Taking your dog in the car
Travel With Dogs And Cats

The Complete Guide to Taking Your Dog in the Car

From the day we brought him home from the shelter, my dog has known his place in a car. He loves riding in the back seat—especially when he can have it all to himself! Seven years later, we still sometimes go for a short drive around the block when he’s feeling restless.

But I’ve also had dogs who can’t ride in a car without getting sick (see also ‘What Is The Safest Way To Transport A Dog In A Car? [Explained]‘). How do you take dogs like these on a trip? What if you’re driving cross-country, or need to take a rental? Or even just make a short trip in an Uber or Lyft?

Whether your dog loves or hates the car, we’re here to help! In this guide, we’ll cover all sorts of common problems, from what to pack to how to deal with car anxiety.

Table of Contents:

Preparing for a Car Ride with Your Dog

The number one best thing you can do to prepare your dog for being in the car is just that: take them in the car!

It might sound silly, but especially if you’re going on a long trip with an anxious dog, taking them on a series of shorter trips first is key. This allows them to get used to being in the car and also lets you know any challenges or difficulties they’ll have ahead of time.

We’ll discuss anxious dogs below, so keep reading if you need help getting your dog to adjust!

Another thing you’ll need to do is to get your dog used to whatever restraint you’ll be using to keep them safe. This sometimes takes patience if it’s something they’re not used to, like a new crate or harness.

Lastly, you will want to prepare your car. This involves getting any seat belts or doggy car seats ready in advance and covering your seats to prevent mess. You might also want to keep some cleaning supplies in the car in case of any accidents, especially if you’re planning a long trip away from home.

If you’re keeping your dog in a crate during the ride, prepare it using blankets, a bed, and toys. Ideally, these will smell like you or your dog so that they provide comfort if your dog starts to feel anxious, lonely, or homesick.

Buckle Up! Keeping Your Dog Safe in the Car

We don’t always think about our dog’s safety in the car—but we absolutely should!

Just like us, dogs can get thrown around in a car. They have much better chances of surviving a crash if they’re properly restrained.

But they can’t just use a regular seatbelt. So how do we keep our dogs safe in the car?

There are three options:

  • A doggy seatbelt,
  • A doggy car seat, or
  • A crate

Doggy seatbelts typically attach to a dog’s harness, keeping them in place during your trip. This is a good, simple option to keep your dog safe and secure.

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Car seats, on the other hand, kind of box your dog in on the seat. This is a great option for small dogs, especially if you’re worried about them making a mess or tearing up the seats in your car.

The important thing to consider when buying a dog car seat is that it straps both to the seat, and to your dog. Some of them aren’t equipped with seat belts for your dog, and so they don’t do much in the way of safety.

Lastly, a crate will keep your dog safer than they would be free-roaming the vehicle. Make sure your crate is large enough for your dog to move around inside. They should be able to sit, stand, and turn around comfortably.

The less the crate can move inside your vehicle, the better!

Packing for the Trip

What you pack for a trip with your dog depends heavily upon how long of a ride you’re planning. When I take my dog to a dog park, I only pack toys and a leash.

In contrast, I packed several bags for my dog during our last long road trip.

To make things easier, I recommend packing at least two bags: one full of things you’ll need along the way, and one for after you reach your destination.

Your to-go bag will contain things like:

  • Waste bags
  • Harness and leash
  • Food and water bowls
  • Dog food and treats
  • Toys

These are all things you’ll need during your trip, and it’ll be nice to have them on-hand rather than sorting through the entire trunk looking for things—especially if you’re like me and tend to over-pack!

In addition to your to-go bag, you might want to bring:

  • Dog food and bowls
  • An extra dog bed
  • Toys
  • Blankets to cover furniture

Essentially, this is anything you won’t need in the car but might need at a hotel or wherever you happen to be staying.

How Often do Dogs Need Breaks on a Long Car Ride?

A brown dog with alert ears sitting in the passenger seat of a car, behind the steering wheel

The amount of breaks your dog will need on long rides depends mostly on their age and potty training status.

Puppies and elderly dogs will likely need more breaks because they can’t hold their bladder as long as other dogs.

Think about how often your dog goes to the bathroom at home. If they’re a puppy in the midst of potty training that needs to go out every hour to avoid an accident, then you’ll want to stop and let them out every hour.

Thankfully, most of us aren’t in that position! On average, your adult dog can probably hold their bladder for around four hours. But forcing them to hold it longer than this can be unhealthy.

Of course, while potty breaks are the main factor to consider, it isn’t the only one! Your dog also needs time to stretch their legs and get some fresh air, just like the rest of your family.

Stopping for breaks is an inconvenience, especially with a dog in tow. When packing, make sure everything you need is easy to access by packing a small bag of your dog’s things.

This bag should contain waste bags, your dog’s leash, a bowl for water. You can also include food, treats, a harness (if you have one and don’t want your dog wearing it the entire trip), and toys for playing fetch.

Essentially, it should hold everything you’ll need during a stop. This way, you won’t have to dig through all your luggage to find what you need.

Handling Car Anxiety in Dogs

Some dogs dislike the car due to bad experiences, car sickness, or personal preference. Your dog doesn’t necessarily have to love car rides—some dogs never will. But if your dog is anxious or carsick, it becomes a major problem!

The big thing to remember if cars make your dog anxious is to have patience. Never force your dog in or out of the car, or punish them for not behaving the way you’d like them to.

This can make them more anxious. It’s also known that punishments only lead to more problem behaviors, which is the opposite of what you want! This is why any decent trainer promotes positive training methods that focus on reinforcing good behaviors.

For example, if your dog refuses to get inside the car, try to get them to just come near the car. Give them a treat every time they do this!

Then, when they get used to being near the car, you can put a treat within their reach on the car, perhaps on the floor. They’ll likely crane their neck or jump up on hind legs to get the treat, rather than jump into the car.

But as you slowly move the treats further away, your dog will eventually have to climb inside to get the treat! By allowing them to go at their own pace, you’re helping them feel safe and in control of the situation.

You can also use other rewards, such as praise or toys, to help your dog associate cars with happy things.

If your dog has trouble with car rides, you should check out our post about dogs who hate being in the car. It covers anxiety, carsickness, barking, and more!

Dark brown Pit bull in car with head out window, alert eyes, and mouth open. with tongue visible. Wearing chain collar.

Can Dogs Ride in Rental Cars?

Dogs are typically allowed in rental cars, although some policies require them to be contained in a crate or carrier.

Take a look at our post about rental car pet policies for more information, but here are the basics:

  • Keep the car clean by covering the seats, using a carrier when possible, and bringing your own cleaning supplies for long trips.
  • Restrain your dog to keep them safe during the ride.
  • Avoid bringing dogs who aren’t potty trained or who get carsick into a rental whenever you can.

Can Dogs Ride in Uber or Lyft Vehicles?

Dogs can ride in Uber and Lyft, but both companies allow their drivers to decide whether or not to allow pets in their vehicles.

No matter which service you choose, you should contact the driver ahead of time to ask them if dogs are allowed. It also helps drivers if you tell them what breed and size your dog is.

Most drivers prefer your dog to be in a crate. And, of course, they don’t want any messy paw prints or torn seats left behind at the end of the drive!

Check out our in-depth guide to taking your dog in an Uber or Lyft for even more information.

We hope we’ve covered all your questions about dogs and car rides here and left you feeling confident about taking your dog on your next trip!