No need to spend hours unearthing every scrap of expertise the internet can offer on dog road trips – I’ve done it for you. Below, find 39 tips on planning and enjoying a safe and fun road trip with your dog – whether in the States, Canada, or a best-of-both combo.
Topics included below:
- Dog road trip 101
- U.S. destinations
- Canadian destinations
- How to prepare for your dog road trip
- Packing for a dog road trip
- Keeping your dog safe and calm
- Tips while travelling
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Dog road trip 101
#1. Does your dog travel well?
This is probably a good starting point before you begin planning your dog road trip. Even on a relatively short drive like the Vancouver-to-Whistler Sea to Sky Highway (74 miles), I doubt an anxious/prone-to-car-sickness dog would have much fun on a road trip.
#2. Will a road trip be fun for your dog? Will it be fun for you?
Back Road Ramblers pose some other worthwhile questions, taking your dog’s health, training and socialisation into account. However, champions of the dog road trip – Go Pet Friendly – have dogs with socialisation quirks and they manage to travel with them just fine. For my part, I’ve enjoyed many short road trips and hotel stays with my rescue-dog-in-progress and I think it comes down to:
- Are you happy to work with your dog while you travel, rather than enjoy a 100% relaxing vacation?
- Will it be a good experience for the two of you, rather than exceed your comfort limits?
- Will your dog’s behaviour impact other people and detract from their travels?
During our early travels together, even something simple like walking through a hotel lobby with my dog was very hard work (for both of us) and the opposite of a vacation (for me) – but it added up to incredible training and valuable socialisation for him.
#3. Banned breeds
Before you start planning your route, note that 700-ish cities in the United States and Canada have breed-specific legislation (often banning pitbull-type breeds). In the States these include Denver, Miami-Dade county, Toledo, and, in Canada, Winnipeg and all of Ontario (Woof & Whiskers).
Canadian road trip destinations
Traveling with Your Dog to Canada [Go Pet Friendly]
Covers all the questions you’ll have about paperwork, bringing dog food across the border, vaccinnations and breed-specific legislation in Ontario and Montreal.
- British Columbia: Whistler dog-friendly hotels, Sea to Sky Highway, Whistler patios with a dog
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Ontario: Toronto
- Prince Edward Island
- Quebec: Montreal
U.S. road trip destinations
The Ultimate Pet Friendly American Road Trip [Go Pet Friendly]
This route-of-all-routes covers 48 states, across 14,199 miles in 276 hours of driving. For those less inclined to do math, that’s about a six-week trip if you drive about seven hours per day. West Coast destinations include Washington’s San Juan islands, Portland parks and Carmel-by-the-Sea in California.
Dog-friendly destinations by state
- Arizona: Phoenix
- California: Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, California Coast, LA hikes, San Diego, San Francisco
- Colorado: Denver, Western Colorado
- Florida: Miami
- Georgia: Savannah
- Idaho: Dog Bark Park Inn
- Illinois: Chicago
- Massachusetts: Boston
- Minnesota: Minneapolis
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York: NYC, Central Park, Dog-friendly B&Bs, Finger Lakes, Catskills
- North Carolina: Outer Banks
- North Dakota
- Oregon: Portland
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina: Charleston + more Charleston
- South Dakota
- Texas: Dallas, Austin
- Utah: Moab, Angel Canyon (Best Friends Animal Sanctuary)
- Washington: Seattle
- Washington, D.C. + more D.C.
- West Virginia
How to prepare for your dog road trip
Papers, bookings and preparation
#4. Check the fine-print
As I recently learned in Palm Springs, “dog-friendly” means different things in different places. Before you leave, run through your list of hotels (booked or not) and check their fine-print about pet policies. Many have size/weight restrictions in place. You might also find that there’s a hefty pet fee, and might switch your booking to somewhere where pets stay for free. In Whistler, for example, the most expensive pet fee is $50/night, while four hotels welcome pets at no added cost. Future Expat has some more tips about planning for hotel stays with dogs.
#5. Print and pack a recent photo
Bring a recent photo of your dog in case you lose each other (Barkpost).
#6. In your phone
Wise on any day of the week, but especially when you might be out of data range. Put the number for the Animal Poison Control (U.S.) in your phone. In Canada and the Caribbean, Pet Poison Helpline is available for a per-incident fee. (Martha Stewart)
#7. Downloadable dog parks
The BringFido app will help you find dog parks/beaches, as well as dog-friendly services wherever you might find yourself.
