Car Travel with Dogs: 7 Tips for Making it Easy

I’ve been carting my dog Victor – an 11- year-old poodle/schnauzer cross – around since I got him four years ago, and I’ve been figuring it out as I go. I own a Kia Soul (bought before I got Victor) that turned out to be a great dog car because putting the back seat down allows for a lot of doggie space and an hatchback makes in and out easy.

Victor and I hit the road frequently, usually for short trips.


Here’s what I’ve learned:72

1. Exercise before you get in the car The dog not you, unless you need a good jog. Shaking off some excess energy keeps Victor calmer in the car. Also, having a calm positive energy yourself, rather than a stress-filled last minute errand run, helps (whether you’re a Cesar Millan fan or not). Organize most stuff, and even pack the car, the night before

2. Pack dry food he usually eats – I do this and pack some easy to transport pre-portioned wet food like Cesar packs or Beneful tubs. Those make for easy serving; the containers act as a bowl and, in the case of Beneful, if Victor doesn’t eat it all I can put the lid back on. This is especially handy, camping, hiking and on the beach.

3. Take bottled water in the car, of course – But here’s an idea I’ll soon try: freeze water in a plastic bowl with a lid (or not) then place it frozen in the car. It’s less likely to spill and should melt by the first stop on the trip (or soon after).

4. Bring a favourite toy or blanket along for familiarity – Remember, smells are important to dogs and his stuff on a hotel bed or sleeping bag make it feel like his.

5. Have a photo of him in case he goes missing – This suggestion appears on many lists. But tags (not only microchips) with my cell number on it have worked well for me. Thanks to advice from a Petsmart employee, I’ve also put my address on Victor’s tag, so if he’s found in our neighbourhood, people know he’s close to home. But if he’s found while travelling, they’ll know he’s far from home.

6. Travel with two kinds of leashes – This is for when I absolutely have to use a leash (which is unfortunately often when travelling). One is a retractable leash that allows Victor to sniff and stray a little (until we get wrapped around something or someone). The second is my new life (well, shoulder) saver: a Kurgo Quantum hiking leash that wraps around my waist leaving my hands free and keeping Victor close by, especially on trails or at festivals. Attaching the leash to a harness, rather than his collar, helps in car

7. Keep him looking pretty – A groomed dog looks well kept (and well behaved), so people are more likely to respond positively even when he’s not perfectly mannered. Optics are everything. Adorning Victor with a bandana, bow tie or cute sweater in the winter gets him a lot of forgiveness too … because you can’t always be perfect, but if you’re a schnoodle, you can always be cute.

Interested in other dog travel ideas and advice? Check out this article.

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Here’s additional summer dog travel advice from Chronic Mom Life. Need a packing list? Here’s a good one from Come Wag Along.

Know better than me?

Likely. So, please comment: What’s your dog car-travel tip?


  1. Interestingly, I have done a blog recently about car travel with dogs. Mine is very much more tongue in cheek mind. Yours has some very useful tips so thanks a lot. Check out mine if you want to se how not to travel with dogs…

    1. Sounds good. Looking forward to reading it.

  2. Paul Jones · · Reply

    Excellent Read. What about using top rated dog car seat covers so that you don’t spend hours cleaning it all up after the drive?

    1. Excellent suggestion and it looks like you can recommend a few. I actually have a post coming up soon reviewing a car seat cover designed by Solvit, so if you’d like to add one of yours to the review list, please let me know. Thanks!

  3. Do the laws in the US differ to the dog driving laws in the UK? I have written an article regarding hte UK but still looking for the US laws!

    1. I’ve actually never checked into driving laws in the US and I’m sure they vary from state to state. In the province where I live in Canada, I have checked with police and there are no specific laws about driving with pets. The officers can charge people with ‘dangerous’ or ‘distracted’ driving at their discretion. One told a dog who sits in a dog seat in the back seat of the car does not fall into this category.

  4. Anonymous · · Reply

    Excellent article! Do laws in the US differ from the ones in the UK as I discussed?

