How To Make Holiday Road Trips With Your Dog Safe & Fun For Everyone

Hey Mighty Paw Fam, Barbara here to share our 2 cents on how to make your Holiday road trips with your dog safe & fun for everyone!

Because truth be told, it's just so much more fun to spend the Holidays with our pups than leaving them behind, right?

Of course there are circumstances where it's just not feasible for Fido to tag along, but generally speaking, I think we can all agree that we want our pups to share in the Holiday fun.

German Shepherd secured in the car with the Mighty Paw vehicle safety car harness and a seatbelt

So today, we'll discuss a variety of different topics that are essential to achieving just that - Holiday FUN rather than STRESS.

Obviously that involves car safety for dogs in general, but we'll also talk about these topics:

  • How do you get your dog into the car?
  • How long can a dog be in a car on a road trip?
  • How to calm your dog in the car
  • How to prevent car sickness in dogs
  • What to bring on your road trip
  • What to look up beforehand
  • What NOT to do

Are you ready? Let's jump right in!

How To Make Holiday Road Trips With Your Dog Safe & Fun For Everyone

How to make holiday road trips with your dog safe & fun for everyone

Car safety first

Before we literally talk about how we might get our pups to jump into the car, let's talk basic car safety first.

Here's the deal: It's incredibly unsafe to drive with a dog who's unrestrained. As a matter of fact, it's as dangerous as driving sleepy and under the influence of alcohol or drugs!

All it takes is your pup climbing or trying to jump from the backseat into your lap or onto the passenger seat and BAM!

Now you're distracted long enough to potentially cause an accident

The good news is that there's actually a pretty simple solution to avoid this scenario, and that involves our dog car harness and dog car seatbelts:

dog secured in the car with Mighty Paw's vehicle safety harness and headrest dog seatbelt

Here's how it works

Your dog wears our Vehicle Safety Harness that attaches to one of our safety seatbelts

Tip: You can find a variety of different doggie car seatbelts in our travel section here.

That combination keeps them safe and in place while still allowing them to lie down and sit up. 

We even have a solution for your escape artists and teething puppies...our chew proof cable seat belts that attach to the latch bar of your car, just like a child seat!

How do you get your dog into the car?

This may seem like a superfluous question for folks whose pups are super excited to go on car rides!

But there are dogs who aren't overly crazy about the idea of hopping into that box on wheels.

Of course most dogs who fall into that latter category can just be lifted or carried in, but ideally we want them to feel comfortable in the car, especially if it's a longer ride.

how to get your dog into the car

That said, here are a few ideas to make your dog warm up to the idea of car rides:

1. Exercise beforehand

It's a lot easier to convince a tired dog to get into the car than one who has a surplus of energy that prevents them from settling down.

That's why it's a good idea to plan enough time for a walk/run and/or a playtime session before getting in the car.

The length of that walk or play session depends on your dog and their level of car aversion, but the longer the better.

I'd say about an hour to an hour and a half should do the trick. It'll be good for you as well, especially if you're getting ready to go on a longer ride!

The leash featured below is our hands-free bungee dog leash.

exercise your dog before taking them on a road trip to get rid of excess energy

2. Practice rides 

Practice makes perfect, and that concept definitely applies here. Even if your dog is never going to love long rides in the car, they can at least learn to accept them.

If necessary, you can start with the very basics and introduce your dog to the car when it's parked and the engine is not running.

Leash your dog, open a car door and toss some high value treats or a favorite toy into the area where your pup's going to ride. 

The idea is to associate good things happening when you ask them to go into the car.

This can be some cut up hot dog, plain cheese or anything else that your dog is willing to work for/go after. For toys, squeaky ones tend to be pretty irresistible ;-)

Practice this a few times and then take it up a notch. Try to be calm while using a happy, upbeat tone when you talk to them. That's important because your energy will transfer over to your pup!

Once they seem to be OK with the idea of being in the car, start it and go for a ride around the block. Slowly build up the time they spend in the car. 

Take your dog on practice rides before leaving on a long road trip 

3. Their travel gear

Your dog's travel gear should be part of your practice rides. 

That way they're not surprised about their new car harness and seatbelt that's keeping them from moving all over the place.

dog staying safe in the car with the Mighty Paw Safety Car harness and the chew proof seatbelt

How long can a dog be in a car on a road trip?

It depends on the individual dog, but generally speaking, dogs should be fine for about 2-3 hours in the car.

At that point, it's a good idea to pull over for a little potty break and stretch both your dog's and your own legs. Try to shoot for a 15-20 minute break.

The great thing about our Vehicle Safety Harness is that is doubles as a walking harness, so there's no need to bring multiple harnesses!

taking your dog on potty breaks during a road trip every 2-3 hours

Now's also a good time to offer your pup(s) some water to stay hydrated. That's particularly important during wintertime when the air is drier than usual!

You can easily do this with our travel dog water bottle and/or our collapsible travel dog bowls (they come as a set).

Mighty Paw Travel Dog Water bottle

Mighty Paw's Collapsible travel dog bowls come in a set of 2

How to calm your dog in the car

If your dog does any or all of these in the car:

  • Shakes
  • Whines
  • Barks excessively
  • Pants excessively

...then (s)he's probably nervous, hot or cold, and possibly suffers from separation anxiety. That's if the whining only occurs when you leave them alone (only for very short periods, please).

Of course they could also be overly excited! 

In addition to exercising your pup thoroughly before leaving on your road trip, you can try playing some relaxing, soft music. Classical piano music tends to work wonders! 