#8. Rental cars
Again with the fine-print. If you’re renting a car for your road trip, check their policies on pets (and pet hair, specifically). You might save yourself a cleaning fee by using a dog car-seat cover, and visiting a gas station vacuum before you return the car (Lifebuzz).
Health and safety travel prep
#9. Check/update vaccines
Pack your dog’s proof of rabies vaccination, which is required to enter some states – as well as the U.S./Canada border (ASPCA)
#10. Ticks, rattlesnakes, and porcupines – oh my
I know that over-vaccination is a hot topic, but consider what your dog might encounter at your destination that might be new to both of you – whether ticks/Lyme disease, or brand new creatures like porcupines (!) or rattlesnakes (terror of all terrors). Even travelling within our own province – British Columbia – my dog has made (or attempted to make) the acquaintance of plenty of brand new creatures.
Whether your destination might require an extra vaccine, the purchase of a tick collar or the wise inclusion of some de-skunking shampoo packed in your car – thinking through a few “what-ifs” will help you to respond much better to an otherwise unforeseen event (Cesar’s Way). Taking the idea further, Fidose of Reality packs a ‘What’s the Worst That Could Happen Kit’ for her dog road trips.
#11. Get Microchipped
If he isn’t already, get your dog microchipped before your trip – it’s great for peace of mind (Entirely Pets).
Packing for a dog road trip
Of course, there are road trips … and road trips. I’m a devoted minimalist and, if we’re just going somewhere for the weekend, I pretty much just bring my dog, collared and leashed. We rarely bring a dog bed if we know the hotel will provide one, and, if we’re familiar with the destination, we buy dog food on arrival, too. Yet for a road trip of any distance – or a journey that will wind through the back of beyond – certainly, you’ll want to be decently prepared.
Basic road trip packing
#12. Put your dog’s stuff where you need it
You’ve probably seen these on Pinterest – a mainstay of the organised elite – but, on a longer road trip, I can definitely see the benefit of a seat-back organizer. Go Pet Friendly stocks theirs with rolls of extra dog bags, baby wipes, and a flashlight. I’d probably chuck in the phone charger I’m always losing, and – sheddy dog-owners unite – a lint roller.
#13. A dog bag
More and more, there are custom haul-your-dog’s-gear bags on the market. ‘You Did What With Your Weiner‘ uses a diaper bag, which makes sense if you have a thousand things that each need a pocket. As for made-for-purpose bags, Ruffwear’s Haul Bag and Solvit’s Homeaway Travel Organizer both enjoy solid five-star reviews on Amazon.
#14. ‘Wet Dog-Proof’ your car
We always have a car seat cover in our car and, in our wet climate, it needs washing more than I have to wash my hair. On a road trip it’s especially useful. Whether you make an impromptu beach stop or find wet weather on your journey, I can assure you – Vancouver and Whistler with a dog mean you get very good, very quickly at saving your car from Wet Dog Smell.
Bringing a stack of towels on your road trip is an obvious packing inclusion (microfiber travel towels might seem fancy-pants, but they’ll dry so much more quickly) but the true dash of genius is a wet bag – much like swimmers or parents use for babies/diapers. This keeps your dog’s soaking, muddy towels contained in their own soggy universe until you get to a hotel and have the chance to wash them. If that will be a day or two, a cup of baking soda in the wet bag will really help them from going musty. And, for sissy West Coast dogs who have never seen a chemical in their life? A travel bottle of chemical-free laundry soap, ready to roll.
#15. Keep a clean-ish car
On a longer road trip, make a habit of using the vacuum cleaner at gas stations when you stop. If your dog likes to be near the windows, some window wipes will keep things a little less … moisturised. Skimbaco Lifestyle recommends packing your favourite cleaning spray as a just-in-case, and some dog-proof essential oils as well.
Summer road trip packing
#16. Summer sunshine
Sunshades are popular with parents of small children, but they might be a great idea if you’re travelling in hot areas in the summer (c/o Petslady). Would they help to keep your dog cooler? Maybe. But I also wonder if they’d provide an environmental benefit to dogs who prefer dark, enclosed spaces? Just a guess – but I’ll test the theory for a summer road trip.
