Road Trips with Dogs – Tips for an Easy Adventure

Britain has long held a reputation as being a country of animal lovers and recent stats show there are almost as many pets as people – 65 million to be roughly exact (if that’s a thing). Over 40% of UK households have a pet with dogs making up more than half of the national total. When asked the reason for owning a dog the overall consensus was it improved their happiness and/or providing companionship.

dog on road trip walk

With all that in mind, and when you are planning a road trip, why not consider taking your dog with you. Not only does this save on kennel costs or a pet sitter but the variety is said to help the dogs mental health. So what do you need to consider?

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Planning a Road Trip With Dogs

Planning is the key to a happy trip. Here you want to consider the places you can visit and how dog friendly they are.

  • The Beach Guide has maps and details of the many beaches that are dog friendly.
  • Sites like Walkiees have walks submitted by owners so you know they are suitable for dogs.
  • If you’re planning for a specific destination then google will throw up many hints and advice about the area so it’s well worth a look.
  • If the trip has overnight stays then check well in advance that they accept dogs. There are specialist websites such as Canine Cottages or simply ask the accommodation provider. It is always worth asking, unexpected places can be very accommodating e.g. Travelodge allow your dog to stay and only ask for a cleaning charge, many AirBnB properties accept dogs as do holiday cottages like Rural Retreats.
  • And talking about accommodation consider where you can walk your dog in the morning or the evening if that is what your dog is used to doing. It’s nice to maintain some routine whilst you are away.

With any of the walks and activities consider both your ability and the dogs. It’s nice to push the boundaries and explore but do make sure that within both of your capabilities. You also need to consider how your dog will tolerate a different environment. City dogs may become uncertain in large open spaces and dogs that are used to a rural environment may need comfort if they are unused to busy environments with lots of people and traffic in a city environment.

Whilst we all hope nothing will go wrong it’s worth checking that your breakdown service will allow your dog to travel in the cab with you if your vehicle needs to be towed. Both the AA and RAC advise customers to inform staff that they have dogs with them when they report a breakdown. Whether the dog will be allowed in the cab will be at the discretion of the driver.

Travelling with your dog – the serious bit

Keeping your dog and passengers safe in the car isn’t as straight forward as it might at first appear.

Rule 57 of the Highway Code states that “When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained, so they cannot distract you while you are driving, or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage, or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

Whilst that rule isn’t legally binding there are offences you could be committing having and unrestrained dog such as driving without due care and attention, with that in mind it is worth looking at options and then consider what is best for you and your dog.

  1. Dog guards/barriers – these can be installed behind front or rear seats and are designed to block off a section of the car. They can be permanently installed or temporarily only when needed. Whilst great for giving your dog the maximum amount of freedom and being a relatively inexpensive option it does limit access to that part of the car and if the door were to be opened accidentally the dog could get out.
  2. Crate/car kennel. Available in many shapes and sizes to suit your dog you should get one that allows your dog to stand, lie and, importantly, turn round. Ensure the crate is fixed down to prevent it moving whilst in transit which could cause your dog distress. Crates are good since they allow a dog to like down, and they can be covered to stop the dog being distracted by things they see out of the window. In addition many dogs feel safer travelling in a covered den. But this really is a particular choice for you and your dog, whilst many dogs enjoy the crate since it is their space others get nervous/anxious being in there, especially if they cannot see you.
  3. Car harness. These are normally attached to the existing seat belts and designed to withstand the impact of an accident. They are safer than tethering a dog by the collar since the force is distributed evenly and wide straps help lessen injury and point force. However, again, you should see how your dog reacts to the harness since it can make some dogs stressful and uncomfortable. And they are not suitable for breeds with thin necks and heads such as whippets, greyhounds and afghan hounds.

Whatever method you decide on try to build up the time the dog spends in the car so they get comfortable with it, the time spent “travel training” is a good investment. If you can start them young with just a stationary car, getting use to being in there before you venture anywhere. If they get distressed then take some time to work out the cause so you can alleviate it so the journey is as stress free as possible for both of you. You want your pet to be excited about getting in the car since they associate it with new places and adventures.

Importantly though

  • Do not travel with your dog in the boot area of an estate car/hatchback if that is designed as a crumple zone.
  • Never have the dog next to an airbag, if it triggered it could maim or even kill the dog.

I know this sounds obvious but since you’re dog cannot tell you what they do and don’t like the planning for a trip is important to make sure you all enjoy it. We’ve done many trips with the dog and had great adventures so don’t, as ever, think of the planning as a chore, but more the gateway to new sights and sounds, and adventures.

Road trips with dogs – the trip itself

When travelling with kids I recommended having plenty of road snacks. With dogs, if you can, make sure they are fed in plenty of time before the trip so they have time to digest the food or do not feed them until after the journey. If your pet does suffer from an upset stomach then it is worth speaking to a vet since they can provide something to settle their stomach if needed. It is worth making sure you take plenty of water and offer it to your dog regularly on the journey or when you stop, they will take what they need.

Always plan breaks with your dog, to let them get out and stretch their legs. At the planning stage you could find walks or attractions along your route that would suit, or if that is not an option then many service stations have dog walking areas. Never walk your dog on the hard shoulder or in a layby since you don’t know when another vehicle might need to use it.

And as part of the planning try to reduce the journey time as much as possible so the dog spends the minimum time in the car. If you know there will be lots of traffic at a certain time then try to avoid that time. Many trip planning apps, like google maps, lets you select different departure times so you can see how long the trip will take considering the normal traffic at that time.

Dogs have no real way of letting you know when they are too warm, and they do warm up quicker than we do so be aware of the temperature in the car and either open a window or turn on the AC.

