Traveling With Dogs in the Car — TIPS for Long Distances

Ahhh — The vision of dog and master in a convertible driving off into the sunset. The dog’s smile is broad as his ears are forced back by the rush of the wind. A dog and his master … unlike any other bond. Beautiful, eh?

Unfortunately, traveling with a dog in the car isn’t always such a plesant experience. And if your like me, perhaps you’ve discovered that it can be a nightmare! Well take note, dear reader. It doesn’t have to be such a nightmare. I’ve put together some tried-and-true tips for traveling with dogs in the car. In particular, tips for long-distance car travel. So, read on and discover how you can make long-distance travel safer, easier and more pleasant for EVERYONE in the car.


If your four-legged friend has never traveled more than a few minutes in the car before, hopefully you aren’t reading this just hours before you’re scheduled to leave on a long journey. You see, long-distance travel is a very different animal than short-distance travel and requires a bit of planning and practice. Mainly, you need to know how well your dog can handle it.

Ideally, you should have already taken him along on several rides over the course of a few months. It’s even better if these “test rides” occured at different times of day.  Aside from getting your dog used to riding in the car, it can also answer a lot of important questions for you. For example:

  • “Will my dog sleep in the car?”dachshund questions
  • “Is my dog nervous in the car?”
  • “Does my dog get carsick … especially on curvy roads?”
  • “Can my dog travel comfortably in a crate or harness?”
  • “Which method of restraint works best?”

Your answers to these questions will help you identify what you can do to help him weather the journey.


Keeping your dog calm and comfortable is paramount to a having a safe and pleasant ride. It’s a great experience when your dog is overjoyed to be in the car. However, there are many dogs that would just rather stay on solid and still ground.  The reason for this preference could be a few different things, but primarily, we’re talking about anxiety.

Some dogs are able to overcome their anxiety in time, others not. This is another good argument in defense of “practice makes perfect.” It would be great if your dog could overcome the anxiety before it’s time for the long journey.

BUT … unfortunately for many, intervention may be necessary.  There are numerous products on the market to help your dog … from pills to collars to special t-shirts and anxiety vests. Most of these products are available without having to first see your veterinarian first.  However, I still recommend asking him or her when it comes to medication.  Some meds have a much higher success rate than others.  Then, there are the just plain oddball dogs … like my Paul.  Honestly, any medicine meant to calm him has always had the opposite effect.  For example, medicines like “Adaptil” wind him up to where he begins to pace as opposed to calming him.

There could also be non-medical issues at play when it comes to an anxious dog:

  • not enough stimulation
  • not enough exercise
  • not enough training

So make sure you are regularly engaging your dog and socializing him. These together with regular exercise, not only improve your dog’s cognitive ability, but also help to keep him mentally balanced and able to accept when it is time to relax.

Sometimes, it’s also a matter of training.  Simply put, dogs need discipline.  For those of you who consider your dog a part of the family, just keep in mind that every member of the family has had to learn discipline in order to function properly within the family unit.  For help with training, check out some of Cesar Milan’s advice here.


Sometimes, anxiety in the car could be due to motion sickness.  Sadly, this is a subject that my husband and I are all too familiar with after having to clean up countless times when Paul got sick in the car.  One technique to help, is to watch out for the signs that your dog is feeling ill:

  • Yawning
  • Extra drooling
  • Whining
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting (in the car or shortly after arrival)

If you notice some of the signs (hopefully before your dog vomits), you can take action and find a place to pull off the road for a bit. Let your dog get a bit of exercise and fresh air.  Often times, this will help to ease the symptoms before they get worse.

That being said, this raises the question of how to prevent and/or help your dog when he is experiencing motion sickness.  Fortunately, there are several things you can try.  As every dog is different, it’s a good idea to inform yourself in advance about what you can do to help him.  For tips and advice, click here to read about what you can do to help with motion sickness.


As with humans, comfort and safety are important considerations for dogs when travelling in a car … especially for long distances. For example. “comfort” can go a long way toward helping you dog with motion sickness. Not only that, a comfy dog is a happy dog!  But at the same time, we don’t want to sacrifice safety in the name of comfort.

Often times, dogs simply go unrestrained in the car. Just pop him in the car and hit the road. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of it myself.  But an unrestrained dog can not only be a danger to himself, but also to everyone else in the car. For example, your dog can become a huge distraction for the driver thus causing an accident.  And often times in accidents, unrestrained dogs have been known to run off or even worse, be seriously injured or killed.  Not only that, an unrestrained dog can become like a heavy projectile in the case of a car accident … thus endangering the lives of other passengers in the car.  Once you’ve read a tragic story or two about an unrestrained dog in the car, you take action!  So then the question comes down to “harness or crate?”

Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to both and sometimes the best option depends on the size and weight of your dog. The problem is that there are thousands of different products on the market, and not all of them are safe. Moreover, you can’t always judge the safety of the product by the price. Therefore, it is very important to do a bit of research before investing in a restraint system for your dog. There are organizations which have already done a lot of the footwork involved with rating and recommending restraint systems (e.g. “Center for Pet Safety”).

All that being said, it’s a good idea to look at the advantages and disadvantages of both types of restraining systems before choosing.


With so many stories in the media these days about leaving dogs in the car, it should go without saying that you should never leave your dog alone in the car, even with the windows cracked.   Even on a beautiful early summer day with temperature in the low 70’s, your car’s internal temp can rise to over 90 degrees.  On the flip side, cold weather can also breed extreme cold temps inside your car.

Okay okay … there may be a couple of weeks during the year in which temperature isn’t a big issue.  BUT, if you make it a practice NOT to leave him alone, you won’t have to think about whether or not the temperature is safe.  It’s just not worth the risk!


When you’re preparing to travel a long-distance, it’s difficult to try to remember everything to pack for yourself, let alone your dog’s suitcase. Because of that, I recommend always keeping a bag of supplies in the car. Whether for short or for long distances, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. And if it’s already in the car, you don’t have to worry about forgetting it later.

Things to consider having in this bag:

  • Enough food, water and treats for one daykitchen-towel
  • Bowls for water and food
  • A blanket
  • Toys
  • An extra collar or harness AND leash
  • Poop bags (You never know where your dog may choose to do his business)
  • First aid kit
  • Cleanup supplies such as papers towels, a towel and some trash bags (TIP: Deodorizer, too!)

If you keep such a bag of supplies in your car for the long-term, make sure you swap out the food and water from time-to-time.

Of course, there are other items that are important to bring with you but shouldn’t be left in the car. For example, medications and important papers. Therefore, I always keep Paul’s “passport” and a supply of his vitamins and meds in my purse.  That way, I’m sure not to forget them.


Don’t underestimate your dog’s needs on a long-distance journey. They have a tendency to surprise us.  In fact, I sometimes think they make it their duty to keep us mindful.

For example, one time Paul’s leash broke during our travels.  Not having a spare leash made it very difficult to take him potty and to give him some exercise until we could find a shop where we could buy a new one.

Another example was the time that Paul decided to do his business directly in front of a Spanish bistro where the patrons were enjoying their meals and drinks in the fresh air. That was embarassing! Thank goodness for poop bags!

– Michelle


If you enjoyed this article or have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments or questions below.






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