Dog car travel tips: expert advice on keeping dogs safe and comfortable while travelling
Our complete guide to travelling in the car with your dog to make sure they’re safe and comfortable and your journeys are stress-free.
As a dog owner, you will know that travelling with your pet in the car isn’t always easy. It can often feel like the luck of the draw whether they will cry, bark, wee, or sleep. Luckily, it turns out that your dog’s behaviour is often linked to their comfort levels, so by enhancing these, we can shape their actions.
But, before making them comfortable, you must consider their safety, the Highway Code, and the risks to you and your dog whilst driving. Soon, a car journey with your canine can become a lot to think about and go from exciting to concerning.
So, to help you and your dog have stress-free journeys, The Recommended has put together a comprehensive guide to driving with your dog. To do this, we’ve enlisted the help of two dog behaviour experts, who have shared tips on keeping you and your four-legged friend safe and comfy.
Our dog travel experts
Our experts have over 30 years of experience in dog behaviour and have helped us understand driving with your dog and the best practices to follow when taxiing your pup around.
Our first expert is Adem Fehmi, a Canine and Feline Behaviour Association registered dog behaviourist and therapist. He’s also the owner of Dog-ease, a canine behaviour and training business based in Hertfordshire, where he helps dog owners train, manage, and overcome their pet’s behaviour issues. He also works closely with animal brands, including Barking Heads. Adem has previously spoken to us about the best dog toys, the best dog beds and the best dog crates to buy online.
Our next expert is Dr Jenna Kiddie, a companion animal behaviour and welfare specialist and Head of Canine Behaviour at the Dog’s Trust. Before joining the dog’s trust, Jenna was a senior professor at Anglia Ruskin University. She also provided consultancy and carried out research in the UK and internationally, spending the last 16 years working in academia, the charity sector, and as a consultant.
What the Highway Code says about travelling with your dog in the car
Before thinking about your dog’s safety and comfort in the car, knowing the Highway Code regarding travel with your dog is essential. Dr Jenna Kiddie explains that this is important because “a lot of dog owners don’t know the rules surrounding restraining dogs in cars and that the highway code actually rules that dogs must be restrained.”
The rule that Dr Kiddie refers to is number 57 on the Highway Code: “When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while 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.”
Drivers should always follow the Highway Code, and whilst it is not the law, many of its instructions are backed up by law and have legal muscle behind them. It’s important to remember and prioritise the Highway Code when thinking about travelling with a pet.
How to keep your dog safe when travelling
The Highway Code already states a few ways to keep your dog secure, but our experts explained them in greater depth. Dr Jenna Kiddie advised dog owners that safe travel methods depend on the dog’s size, age, and mobility.
For the average dog, she said: “I would always recommend that dogs should be placed in the backseat or the boot, as long as it is a hatchback-style boot. If you are putting them in the backseat, then they need to be harnessed properly to the seat/seatbelt to keep them safe.”
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When thinking about different sizes of dogs, she said: “If you have a large dog, then it may be comfier in the boot because they will need to have more space to move around and stretch. If you are doing this, then a boot guard will be needed. For smaller dogs, or as an alternative to harnessing, pet carriers or crates can be used to house your dog in the car.”
If you would rather have your dog in a crate rather than a seat harness, you can learn more about them and how they are used in our extensive guide to the best dog crates, with experts explaining which one might be right for your pup.
Adem Fehmi had similar advice and said to keep dogs in the back seats or boot. He also explained why young families should always opt for the boot. He said: “If you have children sitting in the back seat, I would then advise always using the boot or, at minimum, an enclosed car-safe pet carrier with sides that do not allow children and dogs to interact.
“This helps to ensure that you are able to stay focussed on driving, that you do not become distracted, and that everyone in the vehicle is safely contained and travelling in the safest way possible.”
In the worst-case scenario, when you would need to put your dog in the front seat, Adem said: “If you have to position your dog on the front seat for a particular reason, ensure they are not able to obstruct your access to the gearbox or other controls. You should turn the passenger airbag off so that, in the case of an accident, your dog doesn’t become injured by the airbag inflating.”
How to make your dog comfortable in the car
Once your dog is safe, it’s time to make them comfortable in the car. The last thing you want is barking, restlessness, or distractions, so how can you ensure your dog will enjoy the ride as much as possible?
Dr Kiddie explained that dog comfort starts with the advice for keeping them safe, and then you can think about ways to tailor their travelling experience. She said: “You can add ways to ensure your dog’s comfort throughout the journey. For example, if your dog travels in a crate or the boot, you can give them their favourite blanket or dog toy.”
