Travel with a dog in the car: How to keep your pooch safe and happy on road trips

Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Dr Louisa Lane
1st Jul 2022
10 mins read
Whether you’re driving to the vet or on an exciting staycation with your pets, it’s important to know how to keep your dog happy and safe on car journeys.
Keeping your dog secure in the car is a legal requirement. That means they should be in a crate, behind a dog guard, or strapped in with a dog seatbelt. These will also help to keep you and your dog safe if you ever have an accident.
You’re bound to travel with your dog in the car at some point. It could be the journey to bring a new puppy home, a trip to the vet, a holiday with your pet, or a trip to the seaside.
Wherever you’re going, it’s important that you get your dog used to being in the car, and that you know how to travel safely with your pet.
Whether you’re on a summer road trip or a quick drive to the dog park, read these tips to find out how to stay safe and keep your canine comfortable whenever you travel with your dog in the car.
Don't forget to insure your pet before you travel, so they're protected against accidents and illness. Napo insurance includes cover for at home and abroad, to keep your pet protected while you travel.

What do you need if you’re travelling with your dog in the car?

Wherever you and the pooch are travelling, make sure you have these items to keep your dog safe and settled when they’re in the car.
  • A dog crate: these can be custom-made for your car, and are the safest for your dog to travel.
  • OR a dog guard if your dog sits in the boot.
  • OR a harness and dog seatbelt (But make sure your dog can still lie down whilst wearing it.)
  • Water bottle and bowl.
  • Some dog food (if it’s a long journey!)
  • Collar and dog tag (This is a legal requirement!)
  • A bed or blanket for comfort.
  • A treat or safe chew to entertain them.

Why should you keep your dog secure in the car?

Keeping your dog secure, whether with a doggy seatbelt or a crate, will help to keep both you and your pooch safe.
Using a seatbelt, guard, or crate prevents your dog from wandering the car and potentially getting in your way or distracting you while driving.
They also help to keep your dog safe if you’re ever in a crash by preventing your pooch from being thrown around if you stop suddenly.
Keeping your dog secure, especially in a crate, can also help to settle them down in the car and make them more comfortable.
Finally, keeping your dog secure in the car is actually a legal requirement.

Keeping your dog secure is a legal requirement

Whether you let your dog sit in a car seat or you prefer to have them tucked away in the boot, it’s vital that you keep your pet secure when travelling with your dog in the car. If not, you’re actually breaking the law.
If we take a look at what it says in the Highway Code...

Rule 57:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals
are suitably restrained
so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage, or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”
That means if you ever have an accident that’s caused by being distracted by your dog, it can be considered “dangerous driving” and you’ll be disciplined accordingly.
Keeping your dog secure doesn't just help to prevent accidents and keep your licence clean, but it also keeps your dog safe.
Whether you’re on a long road trip or just a short drive to the shops, your dog must be secured in the car. We humans have to use a seatbelt on every journey, and our dogs should be kept safe and secure on every drive too.

How to secure your dog in the car

Use dog seatbelts

Some owners choose to use a harness and a dog car seatbelt when travelling with their dog in the car.
To safely travel with your dog this way, you’ll need to make sure they have a well-fitting harness that has passed the necessary safety test, and a dog seatbelt. These seatbelts clip onto your dog’s harness and plug into the seatbelt buckle. Other dog seatbelts have a loop that fits around the seat headrest.
Do be aware that some dogs may feel uncomfortable with this option, especially on longer journeys. They may prefer to be keptin the boot or in a cratewhere they can move around and lie down.

Dog guards

You could keep your dog in the boot of the car and use a boot guard. This guard prevents them from jumping over the backseats and roaming around the car where they can distract you.
However, if unrestrained, they can still move around in the boot. This can be more comfortable for your pup. But do consider that if you ever have an accident, there’s nothing to contain them if you stop suddenly so they could be injured.

Dog crates

Alternatively, you can use a dog car crate to safely secure your dog in the boot of the car. You can buy crates that are custom-made to your car, or buy a size that fits both your car and your dog.
Like any crate, it should be big enough that your dog can stand up, turn, and lie down inside it.
If your dog is already crate trained, they should be happy to spend time in their crate and it could help to settle them on long journeys.
The crate will also keep your pooch secure and safe if you stop suddenly, and could protect them if the car crumples.

What's the best way to keep your dog safe in the car?

According to veterinarian Dr Louisa Lane, dog seatbelts might make car rides uncomfortable for your dog.
"I'm not a massive supporter of dog seat belts. If your dog can't sit, lie down, or stretch, then they can't get comfortable. But if they're too loose, they can distract the driver by walking around!"
Instead, she advocates for safe boot spaces with a dog guard, or a dog crate when travelling with a dog in the car,
"I prefer a secure dog crate or safe boot space free from things to chew, and with a barrier to stop them jumping onto the back seat."
It’s generally considered that using a sturdy crate is the safest way of travelling with your dog in the car. It prevents your pet from being thrown around, and protects them if you happen to have an accident.
Plus, if your dog is already crate trained, they will probably find travelling in a crate to be the most comfortable option and it will help keep them settled.
The choice on how to secure your dog is yours. But you should consider the space you have available in your car, and the safety of you, your dog, and other passengers.

