How To Transport Large Dogs in a Car (Ultimate Guide)

How To Transport Large Dogs in a Car (Ultimate Guide)

Dogs, humanity's oldest companions, have been by our sides for millennia, and we love to take our four-legged friends on our excursions – no matter the distance. Today, automobile transport is the most common form of travel, but hitting the road with a dog can be challenging, especially if it is a large dog.

11 Travel Tips Large Dogs

  • Determine ahead of time where your dog will sit
  • Choose a suitable restraint option
  • Take breaks during your drive
  • Do not feed your dog just before transporting them
  • Formulate a stress-reduction strategy
  • Limit the number of treats you give before and during the trip
  • Keep your car comfortable
  • Pack a bag with your dog's necessities
  • Bring food and water
  • Exercise your dog before the trip
  • Keep your dog off your lap

  • 1. Determine Ahead of Time Where Your Dog Will Sit

    Deciding where your dog will sit is an essential step in transporting them. There are two primary options for large dogs–the back seat or the back cargo area.  Making this choice depends on a few things:

    • Laws & Insurance
    • Size and your dog’s temperament
    • Type of automobile

    Laws & Insurance

    Some states in the United States have strict laws concerning pets in transit. These states require that pets in a car be restrained or put in the cargo space to minimize driver distraction and keep pets safe in case of road traffic accidents.

    In some instances, transporting your dog in a crate or the cargo area of your car may be a requirement for insurance payout in the event of a road crash.

    Your Dog’s Size and Temperament

    A safe place to put large dogs is the rear seat. If this isn’t an option, the cargo area is the next best place if this isn't an option. However, they should be restrained to help protect them and make them comfortable. 

    One consideration is if you have a dog prone to snuggling up to you or seeking attention, leading to distracted drivers and accidents.  A harness in the back seat or hammock to keep the dog in the back may be needed.  

    Type of Automobile

    If you have a truck or a bigger car, you have more options - a rear seat or cargo area.  Regardless of your dog’s size or temperament, local traffic laws, where you place your dog, or your car size, it is essential to note local traffic laws. A best practice (and sometimes the law!) is to use a restraint like a harness or crate. 

    2. Choose a Suitable Restraint Option

    Many pet owners in America do not use restraints, but they are critical to help secure and protect large dogs while traveling. Options for securing your dog include:

    • Dog crates
    • Seat belt harness
    • Dog guards
    • Only use CPS-certified restraints for your dog during car rides.

    Using a Dog Crate

    Crash-tested dog crates are the best option to transport large dogs. Some dogs may be skittish about riding in a crate, but they do provide the best protection for your dog.  In some US states, using a dog crate when transporting a dog in a car is a law.

    The most important thing to look out for when choosing a crate is to pick the right size - this will be most comfortable for your pet. The MidWest Homes for Pets iCrate on Amazon is a great crate to use for large dogs because it’s spacious and gives them lots of visibility. Note that the size of some dog crates might require putting down your back seat or putting the crate in the cargo area.

    Using a Seat Belt Harness

    A seat belt harness keeps a dog secure in one position in a car. Harnesses are especially effective for well-behaved dogs; they work just like seat belts, and come in various designs. 

    Generally, the best choice is a harness with a full chest plate that works like a leash. This type of harness offers optimum comfort while in transit and the best protection for your dog in a car crash.

    VavoPaw's dog harnesson Amazon is an example of a fully-functional and easy-to-use harness that you can use to transport your dog safely.

    Whatever harness you choose to use, be sure to follow the instructions that come with that particular product to ensure that you are using it correctly and that your dog is safe and comfortable.

    Using a Dog Guard

    Dog guards keep dogs away from the driver while in a car and are sometimes called dividers or back seat barriers. They are a collection of bars that separate the back seat or the cargo area from the rest of the car. Well-designed dog guards also provide some protection to your dog in the event of a crash. However, to adequately protect your dog, using a restraint while using a dog guard is optimal.

    The Rabbitgoo Dog Car Barrier on Amazon is an example of a dog guard that helps to keep your dog safe in the cargo space while traveling and is relatively inexpensive.

    3. Take Breaks

    When traveling with your dog, take regular breaks to give your furry friend time to exercise, eat and use the bathroom.  Ideally, a stop every three hours or so, for 20 minutes, to allow your dog to burn off energy. Remember to keep your pup on a leash during their exercise.  Other tips include:

    • Plan your trip ahead of time to know the best time and place to take breaks
    • Remember to hydrate your dog often and pack lots of water
    • Do not leave your dog alone in the car, especially on hot days. If you have to leave your dog, ensure the air-conditioner is on and you’re only away for a couple minutes. Large dogs have a higher risk of overheating, and on hot days, the inside of your car may quickly reach up to 110 °F (43 °C)

    Check state laws - in some states, leaving a dog in a car alone is illegal, no matter if air-conditioning is on..

    4. Do Not Feed Your Dog Just Before Transporting Them

    Some dogs get car sick, and this is usually a result of them eating before travel.  It’s best if your dog travels on an empty stomach.  An empty stomach can also help reduce stress on your dog. The best time to feed a dog is at most three hours before a car trip.