Whilst it always looks amusing to see a dog with its head out of the car living it’s best life this really isn’t advisable. They could knock their head on something, or be hit by something discarded, there is the risk of them falling out, and they could be a distraction for other drivers.

Never ever leave pets in the car. As mentioned dogs warm up quicker than humans and they can overheat very quickly if left in the car, even with a window open or parking the car in the shade.

On the subject of hot weather then there are some things you can do to make the journey more comfortable

  • Try to travel in the early morning or late evening, they tend to be the coolest times to travel
  • The advice about plenty of water and offering it often becomes more important. It might we worth considering nonslip bowls so the dog has access to water when they want it but some dogs wont drink in a moving vehicle.
  • Stop and regularly check on the pet, not only as a water stop but to make sure they are not overheating or agitated by the temperature.
  • Check the temperature where the dog is – many cars have great aircon in the front but its effectiveness reduces the further back in the car you are.
  • As soon as you stop get your pet out of the car. And whilst stopped try to find somewhere shaded so you and your dog are not getting into a warm car. Also consider using towels or a sunshade over the windows to block direct sunlight.
wet dogs on a boat
Don’t forget to keep dogs warm and dry. These two had spent a day on a Scottish beach and were cosy on the boat trip home

What to pack for a road trip with a dog

This checklist of items is one that has developed over time and has been found useful…

  • Collar and name tag. Whilst we hope the dog won’t go missing a name tag with a number on it could be a life saver.
  • Dog food and bowl. Make sure you have enough for the duration of the trip plus a little extra just in case. If you are feeding your dog when you get to the destination consider putting that in a separate container so it’s to hand when you get there, the dog can be eating whilst you sort out other things.
  • Travel water bowl and water bottles. Have at least 1 insulated water bottle for the travels to make sure the dog has access to cool water (it can be filled from the tap and keeps the water cool for ages)
  • Dog treats. We all love a treat
  • Dog toy. Whilst I don’t generally like the dog to be playing with toys on these trips it is sometimes useful e.g. if you’ve planned a lazy evening a chew toy will keep your dog entertained or there is a lot of fun to be had throwing a tennis ball on the beach
  • Leads. If you don’t have a long lead it might be worth considering so your dog has more freedom.
  • Basket/bed. This helps give your dog some stability on travels since it provides familiarity and they know it is their space
  • Jacket. If you’re travelling during the colder time of the year and your dog needs it.
  • Towels. It’s going to happen at some point on your trip/holiday, the dog will end up wet and/or muddy. Towels mean that isn’t being transferred into the car or wherever you are staying
  • Medicine. If your dog is on medicine make sure you have enough for the duration of the holiday. Also make sure regular medication doesn’t occur during the holiday, if it does then discuss options with the vet.
  • Stain remover. Your dog may be as good as gold normally but new surroundings can lead to little accidents. So having a stain remover to hand means you don’t lose your property deposit. The best we have found is 1001 carpet cleaner. This removes stains and gets rid of any lasting aromas.
  • Old sheet. Perfect for both the back of the car and at the accommodation, it means that areas don’t get covered in dog hairs.
  • Rucksack. Often overlooked but handy for carrying water, toys, and treats.

The last item to mention is pet insurance. If you have it then check that it covers your travels and destinations.

Mindful dog walking

Forthglade, the dog food company, did research last year that showed that almost two thirds of dog owners (63%) are unable to switch off from screen time whilst on the daily dog walk and a large proportion experienced stress of their dog pulling on the lead or barking whilst they were engaged in that screen time.

So why not take this trip as an opportunity to switch off and relax, to enjoy the walk as an outing and make it enjoyable for both you and your four-legged friend. Here are come suggestions for both of you

  1. If your dog is happy off the lead and the area permits it then let your dog potter and sniff around the hedgerows, rather than get them to chase a ball over and over again. Sniffing can reduce your dog’s stress, giving you time to take in the fresh air and look at your surroundings. If a lead is needed then consider getting an extendable lead so it gives your dog greater freedom.
  2. Talking too much to dogs can get them hyped up and make them excitable/yappy. When walking your dog, try to use cues consistently and keep a calm, happy, tone of voice.
  3. Engage with your dog while they are on the lead instead of rushing to the spot where you can let them off. Slow things down a bit by scattering little pieces of food in the grass and regain control by stroking up and down along a small section of the lead. Stop every few minutes and ask your dog to do their favourite trick – engaging the task side of their brain, dampening the emotional side. Or try some calm strokes to give you both a boost of oxytocin, the bonding ‘love hormone.’
  4. Whilst we would recommend you don’t take the phone on the walk many of us use the phone for photographs. If that is the case then consider muting the phone so you are not disturbed by it, and only taking it out of your pocket when you want to photograph something. That way you have the opportunity to notice nature as you walk and enjoy chatting with other dog lovers.
  5. Engage your five senses to appreciate what is happening in the present all around you. Can you describe your surroundings in detail? This gentle curiosity will help you become more mindful and enjoy the walk even more.

Taking care on the walk

I know the following does not need to be said but since you’re reading this it serves as a handy reminder of walk courtesy

  1. Leads – If the area requires dogs to be on a lead or there is the chance of disturbing wildlife then keep your dog on a lead. Walking on the lead can be made fun as we discussed
  2. Scoop the poop – bag it and bin it, keep the places beautiful for you and others
  3. Paws for though – as you walk the surrounding will change, whilst you take the time to admire that also consider if there is anything to be cautious about e.g. cliff edges. If there is signage take a moment to look at the information, it may improve your walk
  4. Consider others – whilst this country does love its dogs not everyone does so keep them close and be prepared to put them on a lead if people appear nervous or distressed.

Having your four-legged friend with you on your travels makes you reconsider how the trip will take place and what you will do. And that opens up a whole range of new experiences and opportunities. We always enjoyed travels with our dog and I am sure you will too.