Safety Tips for Driving with Dogs

| CJ Silvasi

Dogs need to be as safe & secure in cars as their human counterparts. Here are 6 tips for safely driving with your dog, as well as a handy Dog Car-Travel Checklist.


Whether taking a long-distance road trip or just heading around the corner to run errands, many pet owners want to bring their best friends with them. After all, most dogs love car rides, right? Dogs are part of your family, so of course you want to spend time with them, and with the holidays approaching, more people will be driving with their dogs to visit family.

Like all other passengers, you need to consider the safety of your dog while traveling in the car. Dogs can be a distraction while driving, and 27% of accidents are caused by distracted driving. This makes any journey more dangerous for you, your dog, and other drivers on the road, so take time to implement these safety considerations and reduce the risks as much as possible.

Restrict Your Dog’s Movements

Most people let their dogs wander the vehicle when traveling, with only 16% of drivers securing their dogs. Keeping your dog securely restrained in the car while it is moving is not only safer for them, but for you and the other drivers on the road. It is important to keep your dog out of the front seat. Not only to keep them from injury in the event of an accident (air bags are hazardous to small bodies), but it keeps them from climbing onto the driver for snuggles where they could make it difficult to steer, or get underfoot and block access to the brake pedal.

These situations can result in a major car accident, especially if you are traveling on the highway at top speed. Invest in a pet barrier to keep them in the back seat and reduce the temptation of front-seat snuggles.

Even if the dog does not leave the back seat, it is best practice to keep them harnessed.The velocity they experience during an accident or hard brake could break bones, cause concussions, or worse, so strap your dog in safely with a crash-tested harness for larger dogs or a seat basket for smaller dogs.

If your dog is nervous, particularly small, or impossible to keep from jumping about the car’s cabin, a crate is another good safety option for keeping them secure. You can comfort and calm them with their bed or the familiar space of their crate and keep them from bouncing around too much.

Keep Food and Snacks to a Minimum

You may be tempted to feed your dog or give them chews or treats while traveling to avoid delaying your arrival with a pit stop, but your dog won’t thank you for it. Give them a light meal a few hours before departure, and never feed your dog while in a moving vehicle. This is for their own comfort and well-being.

Lighter meals can help prevent an upset stomach, making the car ride more comfortable. Treats and food while in the moving car present a choking hazard, so if you’re on a long trip and your pup needs a snack break, pull over, get out of the car, and give them some time to fill their belly before hitting the road again. You’ll both be happy with the opportunity to stretch your legs a bit after a long time in the car.

Keep Them Calm

If your dog is an anxious traveler, you already know there are some extra steps you need to take to make them comfortable with the journey, but everyone can benefit by making their pooch feel more comfortable in the car. If you’re traveling far and staying away from home, bring their bed. It’s a familiar space that will smell of home and help your dog adjust to the changes around them.

Don’t forget about play time! Bring one of your pet’s toys so they not only have a trusted friend of their own, but you have a fun activity to do together when taking a break on the road. If your dog has particularly bad anxiety, reach out to your vet prior to your travels to see if they have any additional recommendations for your specific dog’s needs.

Never Leave Your Dog Alone in the Car

By now, this may seem like common sense, but it happens all too frequently and is dangerous for your dogs. We all know that the heat within a car will skyrocket, causing heatstroke in dogs left in a car during the summer, but did you know winter weather provides risks of freezing as well? Temperature aside, leaving your dog unsupervised in public is not a good idea. The risk of theft is higher than you may think, especially if your pup is a rare or pure breed.

Just like small children, dogs have a knack for getting into trouble when no one’s looking, and they explore the world with their nose and mouth. If your dog starts crawling around in your car while you’re not there, they may ingest something they find and you won’t know it until they’re sick, so keep an eye on them.

Take Time to Play Before You Leave

Your dog will be stuck in one spot for a long time, so take a few minutes for a good play session before you leave. This will not only help get rid of any anxious energy packing and preparing for the trip may cause, but will allow your dog to run themselves tired, so they are more comfortable sleeping for long stretches while in the car. Plus, it’s never a bad time to bond with your furry friend!

Be Prepared for Anything

This seems like a catch-all, but it’s especially important for long trips away from home. Look at where you’re going and do some research on local vets and emergency vets. Write their numbers and locations down, just in case. At the same time, keep your vet’s contact information handy so you or the emergency vet can reach out if there are any questions. Don’t forget to bring your pet’s medical and vaccination records.

If you haven’t already, reach out to your vet to get you pup microchipped. If they manage to escape during travel or you get separated for any reason, you’ll have a higher probability of being reunited.

Stock up on enough food and water for the trip and grab some travel bowls to keep in your car if you take your dog along frequently. Like we mentioned above, you’ll need to take your dog out of the car for food and water breaks, so bring a leash for potty breaks while you stretch your legs.

This is a lot to keep track of, but fear not, we have a handy travel checklist of the essentials for road trips with your dog below. Happy trails with wagging tails!

Dog Car-Travel Checklist

  • Leash

  • Water bowl

  • Bottled water

  • Food

  • Favorite Toy

  • Bed or blanket

  • Collar or harness with contact information

  • Medical records

  • Vaccination records

  • Vet contact information

  • List of emergency vets

  • Safety harness or basket for each dog

  • Space divider

  • Crate

  • Your camera for family road trip pictures

Take some of the stress out of the unexpected with Accident & Illness Coverage from AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company). Our dog pet insurance plans are designed to be there when you need them, allowing you to focus more on the health of your pet and less on costly veterinary bills. Click here for a quote today!

CJ Silvasi

CJ has always wanted to be a writer. She even threatened to drop out after her first day of kindergarten when they weren’t immediately going to teach her to read and write. Fortunately, she stayed in school, earned her degree in Creative Writing from Christopher Newport University, and now gets to live her best life with her husband, 3 Japanese Chins, and cat writing for AKC Pet Insurance.


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