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15 Safety Tips for Traveling with Dogs in Cars

Some dogs and their owners definitely come as a pair. They always want to be together. If your dog enjoys going for a ride, traveling with dogs in cars can be a lot of fun. However, there are a few things you'll need to do to keep pet safe and happy during the car ride.

Clever Tips for Traveling with Dogs in CarsDon't be upset if your pet doesn't like to ride in cars. Even though majority of canines love riding in cars, for some dogs, it's just a bit of anxiety that keeps them from enjoying a ride in a car. With a bit of training and a little patience, you can curb your pooch's fear in no time. But how come some dogs simply love riding in cars then?

CarAndDriver.com asked the experts on why do most dogs enjoy riding in cars, and it turns out that it's not because of the riding experience itself. The experts say that dogs love cars because they love us, their owners. It's the shared car ride experience.

Nevertheless, nervous jitters aren't going to be your only problem when it comes to traveling with dogs in cars. Your furry friend can also be a big distraction to you while you're driving. You'll need to take the proper steps to keep your dog safe while he's riding inside the vehicle, and that involves keeping him the cargo hold or a dog car seat.

If your pup is roaming around in the car, he's going to distract you and become a dangerous projectile in the event of a car accident. Not to mention, it's likely that he'll be getting into things or climbing on your passengers. Follow these tips to prevent any of this from happening when traveling with dogs in cars.

ALSO READ: How to Prevent and Treat Car Sickness in Dogs

15 Tips for Traveling with Dogs in Cars

Traveling With Dogs in Cars

1. Never leave your dog alone in the car

This should go without saying. Dogs can get a heatstroke from being locked in car, which can be fatal. In many US states, locking your dog in a car may even be against the law or be considered animal abuse to leave your dog inside a vehicle.

The same applies for leaving dogs in cars in winter. When it's cold weather outside, it can eventually get very cold and freezing in a parked car, so make this a year-round rule.

2. Understand motion sickness

Puppies are more likely to get sick in the car, just like young children. This is probably because their inner ears aren’t fully developed. Try to be aware of how your dog is feeling, and try shorter trips or other techniques until he gets more comfortable.

Symptoms of motion sickness in dogs range from the obvious to the more subtle:

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

3. Food can trigger motion sickness in dogs

Don’t feed your dog in a moving vehicle, at rest stops, or right before a car trip unless he is a really comfortable traveler that never gets any signs of motion sickness. It’s better for the dog to have a light meal a few hours before traveling and not much on any dog treats.

Trust me, the last thing you want to deal with is a dog throwing up as you're driving down the freeway. But just in case you aren't sure whether this is going to happen or not, it's always a good idea to have dog car seat covers on the back seats as well.

4. Deal with your dog's travelling jitters

It’s a cliché that dogs can’t wait to go out for a ride, but not every dog feels that way. Some dogs find traveling in cars frightening, and that can be a serious inconvenience.

If that's the case with your pooch, then accept that your dog’s fear is real, and slowly begin to desensitize him with short, positive experiences, like treats or trips to the park.

For example, if you never traveling with your dog to anywhere interesting, and only drive together to the vet or the kennel, how interested can your dog be about getting in the car? It's a negative association for him. You’ve got to make it an enjoyable experience for your dog. You may need to start with a reward just for getting into the car.

Don’t push things too hard or fast. Forcing your dog too much only teaches him to expect things to get progressively more difficult and scary. Mix things up: playing near the car, encouraging him to reach in for a dog treat on the floor or climb over the car seat. Then, go for a quick trip. Just be patient and accept Fido's pace. They need to acclimate.

READ MORE: 10 Tips On How to Calm Down a Dog

5. Use the buddy system

A girl traveling in a car with a dog

If there's a friend with you when traveling with dogs in cars, there will always be someone to hold the dog’s leash when you go in a store or someone to help if there’s an issue.

Just having someone beside him in the back seat might help in the beginning. So try to make it a fun trip and bring more people; for dogs, it's the more the merrier.

6. Some dogs remember a lot

Dogs can associate streets, landmarks and what direction the car turns with certain locations. They might get excited on the way to the dog park, but frightened if you turn towards the vet’s office. You may need to deal with situations like this with more positive training and rewards.

Ultimately, it's all about training your pooch to adjust to the environment and the procedure of riding in the car: getting in, staying in and getting out. Dedicate to train him at first, and reap the benefits for the rest of the time.

7. Don’t wait until it’s an emergency

If you need to take your dog on a long car trip, or go to the vet, dog groomer or kennel, start positive: give him rewards and train him as early as you can. Puppies should ideally learn to make a positive association with riding in cars before they leave for their forever homes and are separated from their mothers.

An emergency is stressful enough that you don’t want to take on more than you have to. Car travel preparations can save you a lot of stress and time. It’s better to leave your dog at home, get a dog sitter, or take him to the kennel than jump right into more than your dog’s ready for. Bad associations are harder to deal with than just inexperience.

