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How To Travel Safely With Your Dog

Traveling with your dog can be a wonderful experience. One of the major benefits is you will get to spend your trip alongside your four-legged friend. With the holiday season rapidly approaching, there is a chance you will find yourself taking your dog for a ride in the car. Whether you’re taking a day trip to the beach, or planning to cross the nation on a lengthy road trip, there are very important safety factors and risks to consider.

While traveling is fun, the reality is that it does bring its own risks. There are over six million car accidents in the United States every year, and for those of us traveling with animals, there are added dangers that can put the safety of our animals in peril. If the worst happens and your dog is unrestrained in your car, their life (and those of others in the vehicle) are at risk. Many dog owners simply don’t realize that if you let your dog ride next to you in the front seat, the impact from an airbag can crush them. 

Just as you would take safety precautions before bringing your family on a long car ride, it makes sense to follow the same approach when your dog is with you.

Use a strong, resilient crate

Our strongest suggestion for traveling with your dog is to use a robust and resilient crate or cage enclosure. Now, I will be the first to admit I grew up with dogs riding freely in the car with me and the image of a Labrador sitting with its owner in their pickup truck is very American. However, there is a significant risk to your dog and others if they are loose in the vehicle and you must be aware of what the consequences could be if you are making that choice consciously. There are numerous options for securing your dog when traveling in a car. If you look across the Internet, you’ll see guidance which recommends harnesses, restraints and even hammocks to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, in an accident – particularly one where the car has flipped – there is no guarantee that your dog would remain tethered or safe using any of these devices.  

Instead, we recommend using a high-impact, durable dog crate or cage when traveling with your dog. This is, without doubt, the safest way to transport them. In the event of an accident, there is no danger of your dog being tossed around the vehicle, and energy from the accident should be absorbed and dissipated. As with other types of dog equipment, it pays to do your research before making a purchase. Many of the crates and products out there are not created equal. For example, a cheap, plastic crate with a weaker structure is likely to provide little protection in a severe collision but may be the right crate for air travel or to have at home. 

An entire sub-industry has emerged around transportation options for your dog. As mentioned above, there are multiple options on the market for crates that are designed with molded plastics to withstand the force of an impact from a car accident. There are also even more robust cage inserts for the backseat(s) and cargo area that are completely rigid and made of metal. The price point on all of these varies and each brings something unique to the table, however this is not one of those times where the most expensive option necessarily gives you a lot more than something cheaper. 

Some of the molded plastic crates that are specifically designed and tested for car accident impacts include Cabelas brand, Dakota 283, Gunner, Lucky Dog, and Ruff Land Kennels among others. There are nuances to each. As a local South Dakota company, I personally have used Ruff Land Kennels for almost 10 years. 

One of the major concerns you will find in comments and questions for all of these crates is what is the right size crate to buy. The answer is, it depends. Whereas with air travel, the airlines have very specific requirements that often leads to a much bigger crate size than what would be required for car travel. When looking at sizing options, some of the companies provide diagrams and all certainly provide measurements of the crate itself. What you are looking to achieve with your crate is for your dog to have enough space to lie down and turn around, but not necessarily have a lot of “extra space” around them in order to provide the required protection in the event of an impact. Therefore, you will not find a cookie cutter answer on any of the websites for sizing the crate to your dog. Reach out to us at if you are looking for guidance on which crate may be best for your circumstances.

In addition, housing your dog in a crate during a trip prevents drivers from becoming distracted by their pup, which can often contribute to reduced concentration on the road.

Bring identification tags and necessary equipment

Some other important things to consider when traveling is to bring your dog’s identification tags and necessary equipment. While your dog should already be wearing its collar before leaving your home on a trip, make sure that you have up-to-date contact information on the identification tag. Remembering to update the details on your dog’s ID tags if you move or change phone numbers can sometimes be something we forget. In terms of additional equipment, you should pack a leash and waste bags as an absolute minimum. If your dog is trained off-leash, make sure to bring your dog’s electronic collar (E-collar) and the accompanying remote. For longer trips, make sure to pack the E-collar charger.

dog leaning out of car

Pack water, food and first aid essentials in your car

There are items that it is recommended you always have in your car – just in case you break down on a backroad in the dead of night, and support will take a while to reach you. These items typically include a warm blanket, bottled water, some snacks (such as energy bars), a light, and a small first aid kit.

Just as it is important to have essentials for you in the car when traveling, you should do the same with your dog. Make sure you have water and a water bowl (a collapsible travel bowl can save on space) in addition to a couple of portions of their food. Pack a first aid kit that is specifically designed for your dog, ask your veterinarian what types of items to include or you can buy pre-made kits online.

Keep the temperature comfortable and don’t leave your dog unattended

We’ve all seen the memes and information shared on social media regarding how quickly cars can heat up when left in direct sunlight. Temperatures can rise by 20F in ten minutes, and 30F in twenty – which can quickly lead to significant health complications for your dog. In some jurisdictions, it is actually illegal to leave your dog unattended in the vehicle.

Make sure that the temperature in the car is comfortable for you and your dog. Even when the car is in motion, dogs may struggle to get the airflow they need (particularly if, for safety reasons listed above, they are in a crate). Ideally, air vents in your car should be directed to circulate the air around the entirety of the vehicle. 

Bring toys and engage with them when you have the chance

This isn’t strictly safety-related, but it will make the trip more enjoyable for your pup. When people travel on long car journeys, we aren’t usually sitting in silence – we get the mental stimulation we need from conversing with other passengers, listening to music, or absorbing our favorite podcast. 

For dogs, the act of traveling can be a pretty boring one (at least until they get to their destination). You can alleviate their boredom by bringing toys along to engage with them if you stop for a bathroom break. Additionally, take a few minutes to work on obedience with your dog or go on a short walk before resuming your journey. This will give them some much needed mental and physical stimulation to break things up.

In conclusion

As we said at the outset, traveling with our dogs should be an enjoyable experience – but above all else, it should be a safe one. Following the best practices listed in this article will help you to prepare for your next car ride with your pup! As always, if you have any questions, reach out to us to discuss your training needs.

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