A third benefit – and perhaps the most tempting – is that if you have a ridiculous sight in your backseat … say, a panting labrador wearing a Thundershirt wearing a seatbelt squashed in a dog bed … a sun-shade means fewer people will see it. Slightly preserved street cred? Worth it.
#17. Hot dog prevention
#18. Paw protection (summer and winter)
This past winter was especially cold in Whistler, and I came close to buying my poor dog snow-boots on many occasions. Since then, I’ve ‘discovered’ Musher’s Secret (made in Canada!), a waxy magic that saves your dogs paws in both very cold and very hot weather. (Saying this is a ‘discovery’ is like saying “hey, have you heard of that new singer Adele”… but allow me my excitement). If we make any summer trips to scorching destinations, this stuff will be first in the bag.
Keeping your dog safe and calm on a road trip
Your dog’s road trip safety
#19. Dog seat-belts and restraints
Only three harnesses, carriers and crates (THREE!) have received endorsement from the Center For Pet Safety –and many products have been crash-tested and failed. CPS’s only approved products are:
I was initially pretty skeptical and assumed Sleepypod had just paid for the certification where others hadn’t. Yea … watch the crash test videos and see how long your skepticism lasts. The crash test videos and results have convinced me to change the product we’ve been using, as it failed the crash test for large dogs. Very, very failed. Sleepypod, here we come….
#20. Reflective gear
This is one of the best “why didn’t I think of that” tips I found while making this post. Pack some reflective gear (like an LED leash or reflective collar for your dog, or arm bands for you) so that you’re easily seen when you make stops at night – especially near roadsides (4Knines).
#21. Leash the beast
Much like this puppy (whose story has a Homeward Bound happy ending), my dog has also bolted at the sound of a train – behaviour that seemed – to my human naivety – totally out of character. A major benefit of harnessing your dog with a dog seatbelt or another form of restraint is that you know they’re safe whenever you open a car door. Losing your dog would be nightmare enough at home in familiar territory – but while travelling, that’s a whole other level of hell. If you’re not using a harness to restrain your dog in the car, make sure he’s leashed and held safe before any car doors are opened – especially near train tracks!Why use a dog car harness on your dog? You KNOW they're safe when you open the door – no bolting, no highway escapes.Click To Tweet
#22. Blue Spray
My dog is a through-and-through wuss (70+lbs, terrified of flies) and will lie down and roll over at the slightest twinge – 0.0001 on the pain scale. We’ve always used Vetericyn (“the blue spray”) to treat any minor scrapes and he now associates the bottle with a satisfactory solution to whatever ails him – real or imagined.
#23. First aid
If your road trip route means you’ll be far from veterinary care, Fidose of Reality has a great list of pet first aid items – many of which I’d never heard of and didn’t know existed.
A calm road trip dog
For our longest dog road trip to date (Vancouver to Jasper – 8 hours each way), I put a Thundershirt on my dog (underneath his dog seat belt). He looked ridiculous, but the results were noticeable. Normally, on a car ride of any length, he pants nonstop. I was worried that 8 hours of panting would equal desiccated doggie. Wearing a Thundershirt, he just slept the entire drive. Like slept slept. Hardcore passed-out happy doggie slept. Thundershirt explains that their product doesn’t work for every dog, it’s a luck-of-the-draw thing … but it had fantastic results as a road trip accessory for mine.
#25. DAP & Rescue Remedy
Like Thundershirts, Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) might help to calm dogs prone to getting stressed – for my dog the DAP collar was utter magic – while Rescue Remedy is a popular (slightly cheaper) option (Consumer Reports).
#26. Calming kit
I’d never heard of them, but Bark Post mentions ProQuiet calming treats as a option for nervous dogs, as well as calming music – they suggest ‘Through a Dog’s Ear‘, and I’ve used ‘Relax My Dog‘ on YouTube in the past.
Tips while travelling with your dog
#27. The day before departure
Give your dog extra exercise the day before you leave –my dog would probably choose swimming, or a hike with lots of running (Outside Found)
#28. Set the timer
Plan to stop every three to four hours to let your dog have some dog-time. Google Map (or use the BringFido app) to find a nice spot or – in the middle of nowhere – set a phone timer to remind you to stop (PawCulture).
