How to Travel With a Dog

If you have a dog, you might board them or hire a petsitter, but sometimes you have to travel with a dog. Traveling with dogs in the car over long distances or just briefly can be challenging. Whether you want some tips on how to fly with your dog or how to travel with a dog cross country or just how to travel with a dog in the car for a block, you've come to the right place.

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Chris Tepedino is a feature writer that has written extensively about auto insurance for numerous websites. He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and has experience reporting, researching investigative pieces, and crafting detailed, data-driven features. His works have been featured on CB Blog Nation, Flow Words, Healing Law, WIBW Kansas, and ...

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Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health in...

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Reviewed by Rachael Brennan
Licensed Insurance Agent Rachael Brennan

UPDATED: Jul 19, 2021

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A brief overview...

  • Driving is one of the most common ways to travel with your dog in America.
  • Dogs can harm others in a car during an accident, quoting that “in a 35-mile-per-hour accident, an unrestrained 60-pound dog would carry the force of a 2,700-pound projectile.”
  • Flying can be a convenient way to travel, but it can be difficult, unpleasant, and stressful for your pup if you don’t make the proper preparations
  • If the trip is long, make sure you have some way to either visit your pet or have someone check on them regularly to ensure they’re comfortable and have access to water or food

Many pet owners agree: dogs are an important part of the family. However, not all dog parents are aware of how to travel with their dogs.

As important as they are to the family unit, it’s hard to accommodate canine outings if they involve excessive driving, flying, or other forms of travel.

You’ll have to consider the risks involved with traveling with your dog. Since your pet could bring a whole set of unknowns to your trip, you should strongly consider travel insurance to cover that risk.

You may take them on short trips in the car, or on longer road trips, but dogs can cause major distractions in the car and distracted driving can be dangerous. One of the most important driving tips for road safety is to avoid distracted driving, after all.

Exactly how should dog parents drive and travel with their furry best friend?

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How to Travel with a Dog in a Car

Driving is one of the most common ways to travel with your dog in America.

It is also, perhaps, the best method of travel for dogs — as long as you do it correctly.

Many dog parents may just let their dog into the back seat or on their lap, unsecured, but, unfortunately, this can pose a serious risk to both the people in the car and the pet.

“New York Times” contributor, Tara Parker-Pope, discussed the numerous dangers of driving with an unrestricted pet.

Although distracted driving while texting and calling may be more commonly reported, driving with a loose pet also poses some serious risks. Parker-Pope noted the following dangers:

  • Dogs can harm others in a car during an accident, quoting that “in a 35-mile-per-hour accident, an unrestrained 60-pound dog would carry the force of a 2,700-pound projectile.”
  • Dogs can also seriously injure themselves by being knocked around during a sudden traffic stop, or even being flung from the car in minor accidents.
  • During an accident, pets can impede rescue workers that are trying to help the people inside the car.

As scary as it may be to get in an accident with your dog in the car, cars still represent one of the most convenient pet travel options, as you’ll have the ability to keep an eye on your pet and make sure they are comfortable throughout the trip.

However, it’s important to remember that safe driving also means your pet should be safe, as well.

Before taking another trip with your dog loose in the car, consider these safety measures to make sure you and your furry friend have a happy, safe, and comfortable experience.

Secure Your Dog

According to research collected by Pet Pro Supply Company, an estimated 84.4 percent of pet parents drive with their pet in the car, unrestricted.

Only about 16 percent of pet parents utilize proper safety restraints.

First things first: when driving with a dog you should always ensure the dog is secured in the car. As noted by PetMD, proper restraints can include crates, dog car seats, or a doggy seat belt adaptor.

However, not everyone will have access to a vehicle restraint for their pet. If that’s the case, then ensuring your pet is comfortable in the backseat (not on your lap) and is not likely to cause serious distractions can be the best option to minimize dangers.

In all, you’re not a bad pet parent or driver if you don’t restrain your dog, but accidents can happen. As such, it’s important to ensure that you do everything you possibly can to protect your family and your pet while driving.

Bring Extra Supplies

When packing for a trip, it’s important to not forget to pack for your dog, as well.

