Road Trips with Rover, June 2009

So you’re planning some summer road trips and you’d like to take your precious pooch along. What should you expect? Well, some dogs naturally love to ride in cars, eagerly jumping into the back and hanging out calmly until you reach your destination. Then there are the dogs who get anxious, car sick, or over-excited while traveling in a car. If yours is one of the latter, here are some tips from trainers that will make things easier. — Ed.

Dealing with Carsickness

If your dog gets sick while riding in the car, he could be anxious about the experience or just prone to motion sickness. If it’s part of a fear reaction, see Dealing with Anxiety below. In either case, here are some ways to minimize the problem.


  1. Don’t feed the dog within a few hours before a car ride.
  2. Excessive yawning and drooling are signs that your dog is feeling car sick. Pull over as soon as you can. 
  3. Leave a window open an inch or two so the dog can get some fresh air.
  4. Some dogs do better in a doggie car seat, where they are elevated and can see the outdoors. Others do better with little or no visual stimulation; try confining the dog in a solid-sided crate.
  5. Ask your vet for a motion sickness medication formulated for dogs.
  6. Cover the seats with a waterproof material and carry plenty of towels for clean-up purposes.


Dealing with Anxiety

Some dogs have bad associations with cars, such as previous motion sickness or trips to the vet. Others are just naturally fearful of cars. Here is what trainers recommend for turning your scaredy-dog into a happy traveler.

Start by spending time with your dog in the car while it’s parked in the driveway. Sit together in the back seat, give plenty of affection, and speak soothingly. In the beginning, reward him just for being willing to hang out in the car. Use food rewards and lots and lots of praise.

Next, leave the dog in his crate or in the back seat while you get out and move to the driver’s seat. Again, use affection, rewards, and praise to reinforce his good behavior.

Use the same method to get your dog comfortable with wearing a safety harness.

Start taking very short trips, with a fun activity at the end. For instance, drive only a block for starters, then get out of the car and play or take a walk together before getting back in the car and driving home.

Driving short distances to visit people and/or dogs Rover loves is another good way to build positive associations with the car.

Take as long as your dog needs in this incremental training process. 


Other trainer tips


  1. Be patients, calm, and positive in all interactions with your dog that take place in the car. No scolding!
  2. Favorite blankets or toys in the crate or car can help build good associations.
  3. Some people have had success with Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic medicine for calming the nerves.
  4. Take your dog out in the car for pleasant excursions, not just to go to the vet.


Dealing with Over-Excitement

Again, trainings is key. Use food rewards and praise to reinforce calm and quiet behavior. If this doesn’t work, travel with your dog in his crate.


Safety Issues

Whether your dog loves or hates car travel, there are some precautions you should take to make sure the trip is a safe one for all concerned.


Don’t let your dog roam around the car or ride on your lap or shoulders. Driver distraction is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents.

Dogs are safest riding in a crate or in the back seat, secured with a special harness that hooks on to the seat belt or in a doggy car seat that elevate the animal so he can look out the window.

If you have an open pickup truck, don’t let your dog ride in back unless he’s in a care secured with bungee cords or rope so it doesn’t tip over or slide around. If he’s loose, he could jump out, risking serious injury, and is at the mercy of flying insects and debris, which can lodge in his ears or eyes. Also the metal bed of a truck gets very hot in sunny weather, which is uncomfortable if not downright dangerous for your dog.

Similarly, don’t let your dog hang his head out the window while traveling. He could be injured by flying debris or insects, or by stationary objects if the car cuts too close.

Never leave your dog alone in the car for more than a few minutes, especially in extreme weather. Especially on sunny days, be sure to leave a window open an inch or two so the dog has access to fresh air and the hot air in the car can dissipate. 

Use a verbal signal to train your dog to get in and out of the car only on your command. This will help prevent him from getting into a stranger’s car or jumping out of the car into traffic.


Finally, stop often for potty breaks and exercise, and maintain the dog’s regular feeding schedule if possible.

Happy travels!