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How to Prepare Your Dog for a Road Trip

Road trips can be a fun way to vacation with dogs. But mentally and physically preparing your dog for a road trip is critical to ensure a comfortable and safe getaway. Not only do you need to make sure you’ve got all of your supplies ready for your road trip, but you’ve also got to work with your dog to make sure he or she is ready for the journey. While this could be a potentially overwhelming task, with a little work you can prep yourself and your dog for an extremely fun time.

Getting Your Dog Ready for the Journey

1. Visit your veterinarian. Perhaps the first step in preparing your dog for a road trip is to make sure that he or she is healthy enough to take the trip. This should be no problem if you regularly take your dog to the vet for checkups and other issues. If you have not:

  • Make an appointment with the vet.
  • Talk to your vet to make sure your dog is up to date on important vaccinations. This might be very important if you are traveling to areas where certain canine illnesses are common.
  • Seek treatment for any outstanding issues that your dog suffers from. This could range from car sickness (in which case your vet could prescribe medication), to flea problems (this can also be solved with medication).

2. Acquaint your dog with a dog harness/seatbelt harness. One of the best items you should invest in when going on a road trip with your dog is a seatbelt harness. A good seatbelt harness will safeguard your dog’s life in the event of an emergency and keep your dog in one spot in the car.

  • After you’ve purchased a harness, put it on your dog so he or she can get the feeling of it. Allow your dog to wear it and walk around with it for a while until he or she is comfortable.
  • When wearing the harness for the first time, give your dog lots of praise and treats.
  • Perform a dry run with the harness. Once your dog is suited up in the harness, put him or her in the car. Run the seat belt strap through the harness handle and latch to the buckle. Be sure there is enough slack to sit up, lay down and look out the window. Take your friend for a drive around the neighborhood.

3. Have your dog microchipped. Microchipping your dog is something important you might want to consider before going on a road trip. A microchip will be extremely important if your dog somehow gets lost or goes missing on your journey.

  • Canine microchips contain all of your contact information and can easily be scanned by local animal shelters and vets.
  • Canine microchips are relatively inexpensive and can range from less than $10 to $50 with yearly fees.
  • Canine microchips are responsible for thousands of dogs being returned to their owners every year.
  • Make sure your dog’s microchip information is up to date with your current address and phone number.

4. Take a practice trip. Whether your dog is a seasoned traveler or a new traveler, you may want to consider taking a relatively short practice trip just so you both can get used to how you’ll be traveling. A practice trip can help you identify any issues you might have on the road.

  • A practice trip will allow you to figure out if your dog suffers from motion sickness.
  • Set your dog up in the car the same way he or she would be set up on the real trip.
  • Try driving for about half an hour to an hour to see how your dog behaves.
  • Be positive and reward your dog every step of the way on the practice trip. You can do this both verbally and with treats. Doing so will help your dog build a positive association with the car.

5. Teach your dog how to relieve himself on command. Most places you'll visit will require your dog to be leashed at all times, even when nature calls. If your dog isn't used to eliminating while on leash, you will need to teach this skill well in advance.

  • Begin in your backyard. Use a verbal cue such as "go potty" to let him know that it's time to perform.
  • Once your dog eliminates, praise him.
  • Practice this routine in unfamiliar areas around town.

Gathering All Your Travel Gear

1. Purchase enough dog food. Before you get on the road, you need to make sure that you’ve purchased enough dog food for your journey. Whether you trip is a day long or a month long, you’ll want to make sure that you have your friend’s favorite food in stock so you don’t have to hunt it down when on the road.

  • If space allows, bring all of the food you’ll need for the journey.
  • If your dog has a special diet, this could be extra important.
  • Make sure to bring plenty of treats.

2. Bring your dog’s favorite toys. When gathering your travel gear, make sure to bring some of your dog’s favorite toys. Toys will provide your dog with something to do and serve as a familiar item that could relieve stress and anxiety.