The most common issues affecting your dog’s comfort are often harness related, mainly if the harness is not fitted correctly. Dr Kiddie explained: “The harness must be adjusted to suit the size of the dog, and when attaching your dog to the harness, they must be able to sit, lie, stand up, and turn around.
“You should make sure they won’t be able to get into the front or tangle themself up. It’s important to make sure the driver can’t be touched or distracted. The same rules of the dog being able to sit, stand and lie down go for using a crate to transport them or putting them in the boot.”
Adem Fehmi agreed with Dr Kiddie and advised that weather is a significant factor in how dogs react in the car. He said: “Think about the weather and use window shades to keep your dog both cool and out of direct sunlight. These are fairly inexpensive to buy, and you can fashion your own out of a piece of cloth. You can also use a dog cool mat in the car to provide extra comfort.”
How to know if you’re dog is comfortable in the car
Once you’ve taken steps to make your dog comfortable, how can you tell if it’s working? To help us answer this, our experts have explained how to analyse your dog’s behaviour and what to look out for.
Dr Kiddie says: “Dogs are really expressive, so you can usually tell how they’re feeling by taking note of their faces and bodies. You want to make sure that they aren’t tense, and this is especially noticeable across the brow and nose.
“You want their eyes to be in a rounded shape, ears in a neutral position (not turned back or round), and the tail should be loose and not held upright. These are all easy ways to monitor your dog’s comfort levels.
“To further monitor your dog’s comfort/relaxation levels, you can know the positive signs to look out for. A relaxed and confident dog is interested in what is happening around them and looks around. They shouldn’t be overly excited or barking as this suggests they could be overly excited, and barking could be distracting to a driver.”
How often should you give your dog a break when travelling?
When you’re in the middle of your drive comes the all-important question, when to stop for a break? You don’t want your dog to need a wee or become restless, so how long should you drive until you both have a stretch of the legs?
Adem Fehmi said: “It is important to schedule regular breaks where your dog can stretch their legs and go to the toilet. Remember that whilst some service stations will have a patch of grass your dog can toilet on, not all will, which may pose a problem if your dog is unwilling to go to the toilet on a path or concrete area.
“Where possible, do your research and plan the best ‘dog-friendly stops’ to visit along the way to ensure that your dog remains comfortable on your journey.” Dr Jenna Kiddie added: “On long journeys, drivers are meant to stop every two hours, so this is a good chance to check on your dog.”
Five dog travel risks: what to be aware of when travelling with your dog
The best way to keep your dog safe is to know the major risks when they’re in the car, so we asked our experts to give their take on the five biggest risks of travelling in a car with your dog. Knowing these should help you prevent any problems and avoid you having to react to them while on the road.
1. Hot weather
Dog expert Adem Fehmi advises "not to travel by car in hot weather unless absolutely necessary. In this instance, I would also try to travel in a car that has adequate aircon and where your dog is able to be shaded from direct sunlight. Heat stroke can be fatal for your dog, so remember to always plan ahead when possible and check the weather forecast.”
The last thing you want is for your dog to be sick in your car while you're driving. Adem advises that you "want to consider leaving travel at least an hour or more after your dog has eaten, just in case your dog experiences sickness from the motion of the car. Dr Kiddie reiterated this and said, “before going on a driving trip, don’t let your dog eat a meal within an hour of the journey to avoid stomach upset.”
3. Harness problems
Dr Kiddie advises that "the seat belt harness should never be on the collar because it increases the risk of strangulation. The harness must also be adjusted to suit the size of the dog, and when attaching your dog to the harness, they must not be able to sit, lie, stand up, or turn around."
“You should also make sure they won’t be able to get into the front or tangle themself up. It’s important to make sure the driver can’t be touched or distracted,”
We all know how important it is to keep your eyes on the road. With that in mind, Dr Kiddie advises that "if your dog is in a crate, it must be secure and not sliding around. There must be little to no risk of your dog escaping from its harness, boot, or crate, as this can cause injury to them and the driver.”
Last but not least, it's important that your dog remains inside your car at all times. as Dr Kiddie says, “even though it might be seen in movies, dogs should never have their head or paws out the window as the dog can be seriously injured by hazards such as debris and passing traffic. There is also a chance they could escape through a wide-open window.”
Want to read more expert-recommended pet product round-ups? Check out our Pets page for a full list of recommendations, including our list of the best dog beds, the best dog toys and the best dog treats, all recommended by dog experts.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.