Road trip with Louie: tips for traveling with a dog

Last week we took a quick trip down to Nashville to visit family, and we brought Louie the Wonder Pup with us. It’s roughly a nine-hour trip in our not-flashy-but-highly-sensible minivan, and it can be a long time in the car — for people and puppies alike.

With a working DVD system integrated in the van, I didn’t worry about the kids. Besides, they are seasoned road-trip veterans who, having outgrown the confines of the old booster seats, can arrange little nests in the car with their books, pillows, and stuff.

But Louie? We’ve only taken him on a few car rides that are longer than about 30 minutes. He’s ridden to Nashville a couple times last year and once to Traverse City on vacation in June.

Traveling with a dog is like taking a trip with infants or young children: it requires pre-planning and patience. Here are some of our tips for road-tripping with a pup:

Walk first, ride later. If at all possible, take your dog on a good long walk before you hit the road. In our case, we’ve noticed that Lou can work out a lot of energy which calms him down and allows him to settle in for a good stretch. And bonus: if the kids walk him, they too can get a little exercise before hitting the highway. Personally, I think it helps him deal with the frenetic vibe that comes with packing the car and setting off for vacation.

Feed him lightly before travel. Some dogs are prone to car sickness; others, like Louie, seem to travel for long distances better without a full stomach.

Check out restaurants’ policies on eating with pups on the patio. Just be sure to ask first. I was amazed that some fast-food places with outdoor seating are more than happy to allow your (well-trained and leashed) pet to sit with you as you eat. We really took advantage of this along the way.

Rest stops are important. Like a child cooped up in a car seat, a pup needs to get out and stretch his legs. Stopping at rest areas along the highways every two or so hours helped us break up the trip. We let him out to sniff and stroll around on his leash, and we gave him water at these stops as well.

Have a comfortable place in the car for him to rest. We let him settle down in a travel crate with his favorite blanket and a chew toy. The ceiling of the crate lifts off  — similar to a car’s sunroof — and whoever was sitting back with him could pet him, talk to him, and generally make sure he was okay.

Take his stuff along. We brought along Louie’s wire kennel where he usually sleeps at night. We also make sure to take along some of his toys, his water and food dishes, and his own brand of food and treats.

The next time we travel with Lou, I’m going to remember to bring his favorite pillow.

dog bed

He usually hangs out here throughout the day — lounging, snoozing, and chewing apart his favorite toy of the moment. I didn’t pack it when we went to Nashville, but I think he really missed his little puffy perch. It defines his day-time space the same way that the kennel stakes out his nighttime bed.

And don’t forget a copy of his medical records. When we adopted Louie, the volunteer helping us through all the paperwork said that having a hard copy of her dog’s medical records was so helpful during an emergency visit to an animal hospital on the road. I know some vets offer electronic versions of their records, but I just keep Louie’s papers in the van for safekeeping. Better safe than sorry.

Do you travel with your pets? Have any tips for how to travel with them in all different seasons/weather?

About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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10 Responses to Road trip with Louie: tips for traveling with a dog

  1. We always travel with a collapsible water bowl and a gallon of water. We also have all of our dogs microchipped. I hope Louie was a great traveler!

  2. We take our two cats with us to town in separate carriers every summer, for two weeks. One doesn’t mind the ride at all, while the other one cries almost all the way. Thinking of getting prozac for her next time – or for me! 😉

  3. Katie B says:

    We took Jewels to MI with us and she was great in the van. We have a bed for her in the van all the time for short trips but for the long haul we took her crate which as her regular bed in it too. She moved from the bed to the crate and back again from time to time. We stopped along the way but for the most part she just slept or chewed on a toy.
    Taking the medical records is a great idea. I will be getting those together for the next trip.

  4. Time With Thea says:

    This is really good advice for traveling with a dog Joan. I never thought about the medical records but you are so correct. When we went to the lake in the Okanagan for the summer our wonderful yellow lab Duke, came along (of course). I have to admit, his stuff took up most of the room in the car. But it was so much fun to have him at the lake. ~Thea

    • I loved going on vacation with Louie this summer. I just can’t quite see boarding him for a week while we’re gone — I think he’d miss us too much (not to mention how much we’d miss him!).

      Isn’t it funny how much stuff a dog can have! it took me back to traveling with twins (2 pack-n-plays, 2 booster seats, 8 million diapers, etc). Thank goodness the kids’ stuff has gotten smaller or we’d have to tow a trailer for all the stuff!

      Happy to pass on the advice we got from that wonderful rescue volunteer. I wouldn’t have thought about taking along his medical records either, but I can see how helpful they might prove to be in an emergency. For me, it’s just a little peace of mind shoved in the glove compartment! Best, Joan

  5. Great tips, Joan!!! So far, Dewars does VERY well in the car. His first trip home was 3 1/2 hrs and he did great and since then it has just been up to 40 minute car rides here and there. We have our first big trip with him this fall so these tips come just at the right time! 🙂 I especially am glad you mentioned medical records. Would have never thought of that!

    • Thanks, Kenley! That’s wonderful that Dewars rides well in the car — my folks once had a dog that got carsick all the time and that really takes the fun out of a car trip! 🙂 Hope you have a lovely trip with him this fall — it’s so nice to be able to take your puppy along with you! Best, Joan

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