  • Bring toys that your dog can realistically play with.
  • Bring some toys that your dog just might like to have around – like a favorite teddy bear.
  • Avoid bringing toys like rawhide, bones, or other items that your dog could choke on when you are driving.

3. Pack plenty of blankets and other comfortable items. Make sure that you pack your car with plenty of blankets and other comfortable items so your dog can nest and rest comfortably on the journey. This, ultimately, might be the most important thing you can do to make your dog’s journey a fun one.

  • Bring your dog’s bed, if space permits.
  • Pack blankets pillows and spread them around the area your dog will be laying.
  • Always bring more pillows and blankets than you think you need, as your dog will be sleeping the majority of your trip and will want to be comfortable.

4. Pack your dog’s leash. Your dog’s leash is perhaps the most important part of the road trip experience – as your dog will have to be leashed when you walk your friend or hike in parks and other scenic areas. As a result, you won’t want to forget a leash.

  • Bring a spare leash, in case something happens to your main one.
  • Consider bringing leashes of several lengths, as you might need leashes for different occasions.
  • Always use a leash when walking your dog in strange locations.
  • Leash your dog before you open the door to let him or her out of the car.

5. Bring your dog’s collar with contact information. When packing for your trip, make sure to bring your dog’s collar with any vaccination tags and contact information. You’ll want to put the collar on your dog whenever he or she is out of your car or has the chance to escape. Wearing a collar could pay off big time if your dog is lost and someone brings him or her to a local shelter somewhere.

6. Purchase a dog crate. Consider buying a dog crate. Dog crates are extremely important when going on road trips. They will allow you to crate your dog at a hotel or motel, or in the car if possible. In the end, your dog crate might wind up being an indispensable item for your trip.

  • Hard-sided, collapsible crates provide protection during travel and also while staying at your destination.
  • Avoid soft-sided crates since dogs can tear out of them when they are nervous and stressed about unfamiliar situations.
  • If you have to leave your dog alone in a hotel by himself or herself on the road, a crate will be extremely important.

7. Pack plenty of doggy waste bags. One important item you should not forget are doggie waste bags. These are important since your dog will be pooping on public or private property (that you do not own). Doggy waste bags will allow you to pick up after your pooch and avoid making a mess for other people.

Preparing Yourself for Medical Issues

1. Create or purchase a dog travel first aid kit. A dog first aid kit is a really good idea for any person traveling with their canine friend. Bringing a kit will prepare you for the eventuality of an unexpected emergency on the road. Ultimately, if something does happen, you will be equipped to treat your friend for an array of issues.

  • Include items such as dog wound compression wraps, antiseptic rinse, gloves, scissors, gauze, tweezers, and hand sanitizers.
  • A muzzle should also be included, since a dog's natural reaction when seriously injured is to defend itself with a bite.
  • Consult your veterinarian about items to include if your dog has a specific medical problem.

2. Build a list of medical professionals on your route and at your destination. Part of getting your dog ready for the trip is making sure you’re ready to take care of your dog. As a result, you need to make sure that you’ll be prepared and know exactly where to go if your friend has a medical emergency. To do this, you need to do some footwork on the internet and create a list of veterinarians along your route and at your destination.

  • If your dog has any special needs, contact vets along the way or at the final destination to make sure they can care for your dog.
  • Do a quick internet search to find vets in major cities or substantial towns along your route.
  • Call veterinarians on your list if you have any questions or concerns.

3. Stock up on your dog's medications. If your dog is on any medication at all, make sure you have enough medication to last the entirety of the trip and then some. Having enough medicine will make sure that you won’t have to track down a vet at the last minute.

  • Tell your veterinarian about your travel plans and let them know you might need extra medicine.
  • Ask your veterinarian for an emergency prescription just in case you need more medicine or lose what you bring.
  • Store any medication appropriately. If medication (like insulin) needs to be cool, bring a cooler. Never leave sensitive medicine in a hot car.