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Does your dog enjoy riding in the car? From vacations to vet visits and more, there are all sorts of reasons you’ll need to take your dog somewhere in your vehicle. Some pups take to car trips without an issue, while others suffer from anxiety, nausea, and other maladies.

Fortunately, a few simple techniques can help dogs all breeds and ages stay safe and comfortable during a car ride. Here’s what you need to know about how to travel with a dog in a car.

Overcoming Potential Problems

While some dogs have no problem with car travel, others show reluctance. The three most common reasons dogs don’t like car rides are the following:

Fortunately, many techniques are available to help handle these situations. The American Kennel Club recommends two training methods:

Desensitization is the step-by-step process of introducing your dog to the car. You’ll provide treats, and positive reinforcement as your dog explores the car while it’s not running. You gradually extend the time spent in the car as your dog shows signs of feeling confident and comfortable.

Counter-conditioning is a technique that changes your dog’s perception of the car. You want him to associate the car with positive experiences such as treats, play, and praise. These rewards can take place in the vehicle or simply nearby. 

How to Travel in a Car with Your Dog

Once your dog is comfortable with the car, it’s time to hit the road. Here’s how to make the experience safe and comfortable.

Schedule Stops

A dog needs more frequent breaks than the average person. If you’re taking him on a road trip, you’ll want to make frequent stops, at least once every two hours. Try to find an area where he can comfortably go to the bathroom and walk around. If your dog has opportunities to run around and burn off energy, he’s more likely to sleep during the drive.

Work Up to Longer Drives

Learning how to travel with a dog in a car isn’t always a quick process. If your dog isn’t used to riding in the car, it’s best to avoid long journeys at first.

Instead, introduce the concept of car rides slowly. Start by taking your dog for short rides around the block. When he’s comfortable with brief trips, you can gradually increase the time spent in the car.

Don’t Let Your Dog Stick His Head Out the Window

Although it’s a classic activity popularized by TV shows and movies, never allow your dog to hold his head out of the open window of a moving car. It risks damaging your dog’s eyes and face. Plus, your dog could fall out of the car!

Along those same lines, never let your dog ride in the back of a pickup or other open location in a vehicle.

Avoid Food While Driving

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Never feed your dog when the car is in operation. Unexpected motion during the ride can result in accidental choking.

Also, to help reduce nausea, wait at least three hours after feeding your dog before putting him in the car. A few hours is enough time for proper digestion to occur.

Use the Air Conditioner

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Finally, always keep the interior of the car cool. Dogs have a far greater sensitivity to heat than humans. Even outside temperatures as low as 60 degrees can pose potential health problems for dogs in a car, with heatstroke the most common issue.

Use the air conditioner instead of leaving the windows open. A/C allows you precise control over the internal temperature. If you don’t have A/C in your car, avoid traveling on hot days. 

Harnesses to Help Your Dog Safe

Never let your dog move freely around the car. Instead, always keep him safely restrained. A crash-tested harness is the safest option.

Several types of dog harnesses are available specifically designed to keep dogs secure when riding in a car. When considering the best way for how to travel with dog in car, choose one of the following:

Dog Harness Seat Belt

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A harness seat belt is one of the most popular options. It’s a simple, straightforward system that connects a harness to your car’s seat belt system.

This option is best for well-behaved adult dogs. The dog must know how to sit still in the car. Additionally, he must know not to chew through the harness.

Connecting the device is usually quick and easy. The seat belt runs through a loop on the harness. You buckle the seat belt in normally.

These devices typically include a dog car seat. You connect the dog’s harness to the seat, too. Finally, you want to adjust the seat belt to ensure it fits securely and comfortably.

Zipline Harness

If your dog struggles to sit still in the car, a zipline harness is a better option. It keeps them safely restrained but still allows them to move around. 

Using a Crate for Travel

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Another safe option is a crash-tested crate that you can securely attach to the car’s seat belt. Crates provide an additional layer of protection in the event of an accident.

Keep in mind you shouldn’t put a crate in the vehicle freely. It must be clipped into the seat belt, like the harness. Also, like a harness, you want to only place the crate in the back seat of the vehicle.

Crate travel is only feasible with small to medium-sized dogs. They’re a good choice for puppies, who typically already consider their crate as a safe space.

The Benefits of a Backseat Barrier: Ideal for Large Dogs  

If you have a larger dog, their crate likely won’t fit in the backseat of your car. One effective option for large breeds is a backseat barrier. Typically made from wire or mesh, they’re affixed to your car either behind your front seats or in front of your vehicle’s rear storage area (in an SUV).

A backseat barrier only prevents your dog from leaping forward into the backseat or driver’s area. It doesn’t secure your dog like a harness. For maximum safety, you’ll want to add a harness, too.

Know the Laws Regarding Traveling with a Dog

There are no federal laws regarding how to secure your dog when in a car. Instead, laws differ by state – and those differences can be substantial. For example, in New Jersey, having an unrestrained dog in your car is considered animal cruelty, and can result in serious fines.

Aside from knowing the laws in your home state, make sure you check out all the requirements for any states you might pass through on a road trip. Fortunately, you’ll be fine practically everywhere if your dog is properly secured with a seat belt harness or in a crate.

What to Bring on a Doggie Road Trip

You’ve set up the proper safety restraints. Your dog has grown comfortable with riding in the car for long periods. You and your pet are ready for long trips in the car. But aside from the harness or crate, what else do you need to bring?

Proper planning helps prevent problems on the road. You want to plan your journey in as much detail as possible. Look for rest stops and other areas where your dog can stretch his legs. Also, make sure you’re not driving too long each day, as dogs can grow restless and uncomfortable.

Bring along the following items:

Additionally, take the time before you leave to make reservations at dog-friendly hotels. You don’t want to end a long day’s drive in an unfamiliar town with no hotel that allows dogs. Although costs vary, hotels typically charge an extra $50 for pets.

Your dog might feel uncomfortable spending the night in a new place. If possible, bring his crate inside so he can sleep in a familiar spot. Additionally, giving him his favorite blankets or toys can also help him feel comfortable.

Generally, you don’t want to leave your dog alone in a hotel room. If he feels nervous, he’s liable to damage the room or even accidentally injure himself. If you do have to leave him in the room, do so for as brief of time as possible. Leaving the TV on at a low volume can help muffle outside sounds.

Summary

Traveling by car is one of the safest ways to travel with your four-legged friend. Although not all dogs naturally love car rides, the techniques above can help just about every canine feel comfortable. With practice and patience, your dog can learn to enjoy even long car trips. 

Safety is always your top priority. Connect a harness or crate to your car’s seat belt system to keep your dog securely restrained during the ride. Also, schedule plenty of stops so your dog can eat and exercise.

Follow the tips and techniques above to learn how to travel with a dog in a car. Hitting the open road with your furry friend has never been easier!