    5. Formulate a Stress-Reduction Strategy

    Dogs naturally get stressed during transport. Although it is impossible to completely get rid of your dog's stress completely, there are a few ways to reduce it. Talk to your vet well before a long car trip for the best solution for your dog.  They may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to keep your dog more relaxed as possible during transit.

    Here are a few more tips to help manage the stress on your dog during transport:

    • Try using over-the-counter anti-anxiety medicine for your dog. Treats like True Leaf Pet's Calming Chews from Amazon contain CBD, which may help soothe and calm anxious pets. Remember to exercise caution by testing how your dog reacts to the medication before transport to know what to expect. 
    • Stay calm. Dogs are acutely aware of their owners' body language and might pick up on and mirror your anxiety.
    • Bring a piece of home. Providing your dog with their favorite chew toy or other familiar items can help limit their anxiety. 

    6. Limit the Amount of Treats You Give

    It is no news that large dogs eat a lot, but it’s important to limit treats to break times, as too many treats can cause upset tummy and vomiting. 

    Refrain from feeding your dog in a moving car because this can cause the dog to choke. In addition, reaching around to feed your dog is a dangerous driving distraction. You can make up for missed rewards when you get to your destination.

    7. Keep Your Car Comfortable

    Keep your furry friend happy and calm with a comfortable space during long trips.  This includes putting your dog in their favorite seat and keeping the temperature comfortable.  Install a good car seat cover, designed for your dog’s comfort and safety, for your pup to sit/lay on and to protect your vehicle from scratches, drool, and other doggie messes. car seat cover. Plush Paws Products has a variety of car seat covers available, making it easy to find something that will keep your pup comfortable while also protecting your vehicle and fitting your personal style and needs. 

    8. Pack a Bag With Your Dog’s Necessities

    Put a bag together with your dog’s traveling items to ensure you and they have everything needed.  This can include: 

    • A leash
    • Treats and water
    • Food to last the whole trip (plus extra, just in case)
    • A bottle of water
    • Medications
    • Waste bags
    • Paper towels
    • Your pet's medical records (in case of emergency)
    • Some toys
    • Disinfecting wipes

    Put the travel bag in an easy-to-reach place for quick access.  An excellent essentials bag is the Modoker's Pet Travel Bag. It includes travel bowls, a water placemat, and more! 

    **Make sure to tag your dog correctly. Tagging is vital to help identify your dog in case they are separated from you.. Using a microchip is very effective, but a dog collar will work fine.

    9. Bring Food And Water

    Pack food and water for your trip.   If your dog eats raw good, ensure that you keep it as cool as possible and in an airtight container, and do not feed it to your dog if you suspect it has gone bad.  

    Canned dog food requires refrigeration but can last for up to three days if stored properly. Make sure to feed your dog from a new can for every meal to avoid making your pet sick. Always follow the storage instructions provided by the manufacturer for optimum storage methods for canned foods.

    Dry dog food is the most efficient choice to feed your dog while traveling in a car. To store dry foods, place them in an airtight container and keep them in a cool and dry place. Take extra care to make sure that the food does not get wet.

    Remember moderation - give your dog smaller amounts only when on planned breaks.  Provide water throughout the whole trip to keep your pup hydrated.

    10. Exercise Your Dog Before the Trip

    Working off a dog's energy before a road trip is the best way to keep them calm and well-behaved during a car ride. If your dog is higher energy, vigorous exercise is best while a lower energy dog may just need a walk to tired them out.

    11. Keep Your Dog Off Your Lap

    Although it can be hard to say no to your furry friend, carrying a dog in your lap while driving or traveling increases the chances of road traffic accidents and is illegal in several states in the United States.  Keep them in their designated spot for safety and comfort for all passengers.

    Do Dogs Like Car Rides?

    Generally, dogs love car rides. For them, it is an exciting adventure, and time with their ‘pack’ - you!

    Here are a few leading theories about why dogs enjoy car rides:

    • The prospect of treats or a a delicious meal. Most dogs realize that car rides carry the promise of treats and will eagerly jump at the chance to get rewards.
    • The promise of an adventure. The open road is as enticing to dogs as humans and is enough cause for your dog to jump into your car.
    • It reminds them of hunting. Dogs are descended from wolves and still retain their hunting instincts. Riding with you in a car may trigger an innate instinct that excites them.
    • It is a mobile home. Most dogs see no difference between a physical home and a mobile home and will joyfully accompany you everywhere as long as they get to be around you.
    • It is an olfactory adventure. The smells they may experience during road trips may be exciting to some dogs.

    However, some dogs may see car rides as extremely stressful experiences and may shy away from even a short trip to the grocery store. Usually, this might result from a negative experience or motion sickness. Other solutions include:

    • Practice with short car rides. Frequent trips down the street or to get groceries will help your pet get accustomed to car rides
    • Professional dog training can go a long way in helping your dog manage stress and helping to build and reinforce positive automobile etiquette. 

    Key Takeaways

    As long as you prepare beforehand, transporting a large dog in a car is less of a hassle than you think. The most important thing is to keep your dog secure, comfortable, well-fed, and happy. Make sure you stock up on all of the right necessities for your trip, including some of our products here at Plush Paws.

    Remember to check in on how well your dog is doing throughout the trip whenever you travel with them. Take note to follow all the tips and advice in this article for the best experience for you and your dog, even if it is their first road trip. If done correctly, your dog will immediately recall and accept the pattern after that.


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