8. Drugs might be a short-term fix

You don’t want your dog dependent on medication whenever he needs to travel or have him completely sedated. However, something to take the edge off his fear or settle his stomach might help him to be less anxious and start making more positive associations.

There are plenty of drug solutions out there, and you can get some of the best dog anxiety medications to calm your dog before any car ride. Just keep in mind that it's not a long-term solution and you still need to train your pooch for positive association.

9. Dog carriers and dog crates are safer

Dog carriers and dog crates are saferNot only will your dog feel more secure in his own dog crate or carrier, but he actually is safer. It can be much less distracting for you as a driver too, so it’s safer for both of you.

Dog crates have been one of the best solutions when traveling with dogs in cars because many dogs love them (especially after you crate train your dog), they feel much calmer in their crates, and pet parents also reap the benefits: it's easy to transport your pooch in a dog crate, and you also can use that crate later once you arrive at your destination.

Notall dog crates work with cars, however. There are some that are specially designed and particularly travel-friendly dog crates which will be more secure in the car, and comfortable for the dog too.

10. Buckle up in the back

Airbags are as dangerous for your dog as they would be for a child. Anchor any dog crates or pet carriers with a proper seatbelt or use a dog restraint harness when traveling with dogs in cars to prevent them from shifting around if there is an accident or sudden stop. In some places (Tennessee), it's the law that your dog can’t move freely in your vehicle.

Luckily for pet owners, there are specially designed dog seat belts that work in many different ways: some just restrain a dog (like this EzyDog Restraint Harness) and keep him secure, some will attach only to an existing dog harness that you've already put on your pooch, and others will also work with dog crates and secure them in the car.

We've done a test and comparison video review to find most effective solutions for this. Take a look at the results of our best dog car seat belts round-up.

11. Hide his eyes or distract the nose

Hide your dog's eyes closed when in carSome dogs simply prefer not to see where they're going. In such cases, it's best to get a dog crate and then put a well-fitted dog crate cover over your pet's mobile home to keep him calm and relaxed. Dogs actually don't mind this at all and feel very peaceful.

There are also special calming caps or fly masks to limit your dog's vision when traveling in a car. There are things called Dog Appeasing Pheromone collars (or D.A.P. collar). These collars contain special pheromones that calm your dog and provide him comfort. Adaptil is one of the most popular DAP collars out there, but search for your own best solution.

Alternatively, you can also try essential oils like lavender or peppermint. Read more on how to use essential oils with dogs and why you should give this natural solution a try.

12. More pressure can be a good thing

Some dogs react well to a calming, pressure vest or wrap. Think of it like a hug to make your pup feel better. This is why many owners are opting for using calming vests and jackets for dogs to keep them stress-free. There's no science behind this other than it actually works well.

For example, Thundershirt is the most popular vest for calming dogs and it's often used for anything – from dealing with separation anxiety in dogs to calming them down during car rides, training, fireworks, loud noises or all types of travel. There are a few other great quality dog anxiety vests that have been positively reviewed by hundreds of owners.

13. Keep his head in

Keep your dog's head inside a carI’ve seen lots of dogs who love to stick their head out the window, but if your mother wouldn't have let you do something as a kid, it’s probably not safe for your pet either.

It has been very popular to allow dogs to keep their heads outside of the moving vehicle, but the cold air pushed into his lungs can dog some damage to his health. That is without mentioning how he might get hit with something like stones or other debris.

There are actually tons of reasons not to allow your dogs to stick their head out of cars, so maybe don't do it.

14. Have identification tags ready

Dogs need frequent rest stops on long trips, but never let your dog out of the car or out in public without an identity tag. Keeping your dog on a leash in an unfamiliar place is the best thing you can do to keep him safe, even at the dog park.

Even if your pet is equipped with a dog GPS tracker so you can easily locate him, nothing will be as reliable as an ID tag that you attach to his collar and have your phone number on. Dog ID tags are cheap, small and simple to put on so there's no reason not to use them to provide yourself with just a little more peace of mind.

15. Take a dog backpack or carrier

You’ll need certain things while traveling with dogs in cars, like bags for poop, a leash, and a water bowl. At the same time, if you have a smaller breed dog and no dog crate with you, you may want to carry your pooch somewhere where he cannot go himself.

This is where dog backpacks or carrier slings are great, because you can store everything including your dog in them. And it doesn’t hurt to be prepared with a first aid kit for dogs and yourself, towels and paper towels, water, dog food and what not. All just in case.

READ NEXT: 4 Essential Tips For Traveling With Dogs That Will Keep Them Safe

Diana currently lives and works in London, UK and she's been an animal lover and dog owner since she was a child. After graduating high school, she focused on getting her degree in English to become a writer with a focus on animals, pets and dogs.