dogs, and they never learn to clean up their rooms, after all — infinitely easier.

Other essentials to prep before you go are a no-spill water dish, treats (of course), toys (of course, of course), and a few items from home that carry your scent to comfort him, like a favorite blanket or even your pup’s bed. Don’t forget to pack food (pack about 15% extra for travel) and food bowls. If you plan on camping or hiking, a first aid kit designed specifically for dogs is an excellent addition to your packing list.

All you have to do now is get your dog’s Instagram account set up, and you’re ready to travel.

And Now, Hit the Road

When it comes right down to it, there are only two expectations when traveling with a dog:

  1. I’m thirsty.
  2. I have to pee.

These sweetly ironic rules should come as no surprise. Water helps dogs function by flushing toxins, regulating body temperature, and keeping noses wet for optimal sniffin’. It also keeps them peeing throughout the day. When you’re on the road with a canine companion, always keep those two facts in mind as priorities. Pee stops are an excellent opportunity to get a little exercise, too, for both the dog and the driver.

Speaking of exercise, use your smartphone for the location of the nearest dog park, no matter where you are on the journey. If you’re making a coastal trip, try to find a dog beach. These places are great shared communities where the natural practice is to play. That’s true all across America, from the Union Square Dog Run in Manhattan to the Cayucos Dog Beach along California’s Highway 1. Plus, a worked-out and sleeping dog travels best.

Where to Stay, Where to Eat

Camping with dogs is a special kind of blast. These days, however, motels (and many hotels) seem to be getting more dog-friendly than ever. It’s easier than ever to find a place where your tail-wagger can bunk with you for free or for a minimal fee.

Many restaurants with outdoor seating are happy to accommodate Fido with a big smile, a full menu, and a fresh bowl of water.

A road trip seen through a dog’s eyes keeps car travel fresh. It may not always be super simple, but it is always rewarding and guaranteed to bring you and your human and non-human companions closer together. Treat every meal, motel stay, and pee stop as a teaching and learning moment — a chance to refine your pup’s already stellar behavior.

So relax and have fun. If you and your dog have found a rhythm together at home, you’ll find one on the road.

Related Pet Articles:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since it was originally published.

Richard Homan
Richard Homan
Richard Homan is an author specializing in all sides of the car buying and owning experience. For the past 30-plus years, he has driven and reviewed nearly every car, truck, SUV, and minivan on the road today.

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