    1. I’ve got one of the harness that snap into the seat belt behind his car seat.

  5. […] some great dog car travel advice from  AND from Fidose of Reality, another great dog site. Also, TAILS magazine includes some great […]

  6. Great tips, thank you. I especially like #5 and #7. I’m Pinning….

    1. Thanks! Love pinning too….

  7. I haven’t gone on any long trips with Tippy yet. That is in my future, I hope. Thanks for the tips! I do always take her for at least a short walk and make sure she pees before getting into the car. There have been times when she has been outside, and, apparently already peed before I put the leash on her. She knows what I want her to do, so she will go squat, even if she doesn’t do anything. LOL (I do leave a leash on her when in the car so, if she decided to bolt when I open the door, I have something to grab on to.)

    1. That’s a good tip about the leash. A young lab I take out frequently bolts from the car the minute the door opens, which is a really bad habit and always surprises me because my 11-year-old schnoodle always waits to be told he can come out. It’s not something I taught him (maybe someone else did – mine is his fourth home) but something I’ve gotten to used to.

  8. I love these tips! Such a big difference in traveling with a sleepy, droopy dog. Exercise really helps!

    1. I couldn’t ask for a better car buddy, actually. And he doesn’t tell me to calm down when I get annoyed in traffic….

  9. I love traveling with Bentley and Pierre. Frequent breaks and treats keep them happy.

    1. I likely drive too long when I’m alone … mandatory frequent breaks help me enjoy the journey more.

  10. One of my specialties is pet-friendly travel. We make sure to bring water from home since water from another source can upset a dog’s tummy. We also make sure that the windows have a window shade in the car to prevent sunburn.

    1. I never thought of water source … but considering what’s been in the news recently I likely should for a number of reasons. That’s a good point. Shades are the next car thing I’m buying.

  11. All excellent tios for car travel with pets! I’ll add 2: Have current medical & vaccination documents with you. Also, for car safety use a crate or travel harness for your pet.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Yes, moderator is on. I get some weird span stuff on here so I check every comment. True, I’ve read a lot about car safety harness and do have some good ones from Kurgo. But I have to admit, I’m lack when it comes to that. I might be a little too convinced that ‘hey, nothings ever going to go wrong…’ Just wait, right? I do have to carry current Vet documentation when I cross a border – that’s a good point. So far, I haven’t done that often.

  12. These are great suggestions and I think you are spot on about people being more forgiving to a dog who is well groomed and accessorized in a fun way.

    1. I can’t tell you how many times Victor looking cute has gotten me out a confrontation with an annoyed not-loving-crazy-dogs-so-much person. (I don’t like those people). Also, my ex has a very sweet but large and apparently ‘scary-looking’ to some lab/shepherd cross. But when I put a pick bow or sweater on her, somehow she doesn’t look so scary.

  13. A Husky Life · · Reply

    Great tips! Thank you so much for sharing. I also carry a pet first aid kit, just in case!

    1. I have one too from Kurgo. I forgot about that.

  14. My absolute favor: Exercise before you travel! We go for a good 3 mile hike prior to getting in the car for a long (3-4 hour) travel. It keeps us mellow and calm, and kinda sleepy! Great tips and I know they will help fuzzy ones and their parents!

    1. I walk or run Vic usually for potty reasons before a car trip, but he needs to full out run in the morning no matter what’s up. Fortunately, he’s good in the car and quietly curls up in the back seat.

  15. Great tips! It’s also a good idea to have emergency information in your glove box with contact information in case you are in an accident and emergency personal need to take care of your dog.

    1. That’s a good point. OK never thought of that especially when it’s just me and him. I tend to assume nothing will go wrong. So far, so good.

  16. Liz Barron · · Reply

    Lucy has been across Canada with me in the truck. I freeze two bottles of water and keep them in the cooler with other water, so it keeps cool and fresh. I don’t know if it’s a safe thing to include your address on the dog tags. As a single female, security is an issue. I also keep Lucy on schedule, walking in the mornings, breakfast, walk around lunch time, dinner at her time, regardless of which Timezone we are in. 🙂

    1. I should freeze more water – that’s something I forget easily.

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