Ben Lowenstein loves to travel—and he never leaves his dog Javi behind.
The San Francisco resident and his pet have taken road trips to Chicago, Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles, hiked in New Mexico, explored Utah’s national parks and gallivanted through Colorado snow banks.
The best part, Lowenstein says, is that his best friend is always with him. He loves when Javi rests his head on the console of the car and falls asleep as they head to their next adventure.
But road tripping with a dog isn’t all beautiful moments. Some tips for making it work with a four-legged pal:
Teach your pet to love the car
Long before your road trip, give your dog positive associations with the car.
“Practice makes better,” says Erdem Tuncsiper, who runs P.A.C.K. Leaders Dog Training in Chicago. “Don’t make your big trip their first trip.”
Take your dog on frequent local drives — fun outings, not just to the vet — and offer treats and toys to make the car fun.
If a dog is apprehensive, pet parents “can encourage further engagement with the car by rewarding all interaction directed toward the vehicle — such as looking at, sniffing, moving toward or stepping into—and proceeding with baby steps from there,” says Darris Cooper, national dog training manager for Petco.
Bring along items like bowls and blankets that your dog is used to and might find comforting.
“This includes anything for sleeping, eating or drinking,” Tuncsiper says.
Keep your dog comfortable
“Make sure your dog is not stressed by the sights, sounds or movement of the vehicle,” says Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at Chicago’s VCA Blum Animal Hospital. “There are lots of additions that can help reduce stress, like playing classical music, spraying pheromones to help relaxation..., appropriate restraint device training, favorite treats and not feeding at least two hours before the start of travel to help avoid nausea.”
Dogs overheat easily, so provide good ventilation — and never leave it alone in a parked car.
“If your dog pants a lot, he is hotter than you are and needs air,” Tuncsiper says.
Excessive panting can be a sign of anxiety. If your dog just can’t seem to get comfortable, speak to your vet about anti-anxiety medications or over-the-counter chews and drops.
Expect the trip to take longer
Dogs need regular stops so they can run around, relieve themselves and explore new, exciting smells.
“We have a two- or three-hour drive-time rule in our family,” says Christina Howitt, co-founder of Find Your Blue, a Kansas City travel company specializing in dog-friendly itineraries. “We always make a point to add frequent stops. We also try to avoid driving more than five or six hours total in a day.”
Pack responsibly for your pup
Dogs need a lot of stuff when they travel. Marks says that should include medications, vaccination records, a canine first-aid kit, an extra leash and collar, their ID tag, a crate in case you need to leave your dog alone where you’re staying and collapsible bowls.
Bring at least two days of extra food and water.
There are water bowls that hook to your car so your dog can drink whenever it wants. Howitt recommends a no-spill bowl by RocKur Designs: “It can easily be collapsed and taken on hikes. We pair this with a hydration backpack to refill the bowl.”
In case of emergency, map out veterinary clinics along your route in advance.
And look into products designed to help keep your dog safe in the car.
“Supplies such as a booster seat, travel carrier, crash-tested harness, seat belt adapter… are critical for road trips,” Cooper says.
Scout dog-friendly spots in advance
Traveling with a dog requires more planning and less spontaneity.
“Do your research ahead of time, especially for hotels and sightseeing,” says Leksa Pravdic, who drove with her dogs Scout and Pluto from their home in Chicago to New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. “A lot of national parks don’t allow dogs or limit their access to certain small areas. Look for national monuments or state parks that allow dogs.”
Pravdic says: “Even though sometimes the logistics can be a hassle, taking road trips with my dogs has been 100% worth it. They are happy to be with you wherever you go.”