How to Safely Travel With Your Dog by Car

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by Lily Ferreras


When you invite your dog on a car ride, she’s naturally quite excited and happy to be included. That’s why it’s tempting to keep those good feelings rolling by allowing her to ride without restraints in the front seat, or on your lap, or with her head out the window. But, is that safe?

So, how can you safely travel with your dog by car? In many countries, an unrestrained dog in the car is against the law, so you should use a restraint system like a carrier or a harness to keep everyone in the car safe, including your pooch. Also, your dog should travel at the back seat or car trunk/boot with proper travel safety restraints, not in the front seat or on your lap. 

Here’s how you can prepare your dog car trip:

No matter how excited or stressed your dog is about car travel, safety comes first. While it tends to dampen the mood a bit to put her in a crate or a harness, she will get used to it and she will be able to enjoy the trip.

Why Restraining Your Dog in the Car Is Important

There are lots of really important reasons to keep your pet well secured while you’re driving:

  • Your dog’s safety: A dog seatbelt or carrier will help keep your dog safer from serious injuries if you’re in a car accident. It will protect your dog by keeping them from hitting the windshield or flying out of the car, for example.
  • Your safety: If your dog is loose in the car, she could seriously hurt you and your passengers in an accident. Just imagine this: according to PDSA, at just 30mph an unrestrained Border Collie would be hurled forward with a force equivalent to the weight of a polar bear.
  • Preventing accidents: A dog seatbelt or carrier can stop your dog from moving around in the car and distracting you whilst you drive. They could even get in the way of the steering wheel or the brake pedal.
  • The law: The Highway Code says that drivers must ‘make sure dogs and other animals are suitably restrained’ in your car.
  • Your insurance: A lot of car insurance policies require you to restrain your dog properly. If you fail to do so, you are likely to pay a huge bill in case of an accident. In addition, it might invalidate your dog insurance if your dog is injured and needs treatment.

How to Prepare for Your Dog Car Trip

Follow these 11 steps to travel with your dog by car safely:

#1 – Consider Travel Carrier Training Before Attempting to Travel

Before attempting a car trip, get your dog familiar and comfortable with her carrier (or safety harness) well in advance. Spending some time on carrier training, in the beginning, will prove useful soon enough!

#2 – Use a Restraint System

There are a few options to keep your dog restrained:

  • Crates and carriers: It’s the safest method since there is a hard material surrounding your dog that will help prevent any dog injuries if you suffer a car accident. Plus, when the crate or carrier stays in place thanks to a seatbelt or cord, it won’t move either, preventing further damage.*
  • Car trunk or boot guards: These protect your passengers in an accident but they won’t protect your dog.*
  • Dog seatbelts or safety harnesses: Same protection as the previous one, although it has a tighter grip on your dog.*

*Note: the links above will take you to Amazon.

#3 – Start Traveling When Your Dog is Young

Dogs who are used to travelling in the car from an early age are much more likely to be relaxed and happy during car trips. So, introduce your dog to the car as early as you can.

Once your dog is happy getting into her crate, you can start with a parked car and getting her used to sitting in it with you. If you are using a harness, practice putting it on her and sitting together inside the car.

Then, you can start making short trips and build up to longer journeys gradually. To make these experiences as positive as possible, reward her with lots of praise and healthy treats.

#4 – Make it Comfortable

Make sure that your dog has plenty of space in the car, at least as much as possible taking safety into account. You can bring her bed, blanket or favourite toy to make the trip more pleasant and entertaining for her.

Also, be aware of the car temperature. Cars can warm up really quickly and some dogs have a warm fur coat on all the time. You can turn on the air conditioning or open a window a little to keep her cool.

You can also use window shades, which help keep cars cool and block out direct sunlight.


#5 – Make Regular Stops

Take breaks or make regular stops, especially on long journeys or if your dog is still getting used to the car.

Basically, if you intend to be in the car for a long time, be sure to plan your journey so you can make plenty of stops. For example, a lot of service stations have dog walking areas or you stop at a park or dog-friendly attraction. Your dog will appreciate being able to stretch her legs, enjoy a drink, have some fresh air and go to the toilet.