What you should never do when travelling with your dog in the car

Never let your dog hang out the window

Although your dog might enjoy the breeze and you might think it looks cute, you should never let your dog hang their head out the window.
It could lead to your dog being seriously injured if you pass too close to something.
You also should never open your windows fully when your dog is in the car, just in case they jump out.

Never leave your dog alone in the car

You should never leave your dog alone and unattended in the car. Even if the windows are cracked open, the temperature inside the car will become dangerously hot very quickly. Dogs left inside hot cars are at risk of developing heatstroke, which can put their life at risk.
Secondly, leaving your dog unattended could put them at risk of theft. You can find out more about dog theft and how to keep your dog safe in our podcast.

How to keep your dog comfortable on car journeys

As well as legally needing items like a crate or harness to keep your dog safe on car journeys, there are plenty of things you can do to help keep your dog comfortable when they’re in the car too.
Hopefully these tips will help to make travelling with your dog more enjoyaable and less stressful, for you and your pooch!

1. Always take water

You should always have water when you’re travelling with your dog in the car. You could take a travel water bottle, a pop-up bowl, or even a regular bowl. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as your dog has access to drinking water to prevent dehydration.

2. Make the car cosy

Your dog be kept comfortable in the car by sitting in a dog car seat, a blanket, or even their bed in their crate. You can also use sun shades on the back windows to prevent the sun from shining in, and they’ll help to keep your pup cool.

3. Take a stash of snacks

You shouldn’t let your dog eat a big meal before riding in the car, as it could make them car sick. However, you should take treats and some of their regular food on long journeys so they don’t go hungry.

4. Keep them entertained

Your porbably have the radio on to keep you entertained in the car, and if you travel with kids, you probably make sure they have plenty to do to prevent boredom. You should make sure that your dog has a toy or a safe longlasting chew to soothe and occupy them while travelling.

5. Go for a gentle walk before you go

It’s a good idea to take your dog for a gentle walk before you take them anywhere in the car. This means they can have some exercise, and most importantly, go to the toilet, making them more likely to settle down while you’re driving. Don’t let them do any high-energy exercise because this can increase their adrenaline levels which could make them anxious or unsettled once they’re in the car.

6. Enjoy pit stops

You’ll appreciate the chance to stretch your legs on a long drive, and your dog will too. Take frequent rest stops so your dog can go outside, get some fresh air, and have the chance to go to the toilet. This not only keeps your dog comfortable when you’re on the road again, but it also helps to keep them cool and prevent heatstroke.

7. Teach them that travelling is fun

If you have a puppy you should introduce them to being in the car as part of their socialisation. This means travelling in the car isn’t new and scary when they’re older. If you have an older dog who is nervous about travelling, consider working with a behaviourist to teach them that cars aren’t anything to be anxious about.

What to do if your dog doesn’t like being in the car

Can dogs get car sickness?

Dogs can get car sickness, or motion sickness, and it’s a surprisingly common problem.
Puppies and young dogs are more likely to suffer from car sickness. This is because their inner ear, which controls their sense of balance, hasn’t fully developed.
However, if your puppy has been car sick in the past, they might be nervous about travelling in the future as they associate it with feeling unwell.
Anxiety can also cause car sickness. If your dog rarely sits in the car, it’s understandable that they aren’t used to it and may be nervous and become sick.
Some dogs that are scared of the vet become anxious about car journeys as a result. This is because they associate sitting in the car, or a particular route, with a journey to the vets and the negative experiences there.

How to stop your dog from being sick in the car

Most puppies grow out of car sickness once they’re fully grown, so you might not need to worry about figuring out how to stop car sickness.
If your dog is sick in the car due to the stress of travelling, or an association they have with travelling, it’s important that you consult a veterinarian and a behaviourist. The vet can rule out any underlying issues, and the behaviourist can help you come up with a training plan to teach your dog how to be comfortable in the car.

How do you know if your dog has anxiety in the car?

If your dog is anxious or fearful about car rides, they might show these signs.
  • Vocalisations (Whimpering, crying, barking.)
  • Panting
  • Lip licking
  • Cowering or shaking
  • Reluctance or refusal to get in the car
  • Going to the toilet in the car

How to stop dog barking in the car

There are a few reasons why your dog might be barking excessively when they’re in the car.
Some dogs get territorial about the car, and want to guard it against any strange humans or dogs that come near it.
Other dogs are anxious about travelling and whimper or bark when they’re in a car. If your dog has learned that the car means they’re on a trip to their favourite walking spot (or worse, the vet!) they might be barking because they’re excited or worried.
To stop your dog barking in the car, you should first make sure they’re used to car rides and have everything they need to be comfortable. Work on getting them used to the car. If they’re secured in a crate when you’re on the move, make sure they’re crate trained too.
If your dog’s barking is because of stimuli outside the car, like passersby, you will need to work training your dog to be quiet on command. It’s a tough skill to master, so make sure to ask for help from a behaviourost if you need it.

Final thoughts on travelling with your dog in the car

It’s worth taking the time to get your dog used to being in the car. It makes travelling with your dog in the car much less stressful for you and your dog, regardless of whether it’s a short drive to the vet or a summer road trip.
Just remember it’s a legal requirement to keep your dog secure in the car. Using a dog seatbelt or a dog crate will keep you and your dog safe.
If your dog is suffering from car sickness or is anxious about car journeys, remember to talk to your vet to rule out any underlying illness. A canine behaviourist will be able to help you teach your dog to be more comfortable on car journeys.

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