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How to Travel Safely with Your Dog in the Car

Arriving safe and sound is the goal of any trip, especially with a dog in tow. But cars are not generally equipped for dogs' safety. Get your dog used to traveling with a car crate and take safety precautions in your car. Practice driving with your dog so that any road trip you take with them is a very safe one.

Making Your Car Safe

1. Lock the doors. In this day and age, most cars have power locks. This translates to a safety risk for smart pets. If your dog unlocks the doors and you’re not aware of it, he is then at risk of exiting the vehicle while it’s moving. Even if your dog is crated the entire trip in the car, accidents can occur.

  • It may seem silly to think of a dog opening a car door, but sometimes cars have very easy access handles. Curious paws can get tangled in them and the door can open when your dog tries to pull free.
  • Even if you keep your dog crated in the car at all times, there may come a day that you don’t latch it all the way and your dog gets loose. This is dangerous because while driving, you have no control over a loose dog.

2. Disable power windows. Most modern cars are equipped with a button that can turn off all the power windows. This is a wise button to push if you have a loose dog in the car. A dog can easily push a window button accidentally, exposing themselves to a dangerous escape route.

  • This button is often located on the driver’s side window control panel in the door. It may have a drawing of a window with an “X” over it. This indicates that it turns off the power windows.
  • Even if you crate your dog, they may be a time when you don’t latch it all the way. If your dog gets out of the crate when you are driving, having the windows locked provides peace of mind.

3. Get a crate that is certified as safe. Get a well ventilated, crash-tested crate for your dog to ride in. Make sure that your dog can turn around, stand, sit down, and lie down inside. Situate the crate near the back of your vehicle and position it so that it won’t move around.

  • Keeping the crate from moving around when you break can minimize your dog’s feelings of carsickness. Place luggage, blankets, and other bulky items around the crate to secure it in place.
  • Make sure there is nothing in the crate that can harm your dog, such as extra leashes or collars. These are choking hazards.

4. Have a pet travel kit. Prepare a dog traveling kit to keep on hand in the car. This kit should have enough materials for both short and long road trips. Just like you would pack a road trip bag for your child, include snacks, a favorite toy, a favorite pillow, and so on.

  • Also include a first aid kit, a watering bowl, travel documents (proof of veterinary certification, proof of rabies shot, etc.), and medications, and a waste scoop and doggie bags for bathroom stops.
  • Don’t feed or water your pet while on the move.
  • Use bottled water. Some dogs have sensitive stomachs and can’t handle water in new places very well.
  • Administer snacks on breaks only, and make sure they are high in protein.

5. Reserve the front seat for humans. Even if you decide to leave your dog out of a crate inside the vehicle, make sure they stay out of the front seats. This is because of the airbag situation. If an airbag deploys on your dog, it will likely injure them.

  • If you do keep your dog loose in the car, make sure to buckle them in. Put your dog in a specially designed safety harness, which allows you to buckle the seat belt directly into the harness.

6. Get your dog used to car travel gradually. If your dog has never been on a car ride, it is helpful to gradually get them used to being in the car. Start with taking short trips around the block. Every time you get in the car, go a little bit further until your dog is able to handle trips across town. Eventually your dog may be ready for long road trips.

Keeping Your Dog Safe

1. Use a pet-safe harness. Get a crash-tested and approved harness to secure your dog in your vehicle. You can find these at pet stores and online and they are comprised of a harness that goes around the dogs chest and clips into a seatbelt. The harness will protect your pup the same way a seatbelt protects you and is the best way to ensure your dog stays safe while you're driving.

  • As an added bonus, the harness will prevent your dog from roaming around the car

2. Keep your pet out of your lap. A roaming dog inside a vehicle hurtling down the highway at a minimum of 70 miles per hour is not a good plan. The dog can become a distraction to the driver. Not to mention that they may be able to unlock doors, open the doors, and roll down the windows if you’re not careful. Keep your dog either crated or buckled in by the leash.

  • Seat belts have not been proven to protect animals in a crash. Your safest bet is to always use a crate.

