This time of the year often means a fun family trip away, and if you’re like me you’ll be keen to take those furry, four-legged family members along to be part of the mayhem.  After all, nobody relishes a run along the beach or a frolic in the country as much as they do!

While it CAN all go horribly wrong, a little preparation can go a long way to ensure things run as smoothly as possible and the whole pack has a great time.

Prepare in Advance

It’s no secret that many dogs hate travelling in the car.  Some of them bark, others howl, and some projectile vomit all over the kids in the back seat.  The good news is that there are steps we can take beforehand to make this part of road trippin much more pleasant.

There are just three things you need.

  1. Patience
  2. Rewards
  3. A little more patience

It’s really very simple - in theory.  We need to make the car a good thing.  In practice, it can be a little more challenging and definitely involves some commitment.  But it’s worth it!

So how do we make it so the sight of the car gets tails wagging?  We do it in baby steps.  Teensy, tiny, almost ridiculous, baby steps.  With each step, it’s crucial that your dog doesn’t get stressed or upset, or we’re back to square one.  I would suggest trying something like this:

  1. Be with your dog somewhere near the car, but have nothing to do with the car.  Have a play and make it fun!
  2. Open the car door and get in with some treats.  Don’t make your dog get in if they don’t want to, and don’t start the engine.  Throw them some treats from the car if you need to, and work up to them choosing to get in.
  3. Hop in the car with your dog and start the engine - but don’t go anywhere.  Just tell them they’re the most super awesome amazing dog in the whole world and reward, reward, reward.
  4. Take a very short drive to somewhere fun.

Hmmm… There must be some dog treats in here somewhere!

Getting through these four steps will be a piece of cake for some dogs, while others might need days or weeks to work up to being comfortable in the car.  Work at your dog’s pace and remember - POSITIVE EXPERIENCE.

Then Prepare Some More

If you’re heading to your own holiday house, first of all, I’m very jealous!  One of the positives of such an arrangement is that you’re the boss of your own house so there’s no issue about the “dog-friendliness” of the destination.  If, however, you will be staying at alternative accommodation, you need to do your homework in advance and ensure you have chosen somewhere that is safe and appropriate for four-legged family members and where they will be welcome.

There are some great online resources for seeking out pet-friendly accommodation and locations, and an Australian one that I really like is Take Your Pet. They have a comprehensive directory of pet-friendly accommodation, as well as off-leash parks, pet cafes, events, vets, pet supply stores, and dog beaches.  The page is easy to navigate and you can search by suburb or postcode.

Pet Travel Essentials

You will need:

  • Their own bed - because it’s comfortable and smells like home
  • Their usual food - if you are planning on feeding something different while you are away, save your dog a case of diarrhoea and wean across slowly over several days
  • Water - if there’s a chance you won’t be able to access a tap at any stage
  • Bowls - for food and water. Consider collapsible ones for convenience
  • Favourite toys - for a sense of security and incase boredom strikes
  • A collar with your phone number on it - Identification is important at all times
  • Leash
  • Pet first aid kit and instructions - you never know what might happen and how far you may be from a vet
  • Your vet’s contact details as well as those for a vet local to your destination and a 24 hour emergency centre
  • Any current medications
  • Vaccination records and information about any current medications or illness
  • Dog poo bags - because you’re a nice person


And don’t forget:

  • Microchip details - ensure your contact details are current
  • Vaccination status - must be up to date
  • Parasite prevention - particularly important if you are entering an area with paralysis ticks

A Safe, Comfortable Ride

Restraint is important for everyone’s safety.  Unrestrained pets can:

  • Distract the driver
  • Become seriously injured in an accident or even just sudden braking
  • Act as projectiles in an accident or sudden braking, injuring other occupants of the car
  • Jump out of windows

Baxter likes to rummage through Matt’s beard for crumbs while on the road. It’s distracting!

Options for restraint include:

  • Harnesses that clip into seat belt
  • Crates - appropriate size and secured
  • Cargo barriers in station wagons

Choosing the right car harness for your pet can be a minefield.  Unbelievably, when 25 different harnesses were tested in 2013, all but 2 failed a low speed test crash of less than 20 km/hr using a dummy.  Do your research and choose a model that will do it’s job when it counts, and never have an unrestrained dog when driving, it’s just not worth the risk.

Along the Way

Be sure to allow your pets regular breaks to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.  Take a short stroll and offer them a drink of water.  Do the right thing and pick up and bin any chocolate nuggets they leave behind. Nobody wants to step in a big stinky dog poop.

Dealing With Car Sickness

Some pets vomit in the car.  Not nice for them, and not nice for us.  Some ways to minimise this include not feeding your pet within 2 hours of beginning your journey, and not giving them a big drink of water right before setting off either.  A short walk before getting into the car also help by giving them the opportunity to empty bowels and bladder, and burn off a little nervous energy.  In case of accidents it’s a good idea to bring along an old towel or two to protect the seats or mop up if necessary.

For those that will vomit despite your best efforts, your vet can help. There are very effective anti-nausea medications available that can be purchased after a physical examination of your pet.  They are not available over the counter, but it’s just common sense to get your pet a check up before setting off anyway.

And Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

Hit that road, drive off into the sunset, and remember, holidays are meant to be fun!

Buckle up you guys, it’s cool I know exactly what I’m doing!

So what tips would you add for stress-free travelling with dogs?  I’d love to hear what you think - just leave a comment below. Woof Woof, let’s go!

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Start typing and press Enter to search