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How to have a fun road trip with your dog

When you adopted your canine companion, you did it with a dream of taking him everywhere with you. So, taking your dog on a road trip is something you are invested in. He’s a part of your family, and you want him to be part of the laughter and fun of a holiday. If you’ve never done it before, you might be anticipating a lot of unforeseen problems ahead, and this pre-emptive fear can often lead you to change your mind about taking him along. However, the problems you might face on a trip are mostly practical and can be easily faced with sufficient preparation. No pet parent ever gets used to the mournful whines of their dog, when they leave the house, and it’s even worse when you know he’ll be alone and confused for days. So, don’t leave your dog behind out of fear. Let us help you get ready for an awesome road trip!

Having a fun road trip
Having a fun road trip

Prepare your Dog 

While there is nothing he would like more than to accompany you everywhere, if your dog is unused to car travel, it’s advisable to spend some time getting him used to the experience. This will also let you test for problems like motion-sickness in your pet.

Begin by taking him out on short car rides every day. Some dogs take to this immediately, while others react fearfully. If your dog seems nervous, drive slowly on an even road to get him comfortable. If he shows a tendency to jump into the front seat, this is the time to train your dog to stay where he is. Preferably, install a pet barrier to ensure his safety. Use this period to brush up on your dog’s leash training, as well as his ability to jump in and out of the car.

The prescribed mode of transporting your pet is in a reinforced, crash-tested crate. If you had visions of your dog sticking his head out of the window, his ears flopping and mouth stretched back in a grin, you may want to consider the fact that this cinematic moment can lead to some serious injuries to your dog. Uppermost on the list is injury to the eyes from debris flying off the asphalt. If you have an automatic window, you dog can also stick his head out and then accidentally press the button, which might lead to choking — even if you decide against a crate, remember to disable this function in your car before giving your dog free run of the back seat. And finally, there is always a chance that your dog might bolt out of the car. If he does this while the car is moving or in the middle of a highway, the risk of fatality is high. To avoid such a situation, train your dog to settle into his crate and ensure that it has adequate padding and is big enough for him to stand in.

Visit the vet before you go on a road trip
Visit the vet before you go on a road trip

Have your dog checked by a veterinarian before the trip. Speak to the vet about the details of your trip. Some states require specific vaccine shots before you can enter them and your vet will have the list up-to-date. Explain the duration of your planned driving times and discuss necessary medications, in case your dog suffers from motion sickness. Have all his medical records checked and travel-ready.

Prepare your car

With a dog residing 6 to 8 hours a day in the back half of your car for several days, things are likely to get messy. To keep an upper-hand on these matters, bring along cleaning products, recyclable wipes, and invest in protective covering like the MADY cargo liner to minimize the amount of work you’ll have to put into keeping the interiors clean. Hourly cleaning stops during a car trip is the surest way to ruin a relaxed holiday.

Consider installing a barrier between the front and back seat to keep your dog from jumping into the space beside you. Aside from being illegal in quite a few states, it’s a dangerous situation in the middle of a road. For your dog’s safety as well as your own, make sure that he can’t jump into the front seats.

Whether you decide to go for a crate or protective barriers, you should pad the seat or the cargo area of your car with thick, comfortable mats which can be easily cleaned or disposed of. This will make the journey more pleasant for your dog, as well as provide padding during sudden brakes.

MADY Cargo Liner with Atlas in the trunk
MADY Cargo Liner with Atlas in the trunk – keeps your cargo area clean and your dog comfy

Checklist of canine necessities

You probably have a list of things that cover your holiday apparels, documentations, and toiletries, but this list focuses on everything you need to have a safe and happy trip with your dog:

  • A first aid box containing painkillers, antipyretics, antiallergens, activated charcoal, gauge, antibacterial ointments, betadine solution, cotton, and scissors.
  • Food that suits your road schedule. If he’s used to homecooked or wet food, and you know you’ll have no time to cook or refrigerate the meals, then get him slowly used to a dry meal in the month preceding the trip. This way he won’t fall sick due to a sudden change in diet.
  • Nail clippers to protect your upholstery and keep his nails comfortably trimmed.
  • Brushes and combs to dust off dirt after every stop and before he gets back into the car.
  • Bowls that are easily washable and don’t take up too much space. You can use foldable canvas water bowls for the simplicity it provides.
  • Towels and shampoo for when your dog gets excessively dirty. Keep wet wipes handy for emergencies during car rides.
  • Pooper scoopers and poop bags are possibly the most important of all the tools you need handy.
  • A good travel harness, perhaps one that attaches to your car’s seatbelt.
  • Toys which are his favorite and can keep his attention for a while. Also, bring a lot of treats along to reward and reinforce every good behavior in the otherwise stressful first days of the trip.
  • Jackets and weather appropriate clothing for your dog. Also, carry extra collars and leashes, just in case.
  • If your dog is on regular medication, then they should be labelled and kept in their own box. If possible, keep a copy of prescribed schedule and dosage with the medicine.
  • Identification. Update the information on his tag or collar to include your own number, as well as the contact information of the people you’re visiting. If possible, have your dog microchipped for easy identification.
  • Vaccination records should be up-do-date and always easy to produce. Keep a copy available, in case you have to hand one in at some point.  
  • Medical records should have past medical history as well as vet prescribed medication detailed in them. In case of an emergency, you will need to have this information, easily accessible.
How to have a fun road trip with your dog
How to have a fun road trip with your dog

Things to remember during the trip

Most dogs suffer from some degree of car sickness. Unless it’s debilitating, this can be easily dealt with. Regular car rides before the trip will get your dog used to the motion, while attention to hisfeeding and walking schedule during the trip will take care of everything else.

Be sure to feed him several hours before you get on the road. Walk him immediately before the car ride, until he’s tired and mellow. This will ensure that his stomach has nothing to disturb it, and that he is too sleepy to get anxious about the ride. Keep the vet prescribed medication for motion sickness at hand for emergencies.

Don’t drive for more than 8 hours a day. Your dog’s health, as well as your own, may be compromised if you overstrain yourself in this way. Remember to take frequent breaks all day long. Ideally, stop and take your dog out for a short walk, every two to three hours. Give him some water and let him recover from the new experience of being cooped up in a moving vehicle for hours. This will end up being good for you too.

Remember: Pay attention to his feeding and walking schedule during the trip, feed him several hours before you get on the road and don’t drive for more than 8 hours a day.

Accommodations can be dodgy on the road, since some hotels have strict anti-pet policies, while others have restrictions on certain breeds. Call ahead and find out about reservations, fees, and rules. Always ask if they have any particular vaccination requirements. If all goes well, as you get the rooms you need, remember never to leave your dog alone in the hotel room unless you’ve walked and tired him out. You can also use the crate to give him a familiar sleeping space whenever you step out.

Careful preparation and a willingness to prioritize your dog’s needs is all that is required for a fun and safe road trip with the entire family. We hope this guide helps you create wonderful memories on the first of many holidays with your furry best friend.

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