3. Have your dog ride inside the vehicle. It is dangerous to let your dog ride in the back of a truck or otherwise stick heads or body parts outside of a moving vehicle. Dogs do not foresee danger like humans do, and debris along the road can easily injure your dog.

  • Keep the windows rolled up to reduce risk of injury to your dog.

4. Stay with your dog in a parked car. It is very dangerous to leave your dog in an unattended vehicle, especially when the weather is warm. Many states have "hot car" laws that make it a crime to leave a dog in a car alone. Some states even allow citizens to break into cars when they see pets locked inside during summer heat. Always stay with your dog if you’re going to park the car, or bring the dog with you.

  • Keep in mind that when it is 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius) outside, it can rise to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) inside a closed-up car within 30 minutes. That is enough time to kill a dog.
  • This is true even with a window cracked. Just don’t leave your pets in the car.

5. Prepare your dog for a road trip. Before you head out for a road trip for the first time, you should get your pet used to the idea. Practice for your road trip by taking your dog with you in the car while you run errands in town. Other ways to prepare for a trip in the car include a vet checkup, attaching dog tags to their collar, and ensuring they have an empty stomach.

  • Practicing with short trips around town is also good because you will discover if your dog gets carsick or not. If they do, you may want to talk to your vet about medication.
  • You may also want to get your dog used to being crated by placing them in a crate at home for 15 minute intervals. This is especially important if they tend to have separation anxiety when crated.
  • Consider installing a microchip on your dog so that if he runs away at any point, it is not impossible to find him. A microchip is installed between your dog’s shoulder blades. When someone takes your dog to a shelter, the authorities scan for a chip and contact you.

6. Take breaks on road trips. Dogs are not designed to stay in one position for 12 hours straight. Just as you probably have to stop every two or three hours to let your restless child take a break, you should stop for your dog. Dogs need to stretch their legs and do their business every two or three hours.

  • Engage your dog on each break in a game or brief run to help release extra energy.

7. Decide about medication. If your dog is on medication for a specific physical malady, of course you should continue the medication. However, consider whether or not your dog needs medication to fight car sickness. Medication should really be your last resort. First try to minimize how much motion they feel and moving images they see.

  • Get a crate with solid sides so they can’t look out the side windows at scenery flashing by.
  • Place the crate in the center of the vehicle instead of far in the back. This spot gets the most motion.
  • If you still need assistance, ask your vet for a mild sedative.

Knowing Pet Travel Laws

1. Get a veterinary inspection certificate. In order to cross most state lines with your dog, you must have what is called a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI). This certificate ensures that your dog doesn’t have any diseases that can be spread to other animals.

  • There are a few states that don’t require a CVI for dogs: California, Georgia (unless the dog is for sale), Main (unless being transferred to a new owner), Montana (unless transferring ownership), Texas (unless the dog arrives by air), Washington State (unless the pet is being commercially imported).
  • A CVI states that a veterinarian has not observed any symptoms of contagious disease. It only lasts for 30 days.

2. Find out which states have “hot car” laws. There are 21 states with some form of law against leaving pets in cars. One state (Pennsylvania) has a bill waiting to pass. A “hot car” law generally disallows pets to be left unattended inside vehicles in a way that appears to endanger their lives.

  • These states are: Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

3. Look at which states allow others to break into cars for rescue. In some states, police and humane officers are allowed to break into a car if they see an unattended pet. In others, both police and civilians are allowed to break in. In still others, there are variations on this law, such as permitting someone to break into a car only after the authorities have been alerted.

  • Only police and humane officers are allowed to break into cars in Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.
  • Anyone is allowed to break into cars for a pet in Tennessee and Wisconsin.

4. Observe the penalties for breaking a “hot car” law. If you leave your dog in a car and you are caught in the act, you risk conviction by a judge. You may be issued a misdemeanor, a fine, or an infraction. In New Hampshire, you can even be convicted of a felony if you repeat the offense.


  • Drive defensively, keeping focused on what is happening on the road.
  • Seat covers can help keep your car clean.
  • Pairing treats with car rides helps dogs learn to like them. Dogs learn by association, so the happier the environment when he encounters something new, the more likely he is to be a fan of it.


  • Stay aware of your dog at all times when they are in the car. Their safety depends on you.