If your furry companion is an escape artist, be sure to never open the carrier (or release the safety harness) while there are car doors or windows or even a sunroof open. It’s safer to take her out of the car using a lead.

#6 – Updated Information on ID Tags and Microchips

Make sure that your dog is wearing a collar and has a microchip with current contact information. Also, you can use a GPS tracking device like Tractive, which you can attach to your dog’s collar!

This is very important in case she gets lost or disoriented. For the same reason, bring a recent picture of your dog with you. It will be helpful if your dog suddenly goes missing.

Remember that by law, dogs who go outside must have a microchip implanted by the age of eight weeks and wear a collar with their owner’s name and address.

Also, protect your pooch by having dog insurance. With Petplan pet insurance, you get the coverage, support and resources you need to be the best pet parent ever. Plus, it will help you save on vet bills! 🙂

#7 – Pack Your Dog’s Essentials

Bring along a travel kit for your dog that includes:

  • Medical records and vaccination card (especially rabies).
  • Water bowl and a bottle of water.
  • Your dog’s regular food.
  • Poop bags.
  • A harness and a leash.
  • A towel, useful for accidents.
  • Grooming supplies.
  • Dog bed and/or blanket.
  • Favourite toys.
  • Treats.

Better to be safe than sorry; your trip might take longer than expected!

If you want to know more about dog care, check out our The 5 pillars to a happy and healthy dog blog post.


#8 – Bring a First-Aid Kit

Also, remember to bring along an emergency first-aid kit for your dog containing:

  • Antiseptic wipes.
  • Disposable gloves.
  • Scissors.
  • Gauze to wrap wounds.
  • Tape.
  • Povidone-iodine for wound disinfecting.
  • Tweezers.

Have a look at a range of dog first-aid kits of on Amazon.


#9 – Prevent Motion Sickness

It’s a good idea to feed your dog a light meal a few hours before departure to help prevent motion sickness. It’s also worth to place your dog looking forward since they tend to suffer less this way.

For longer trips, feed the second meal once she’s settled for the night. In the morning, feed her breakfast a couple of hours before you get back on the road.

Most dogs will outgrow this condition, but if you’re concerned about it, you can always consult with your vet and even get prescription if necessary.

#10 – Try to Help Your Dog Relax

There’s nothing worse than travelling with an anxious pooch. There are a few things that you can do to keep her calm and entertain:

  • Her favourite toy.
  • A bit of Lavender Essential Oil (organic options on Amazon) on her collar or carrier.
  • Play a bit of white noise before travelling.

#11 – Drive to Fun Places

The goal is that your doggy associates car trips with fun. So, if every time she gets into the car you take her to the vet… probably she will feel reluctant to join you.

That’s why so you should travel to places that are fun and entertaining to both of you, like:

  • The beach.
  • The mountains.
  • The forest.
  • A lake.
  • Visiting a friend or relative.

Bring her along during holidays, short breaks, camping trips… you name it. And if you want to know more about holiday weather with dogs, read more at dog care during vacations.


What to Avoid During a Car Trip With Your Dog

#1 – Leaving Your Dog Alone in the Car

Never leave your furry friend unattended in a car that’s not running. It can become very hot or very cold in a matter of minutes. Winding down the window or parking the car in the shade is not enough to keep them cool.

For example, dogs can overheat within a matter of minutes, and heatstroke is a common cause of admissions to Vets, pet emergency clinics and hospitals in the summer.

#2 – Your Dog Sticking Her Head out the Window

While this may look cute, it’s highly dangerous.

Your dog could:

  • Knock her head on something.
  • Fall out of the window.
  • Distract other drivers.
  • Get hit by a passing vehicle.

#3 – Opening Windows Entirely

It is very important to keep your dog cool on car journeys, and you can do this by opening windows a little to allow a cool breeze to circulate. There’s no need to open the whole window.

So, for the same reasons in #2, don’t open the windows entirely because it’s not safe. Plus, your dog might try to jump out.


[thrive_link color=’teal’ link=” target=’_self’ size=’medium’ align=”]P.S.: Any experience with public transport? Leave a comment below 🙂 We’d love to hear your stories![/thrive_link]

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