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10 Tips on Road Tripping With Your (Big) Dogs

10 Tips on Road Tripping With Your (Big) Dogs

Dogs On Car Trips - photo by Michelle ShearerWhile some pets are compact enough to sit happily in a travel bag or crate, embarking on a road trip with oversized pets can be a challenge.

Michelle Shearer shares the tips she’s learned along the way … not all by choice.

As any dog-owner can attest, one question that always comes up when planning a trip is, “And what about the dogs?”

Traveling with an 80-pound Weimarener and 65-pound Vizsla is not considered packing light, but after years of practice, it’s become a manageable task.

1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

The more exercise your dog gets before and during the trip, the calmer and less bored (meaning less destructive) your pooch will be. It can be hectic getting yourself and the car packed and ready before the big road trip, but taking your dog out for a walk or run before hopping in the car will most definitely make it a more relaxed car ride for everybody.

Energetic big dogsFor those of you with herding dogs, retrievers, spaniels or any other high-energy canine consider wearing him out the day before, as well. Having two excitable dogs myself, this can be the a real make-it-or-break-it factor.

2. Plan Ahead, Save the Hassle

Having even a quasi-itinerary can be helpful when embarking on a road trip with your pet, especially if you want to include it in family activities. One of the biggest tasks is finding a hotel which will let Roscoe cuddle in bed with you.

A couple of the most helpful sites are and which lists pet-friendly hotels given your destination; you can also check out. In my experience, La Quinta has always been the most easily accessible budget hotel chain and hasn’t failed me yet in terms of pet-friendliness.

However, the term “pet-friendly” may not translate to 150-pound mastiff pet-friendly, so always call in advance to find out if there are any weight restrictions, additional fees and limits as to how many dogs can accompany you.

3. Doggy 101 Checklist

To ensure that your four legged friend is in good hands, prepare a canine travel kit. What is wonderful about traveling the open road is the element of the unknown, the unexpected in which case it’s advantageous to be prepared just in case your dog decides to take that mud bath.

  • Copies of vaccination records
  • Medicine & vitamins
  • An extra collar, leash  and tags with a current cell phone number
  • Lists of nearby pet hospitals, veterinarians and Poison Control contact
  • Tweezers, nail clippers, dog brush, extra towels, pooper scooper, plastic bags
  • Toys (Nylabone is great for chewers to work out some extra energy)
  • First Aid kit

As a bonus tip, I’ve used Bach Flower Remedies as an all-natural stress reliever, both for myself and my dogs. The company produces one that’s specifically made for animals—just add a few drops into their water and it helps keep them calm.

Want more tips on traveling with animals? Check out our Pet Travel section

Pets - Big Dogs on Roadtrips4. For your sanity

Remember, you will potentially be spending several hours at a time in your vehicle, so you want to make it as comfortable as possible. If the doggy bed or crate fits in the back of the car, bring it for safety’s sake.

If there is enough hair on the car seats to knit a quilt, invest in a couple of lint rollers.

I also try to keep hand sanitizer, spray deodorizer, and stain remover. When my dog,  Copper, used the center console as a toilet, I learned the hard way to be careful about what they eat on the road. Limit your dog’s food intake by increasing the amount of meals, but feeding them smaller portions.

5. Don’t Wake Up the Neighbors

There are going to be hundreds of new smells and sounds and they will be in doggy heaven. What I failed to anticipate were the peculiar noises my dogs heard in the wee hours of the night.

If you use reinforcement tools then bring them; I always try to reward good behavior and offer a treat for not barking.

Check that the windows are closed, and play soft music to mask outside noises. And remember that all-important exercise rule: if your pup is exhausted, he or she will be more likely to be fast asleep.

Road-tripping with your dogs6. Climate Control

You may be taking your road trip through various climates and unfamiliar environments. Be aware of the temperature and always have water readily available to avoid dehydration.

It is quite likely you will have to leave your dog in the car at times during your trip.  Always crack the windows, and if it is warm, pump up the air conditioning for a few minutes before turning off the engine.

As the days become colder, so do my dogs. Short-haired dogs may need that extra bit of warmth in the winter months, so it’s a good time to invest in a sweater.

7. Doggy Do’s and Doggy Don’ts
Strapped with your backpack gear, family and dog in tow and ready to hike the trails, the last symbol you want to read is the No Dogs Allowed sign.

Leash laws, beach laws, driving laws: rules and restrictions abound, so make sure you’re not breaking the law. If I haven’t researched the state and/or city dog laws before heading off to the beach or state park, I usually the hotel receptionist or the locals. They’re usually a great resource to find the closest dog park, or at least can point you to a pet store for more information.

If you are not sure about leash laws, play it safe and keep your dog on a leash. It goes without saying that it’s better to clean up after your pooch.

Keep in mind that laws and enforcement vary from state to state about driving with pets. There may not be a law against sitting in the driver’s seat, but that does not mean state patrol won’t pull you over if the dog is interfering with your driving. Use your better judgment.

8.  Try to be Consistent

Michelle Shearer With Her DogsDogs can be like children in this respect.  If you can manage it, try to feed and exercise your dog at its normal times. If driving long distance, park the car for a quick walk every two to three hours. Bring the baseball and Frisbee with you so that the games you play back at home are the same games you play on the road.

9. The Great Outdoors

If camping or hiking always check for ticks upon returning. If possible bathe your dog as it may help reduce allergens.

It sounds cliché, but be aware of your surroundings, as you never know what your four-legged friend might get into. Unbeknownst to me, my dogs rolled around in poison oak at a pit stop in the country and being highly allergic I was out of commission for two weeks.

Some dogs are more sensitive and may have softer paws; if hiking in rough terrain you may want to consider investing in booties (practice putting—and keeping—them on before you go).

10. Be Practical

Remember, not all dogs are meant for the open road, and not all humans will enjoy the experience of traveling with a pet.  Above all, consider if the road trip is conducive to you and your dog’s lifestyles, and if not, it may be worth leaving Fido behind. He won’t hold it against you.

Text and photos by Michelle Shearer for

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