As fun and memorable as road trips with the family can be, long rides in the car can wear out the attention span of even the most patient passengers. Where kids might ask “are we there yet,” dogs might express their restlessness in ways that are not safe, like hanging out of the window, or jumping in the drivers lap when cruising at highway speeds. So how can you make sure that your dog is on his best behavior during long hauls on the road?
We rounded up some of our top tips for enjoying the open road with your canine companion:
Plan a pet-friendly route. “Before anyone should hit the road with their dog, they should plan a route that is dog friendly,” says Dana Vachon, a Dog Trainer with Philly Unleashed Dog Training. “Most major rest stops have dog areas for them to go to the bathroom, stretch their legs, and play.”
Take practice trips ahead of time. If you know that your dog is particularly nervous or anxious during car rides there are behavioral training techniques you may want to try before running to the vet for a prescription of tranquilizers. “Before leaving on a long road trip, take some short practice trips that end in positive experiences for your dog,” says Vachon. So rides to the dog park or a favorite pet store will help form more positive associations with driving. Trips in the car should not always be just for visits to the vet.
Put your dog’s safety first. When traveling with a dog, you should think about your pet’s safety above all else. Vachon, who carries her CPDT-KA dog training certification and has been working at Philly Unleashed for five years, recommends using a dog sling or hammock in the back seat to create a safe and comfortable space for the dog. “Crating in a large SUV is also something to consider for long road trips,” adds Vachon. Dog car seat covers come in a hammock style that can keep your seat protected while keeping pups from falling off the back seat.
Get out excess energy. A tired dog is often a well-behaved dog, so Vachon suggests going on a really good run or visiting the dog park just before leaving for your road trip. “This should help your dog feel more rested and maybe even sleep for a portion of the trip,” she says.
Keep your dog entertained. To make the ride easier for your dog, you will want to keep your dog entertained and engaged. For that, there are items that you don’t want to leave home without. “Bring your dog something to chew on,” says Vachon, “a favorite chew toy will keep your dog busy and prevent him from chewing on the car’s seat belts.”
A tug toy to play with at rest stops is also a must. It’ll give you the opportunity to train your dog to drop, and be good for a game of tug that will wear him out physically and mentally, helping your dog rest between stops. A Frisbee or dog fetch toys will also get your dog moving, “but they should only be used at rest stops that offer your dog lots of space to run around,” adds Vachon. “Not just a big parking lot.”
Don’t ignore your dog’s nerves. If you notice your dog is stressed or anxious while riding in the car Vachon suggests using some natural stress reducing remedies. Thundershirts or other pressure wraps, certain pheromones, or Bach’s Rescue Remedy added to their food or water an hour before you leave can all help reduce stress in dogs, says Vachon.
Take frequent breaks. Just like people need to take breaks from sitting in the car for extended periods of time, so will your dog. Vachon recommends anywhere from 2 to 3 hours between pit stops. “Your dog may have regained his energy after your last play session,” says Vachon. “So use these breaks as a time to play, engage, and give attention to your dog.”
Every road trip begins with a plan. You plan your route, you make your packing list, you pack favorite road snacks, and you craft the perfect road trip play list. But while you’re scheming your next escape on the open road, just be sure to plan for the needs of your dog as well.
Kae Lani Kennedy is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in travel and lifestyle. She is also a snack historian, drone pilot, and cat mom.