I’ve always loved the freedom of the open road. There’s nothing quite like driving slow with the windows down watching sea, sky, forest, mountains all bleed into the winding asphalt. I didn’t think there was a way to make my road trips both sweeter and a lot more difficult…then I got a dog.
We planned a 3-week road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway from Washington through Oregon and California with our 2-year old husky. As expected, having a dog in the car for almost 4,000 miles adds another layer of planning to ensure both the pup-parents and the dog have the best time ever! Here are some tips for making your first dog-friendly road trip a success.
Keep Vaccination Records Handy
Make sure your dog’s shots are up to date and carry all records of vaccinations in case anything was to happen Map out emergency vets on your route…just in case.
Research Dog-Friendly Spots
I spent a lot of time on the website Bring Fido to figure out which stops had dog-friendly lodging and where we could grab a bite to eat and bring her inside. It was also a great resource for figuring out which beaches in the area allowed dogs off leash.
Once you do your research, call those dog-friendly places as some hotels only allow dogs in certain rooms, and some restaurants only permit dogs on the patio, so call ahead to make sure their dog specifications work for you.
Pack the Essentials
Pack anything you think your dog may need in case you can’t find a place to stop for it on your trip. Here are some essentials I kept in a tub for our dog:
- Collapsible food and water bowls (ended up losing one, so next time I would pack 3-4)
- Leashes (3) – one retractable, 2 standard 6-foot
- Any medications/ calming treats (Like Kita’s Alpen Organics Pet CBD oil)
- A bag of your dog’s preferred food brand
- Extra collar
- Poop bags
- Your dog’s tags – rabies, ID, etc.
- Bones and toys
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Dog bed
Treats, Treats, and More Treats
When your dog’s in a new environment, he or she may be a little more excitable than in spaces they feel comfortable, so having treats they like is the cheat code to getting them to respond with extra stimuli around. I packed two bags of her favorite treats and ended up needing to stop for more.
Make Your Car Comfortable
Since we were driving so far and for so long, I made sure the backseat of my jeep SUV was catered to our dog’s comfort by putting most of our gear in a Thule rooftop cargo box, which created plenty of space in the back seat. I put a dog bed in the back with the seats laid flat and attached her leash to a hook in the car. Since she was able to sprawl out, she slept more comfortably than if she had been squeezed between suitcases and camping gear.
Note: If your dog is prone to moving around on long drives, you may want to look into a crash-tested crate. Dog crates are the safest way for dogs to travel.
Take a Practice Trip
Before the main event, plan a shorter practice trip to see how your dog does in the car. A couple months before our trip, I took my dog on a 5-hour road trip and recorded how often she bugged me to stop to pee, if she seemed anxious in the car, what types of things distracted her, etc. After that we were able to get into a good groove and provide the atmosphere she needed to relax.
Break for Canines
Even though my dog can usually make it 6-8 hours at home until her next potty break, I felt like when driving long distances, stopping every 2-3 hours helped calm her nerves a bit and allowed us all to stretch our legs. Rest stops, dirt roads, parks, and hotel parking lots make great areas to stop and run around.
Keep Your Dog Entertained
My back seat looked like the toy section of a Petco, and with good reason—toys keep your dog entertained on long hauls when you can’t play. I kept bones, tennis balls, and plush toys in the back for her to chew on when she grew bored or antsy.
Your number one priority is your dog’s safety and comfort, which means you’ll have to be flexible when things don’t go according to plan. One night we’d planned to camp, but it was so cold and windy at the location, we got a last-minute pet-friendly hotel instead. Sometimes the weather won’t cooperate and you’ll have to get take out instead of sitting on the patio at a restaurant. Other times, your dog will misbehave and you’ll be forced to cut your activities short. Keep a positive attitude and always have another idea if Plan A doesn’t work out.
And lastly, have fun! Road trips are a fun way for you and your dog to experience new places together.