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Some dogs love riding in the car. It’s their ticket to adventure and time with their beloved humans. But for other dogs, traveling is a source of motion sickness or anxiety. No matter which camp your dog falls into, there will be times you need to take them on the road with you, whether it’s to the vet, visiting family, or going on vacation. Along with keeping your dog safe in the car, be sure the experience is enjoyable and stress-free too. The following tips will help ensure your dog is comfortable during car rides.

Plan Mealtimes

Taking your dog on a car ride when they have a full stomach is a bad idea. Even a short trip in the car can cause motion sickness and lead to your dog vomiting. That’s a big mess to clean up. Plus, you can’t focus on caring for your dog and watching the road at the same time.

To avoid messes and help prevent car sickness, don’t feed your dog right before you head out. Instead, schedule your dog’s feeding several hours ahead of your departure. If you have to stop along the way for a meal break, plan as much time as you can between feeding your dog and getting back on the road.

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Exercise Your Dog

The best dog passenger is a tired one. Rather than putting your dog in the car while they’re bursting with energy, let them burn some of that off beforehand. Otherwise, they might have a hard time settling down and become a nuisance while you drive.

Before you leave, take your dog for a walk to tire them mentally and physically. Or play fetch, tug-of-war, or other vigorous games. If your dog is pooped when they get in the car, they’re far more likely to sleep through the trip.

Take Short Pleasant Trips

If your dog’s only road trips are to the vet’s office or groomer, it’s likely they’ll form negative feelings about the car. Because those destinations can be stressful, your dog will link that stress with the journey. On the other hand, if your dog also gets trips to the dog park, beach, or training classes, they’ll associate the car with fun.

Make sure you include lots of short rides to exciting destinations as part of your dog’s socialization and training. If your dog is new to riding in the car, take your initial trips with a helper who can sit with your dog and distract them with cuddles and toys.

Golden Retriever sitting in the backseat of a car with children.

Schedule Water and Potty Breaks

Don’t expect your dog to go for long car rides without water. Carry fresh, clean water and a portable dish so you can offer your dog a drink every so often. But if your dog is drinking, they’ll need potty breaks too. Stop every few hours to give your dog a chance to go. Plan your route so there are appropriate rest stops along the journey and don’t forget the poop bags.

Dog Car Safety

Backseat Versus Front Seat

It’s optimal for dogs to be in the backseat of the car over the front so that they’re not harmed by air bags. If you’re worried about your seats, there are plenty of dog car seat covers to protect your upholstery. If you use a dog car barrier, you’ll also help prevent them from jumping forward. Having your dog in your space while you’re driving could be extremely dangerous, not just for you and your dog, but other people on the road.

Securing Your Dog for Car Travel

You’re always buckling up when you get in the car, so safety precautions for your dog should be no different. Depending on your dogs’ size, there are many different ways to secure them and make sure they are safely in the backseat of the car. Dog seat belts exist and work similarly to human ones. They’re specifically tailored to dogs, and seat belts will vary depending on the dog’s size.

Similarly to seat belts, dog car harnesses will securely keep your dog in place. Instead of clipping to their collar, they’re just in harness form. For smaller dogs, car carriers and dog car seats can keep dogs secured and strapped in for the drive. It’s important to eliminate distractions when you’re driving. Not having to worry about your dog in the car, or your dog jumping up front, will make for a much more enjoyable ride.

Keeping Your Dog’s Info in the Car

When your dog is going somewhere with you, they should always be wearing a dog collar with updated identification tags. Make sure your dog’s microchip is registered to you as well, so if they get lost for any reason, they can be returned to you.

It’s also helpful to keep anything your dog may need in case of an emergency in the car. Things like copies of their medical paperwork, medications that they are on, some dog food, extra water and collapsible dog bowls, toys, and a dog first-aid kit are helpful to keep on hand.

Dogs Sticking Their Heads Out of Windows

Dogs seem to love sticking their heads out of car windows, but it can be dangerous. Especially when the car is in motion, dogs shouldn’t stick their heads out of the window. Always keep your rear windows closed so that your dog can’t stick any part of themselves out of the window. If given enough space, curious dogs could even jump out of moving cars, which is extremely dangerous.

Never Leave Dogs Alone in Cars

Dogs should never be left alone in cars, no matter how short an amount of time or what the weather is like. If you see a dog in a car, especially if it’s hot outside, there are things you can do, depending on your state, under Good Samaritan laws.

Dogs being left in cars is also one of the top outlets of dog theft. When cars are stolen and pet are inside, the dogs are stolen, too.

Provide Comfort Items

Particularly on long drives, it can be helpful to bring your dog’s blanket or favorite toy along. The smell of the familiar will comfort your dog while they travel some place new or far away. Toys can also be a great distraction. They give your dog something to do besides barking out the window or whining at you. Chew toys are a good choice for occupying your dog for a substantial length of time. You can also select a special toy your dog only gets in the car. That will ensure maximum interest and help your dog associate the car with good things.

German Shorthaired Pointer sticking its head out of a hatchback car on a road trip.

Treat Motion Sickness and Anxiety

Most puppies grow out of motion sickness, and even for adult dogs, plenty of short, pleasant trips can help them get used to the experience. But if your dog gets car sick, speak to your vet about medications that prevent nausea.

It’s important to treat anxiety in the car as well. There are several natural remedies, such as flower essences or calming treats you can try. Calming pheromones can also be incredibly helpful. These mimic the scent of a nursing mother dog and put even adult dogs at ease. Simply spray some on your dog’s blanket, in their crate, or on a bandana tied around their neck. Or try a pheromone collar. You can also try an anxiety vest or shirt to reduce your dog’s unease. These are tight shirts that provide constant, gentle pressure. Finally, your vet can supply medication to relax your dog if necessary.

Additional Tips for Comfort

The following additional tips will help your dog enjoy car rides:

  • Play relaxing music at a low volume. Most dogs sleep more with classical over heavy metal, but experiment to see what style settles your dog most.
  • If your dog rides in a crate, try different locations to see if one suits your dog better. You can also experiment with covering the crate or leaving it uncovered.
  • Place your dog in a forward-facing position if they use a booster seat or a seatbelt harness. Just like humans, seeing where they’re going rather than where they’ve been can help with tummy troubles.
  • Keep the temperature in the car comfortable for your dog.
Related article: What to Do If You See a Dog in a Hot Car
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