Feeding your dog on a road trip
#29. Measuring cup
I’d never heard of a collapsible measuring cup, but it sounds 9,000 kinds of genius. Any kind of measuring cup is recommended for ensuring your dog gets the right amount of food while you travel – particularly important on a longer trip. We use freeze-dried raw dog food when we travel (it’s the dog food equivalent of astronaut ice cream) and I always feed my dog wayyyyy too much when I eyeball the measurements. There are, let’s say, unfortunate consequences (4Knines).
#30. Spillproof water bowl
Except for the occasional bite-sized treat, my dog won’t eat anything in a moving car and definitely won’t drink. It would distract from his panting – and he’s dedicated to his art. As such, we use a dog water bottle to top up his tanks whenever we stop. However, if your dog will drink while you drive (not a crime), a spillproof water bowl saves you a job and is straight out of The Jetsons.
#31. Dog popsicles
This might be the most genius dog road trip tip yet. Chasing My Halo convinces her ‘hydration-reluctant’ dog to drink while travelling with chicken stock popsicles. Chuck them in a cooler and bingo! 1:0 Man vs Dog.
Stick to your dog’s routine for walks and meals, noting any timezones you cross. (Fix.com)
#33. No car meals
While drive-thrus might be a road trip highlight for humans (at least at the start of a trip), feed your dog his meals ‘properly’ – as in, from a bowl while stopped – rather than in a moving car. The stress of movement, however slight, makes many dogs unwilling to eat (Bauserhaus).
Staying in hotels with your dog
As long as my dog has His People, his location has no bearing on his behaviour. Yet other dog owners mention that their dogs come up with some interesting ideas for hotel entertainment – things they never do at home like raiding the trash or drinking from the toilet. As such, The Constant Rambler has a checklist of hotel-proofing steps they take on arrival.
#35. Hotel barking
My dog alerts me to strange noises at home (appreciated), so it wasn’t a surprise that he did the same when we took him with us to a hotel for the first time. Rather than nuisance barking that never stops, his alerts are a short (but fairly loud) “woof-woof-woof”. Yet, hotels have a lot of strange noises (room service, housekeeping carts, slamming doors, air-conditioning) which can add up to a lot of short (but fairly loud) barking that quickly becomes a nuisance.
How to reduce your dog’s barking in hotels to almost nothing? I never would have believed this was possible, but my dog almost never barks in hotels now – maybe the lowest of lazy “mmph” barks once in a weekend hotel stay. It’s a bark-reduction of a thousand percent, all thanks to some great advice from our dog trainer:
- Dog barks at some unseen hotel noise
- We respond to his alert: walk to the door/window (wherever it came from), check the peep-hole.
- Let him know (A) message received (B) all clear – a calm, happy “all good!”
- Thanks for saving us from baddies, his job is done. Good, good, good puppy.
From then on, whatever strange noise we’ve “cleared” is safe and doesn’t usually get a bark (or its intensity diminishes). In our early days I used a clicker as well – rewarding him for being quiet (or quieter) as new noises became routine. This goes back to Tip #2 – that you need to anticipate working with your dog on a road trip, rather than relaxing 100% of the time. The first times we brought our dog to a hotel I thought I’d get to read my book by the fire – instead I was clicker-training nearly non-stop. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it (in fact – on one trip I locked the both of us in the bathroom and begged him to stop barking), but it added up to great progress – and, today, I have an amazing travel buddy.
Friends often seem surprise that I thank my dog for barking – but it really works, and I’d way rather be told “hey something’s weird out there” than not. If you’re headed off to Hotel Stay #1, you might combine this method with Future Expat‘s tip to add a leash to prevent your dog charging at the door.
Dog road trip reading and entertainment
#36. Books about dogs
#37. Beware your speakers
Never would have thought of this – adjust your car’s speakers to play in the front only. That way, your dog’s super-sensitive ears aren’t ruined by 14 hours of Tom Petty’s entire catalogue (MNN).
If you’re road tripping with your dog, I’ll assume you’re generally into animals and wildlife. If so, pack a pair of binoculars for any lucky wildlife sightings (The Constant Rambler). On the Vancouver to Whistler Sea to Sky Highway this might include bears, bald eagles, elk, and – if you’re super, super, extremely, insanely lucky (like me) – whales.
#39. Dog audiobooks + dog podcasts
If you can’t read in the car without getting car-sick, a road trip might be the perfect time to try out audio books. Podcasts (about dogs, obviously) make a nice change to the aforementioned 14 straight hours of Tom Petty.
Images via Shutterstock.com