If your pup barks at things (s)he sees through the window, you can try to limit their field of vision. For example, by installing a car window tint film or sun shades.

Also, talk to your (integrative) vet about medications or natural remedies to help calm your pup if they have severe anxiety issues.

CBD drops or treats may help, but they don't always show immediate results and can require several days of administering before showing an effect, so you'll want to tackle this issue asap.

How to prevent car sickness in dogs

If your pup has a sensitive stomach and is overly anxious, don't feed them a big meal right before leaving on your road trip.

As a matter of fact, it's best not to offer any food at all during the 6-8 hours leading up to your departure.

In severe cases, ask your vet for an anti-nausea medication for your pup. 

What else do I need to know to take my dog on a road trip?

Now that we've covered the car safety and riding basics, let's talk about what to bring, what to look up beforehand and what NOT to do!

    What to bring

    The easiest way to group all of your dog's belongings together is to pack their own backpack or bag. That way you don't have all sorts of doggie paraphernalia flying about everywhere. 

    keep your dogs' belongings organized in a backpack when you're on a road trip with dogs

    The following should either make it directly onto your dog or into their backpack:

    • Dog tags with your phone number
    • Proof of rabies vaccination
    • Food & water bowls
    • Food (& treats)
    • Medication (if applicable)
    • Doggie first aid kit
    • Beds and/or blankets
    • Towels for dirty paws
    • Poop bags
    • Extra collar and leash

    You can either buy a pre-made doggie first aid kit or put your own together. You'll want to include these basics:

    • Gauze wrap
    • Gauze pads
    • Q tips
    • Scissors
    • Tweezers
    • A muzzle
    • Antihistamine (e.g.Benadryl)
    • Hydrogen Peroxide
    • Fist aid antibiotic (e.g. Neosporin)
    • Disposable gloves
    • Nail trimmers
    • Styptic powder (stops minor bleeding)

    Tip: You can also use gauze wrap for a makeshift muzzle.

    Benadryl helps with allergic reactions to insect bites; give 1 mg/lb of body weight. It typically comes in 25mg pills, so one of those would be good for a 25lb dog. A 50lb dog would need two 25mg pills etc.

    You can use hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting in case of poisoning; you can give 1 teaspoon/10lb of body weight. You can also use it to flush out wounds.

    However, DON'T INDUCE VOMITING if your dog is unconscious or it's been several hours since (s)he's ingested the poisonous substance. Also don't induce vomiting if your pup ingested bleach or similar chemicals. 

    Bring a first aid dog kit along on your road trips with dogs

    What to look up beforehand

    Dog-friendly accommodations

    Unless you're:

    • Staying with friends and family who don't mind your dog(s) tagging along
    • Sleeping in your camper van/SUV/tent...'s a good idea to look up dog-friendly accommodations such as hotels or AirBNBs before you actually leave on your trip.

    It'll be much less stressful than having to search for places that allow dogs when you're tired and your pups are done being in the car. 

    One very reliable source to tap into is Bring Fido

    It's a website that tells you all about pet/dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks, activities, services and events. All you have to do is enter your final destination!

    Good to know: They also have an app.

    check the app Bring Fido before you leave on a road trip with dogs

    Local leash laws

    You'll be surprised how much leash laws can differ from one place to another, so be sure to look them up before you arrive at your final destination.

    Generally speaking, urban areas are much more likely to have leash laws in place than rural areas, but you never know. 

    Expect to run into loose dogs if you're traveling to an area that doesn't have leash laws in place.

    Tip: Carry a loud whistle on you and use it to distract loose dogs that are running your way/alert other people.

    Also, be respectful to others and don't be that person who lets their dog roam around freely despite local leash laws.

    Local vegetation & wildlife

    It's also good to be aware of the type of vegetation and wildlife you might encounter at your final destination.

    Toxic vegetation: Blue-green algae are a type of bacteria that occur in bodies of (warm) water such as lakes and ponds.

    Dangerous wildlife: Bears, coyotes, alligators, snakes, spiders. 

    It's best to stay on trails and keep your dogs leashed, that way you'll be able to minimize the risk of accidentally disturbing wildlife.

    Local (emergency) vets

    This may seem like a little over the top, but it'll take so much stress out of an emergency situation if you know where to take your pup!

    That's particularly true for evening, weekend and holiday hours.

    It's a good idea to save the information in your phone and to include a hard copy with their information in your doggie first aid kit. You never know, your phone might not work for whatever reason.

    What NOT to do

      Don't leave your dog alone in the car for long periods of time

      It's as dangerous to leave your dog alone in the car (and outside!) in freezing temperatures as it is in sizzling ones.

      The risk of frostbite or hypothermia is real!

      Signs include shivering, weakness and trouble breathing. 

      Don't leave your pup's poop behind

      Less intense but certainly gross is not to pick up after your pup.

      Dog waste can transmit disease and, contrary to popular belief, does not act as a natural fertilizer. 

      Tip: Need to stock up on earth-friendly poop bags? We have you covered!

      Mighty Paw's dog poop bags are earth-friendly

      Don't leave your dog alone in a hotel room

      That's almost never allowed in order to avoid your dog barking non-stop and annoying other hotel guests. 

      Another reason may be to keep your dog from entertaining themselves with the hotel furniture and/or bedding...that might end up being a very expensive chew or shredding toy for you!

      Ready to make your holiday road trips with your dog safe and fun? Then click below for our travel gear:

      getting a dog used to car rides


      Barbara Rivers writes regularly for Mighty Paw. She is a blogger, raw feeder, former dog walker and maintains the blog K9s Over Coffee.

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