In the case of an accident or roadside emergency, you will want to make sure you have everything you would need on hand to help calm the dog, restrain them, and keep them out of further danger.

Plenty of bad things can happen as a result of a crash — from insurance rates increasing, to potentially serious medical or car repair bills.

The last thing you need to worry about is your dog getting hurt or running away after an accident, as well.

Consider packing these extra items before you head out:

  • Extra treats, food, extra water, and a water bowl;
  • Leash or restraining harness to keep your dog out of danger should an accident occur or for when you need to exit the vehicle;
  • A favorite toy, bed, or something from home to keep the dog comfortable if you’re in an unfamiliar or stressful environment.

Upgrade Your Car Insurance

Not all car insurance is created equal, and not all car insurance will cover every person involved in every type of accident.

It’s important to shop around and invest in more comprehensive coverage to ensure you, other drivers on the road and all your passengers are well covered.

Some car insurance options will also cover pet injuries, including vet bills or medicine, in the event that a pet is injured during a car crash.

While shopping around for rates, check to see if this coverage is also included with your insurance provider.

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How to Bring a Dog on a Plane

Traveling with a dog via airplane is usually less common for dog owners, although it’s steadily increasing in popularity.

Flying can be a convenient way to travel, but it can be difficult, unpleasant, and stressful for your pup if you don’t make the proper preparations. If you’re planning on moving with your dog and bringing it on an airplane, it may be best to check with your veterinarian before you do.

As noted in a 2016 USA Today post about air travel with pets, reports of animal injuries or death happen all the time, but mostly focus on cargo injuries.

However, even traveling with your dog under the seat in front of you can be dangerous, as well.

So what do you need to know about flight safety with your dog?

Research and Plan Ahead

Prior to purchasing your ticket, research which airlines have the most “pet-friendly” options available for you and your dog.

Every airline will have a different policy, and some airlines ban pets (except service animals) altogether simply to avoid issues.

However, many of the major airlines in the United States and around the world do allow pets on a flight, but each may have their own rules and regulations on how animals can fly and where they will be kept during the trip.

If you’ve already purchased your ticket, or you’ve already decided on an airline that suits you, familiarize yourself with the exact policy of the airline before you take your trip.

Keep in mind that some airlines may charge you an additional fee for flying with a pet.

Be sure to call ahead and notify the airline so that they can be prepared to accommodate you and your pet properly.

Speaking with a gate agent or customer service agent can also ensure you’re not missing any important information.

Cargo or Cabin?

You may not have much say on whether your dog will fly in the cabin with you or on its own in cargo, as much of this is dependent on the size of your dog.

If your dog is small (under 25 pounds), then your dog may be allowed to accompany you in the cabin.

You won’t be able to purchase an extra seat for your dog, however, and they will need to be stored under the seat in front of you in a proper carrier.

Keep in mind that some dog breeds that have a “pushed in” face (such as pugs, Shih Tzus, or bulldogs) may be particularly vulnerable to overheating and changes in oxygen levels, as their short nasal passages can make it difficult for them to breathe properly when stressed.

However, if you have a bigger dog, then it will most likely have to ride in the cargo space of the plane with the luggage.

As USA Today noted, trips in cargo can be uncomfortable, stressful, and potentially even dangerous for dogs.

Sudden turbulence or shifts in the plane can cause the dog’s crate or luggage to move around, and your dog could be anxious without anyone to comfort them during the trip.

If your dog cannot ride in the cabin with you, then it might be best to think carefully about whether or not your dog needs to come on this trip at all.

It may be safer to simply leave your pet at home, where they can be comfortable and someone can watch over them while you’re away.

Talk with Your Veterinarian

Prior to jumping on a flight, it’s important to speak with a veterinarian to ensure your dog is healthy enough to fly — especially if they might be going in the cargo holding area.

Some dog breeds, such as those mentioned previously, will not be able to fly comfortably, even for short distances due to a lack of oxygen in the cargo area.

Additionally, dogs with heart issues, anxiety, or other serious conditions may not be able to survive a flight unscathed.

Depending on the health of your dog, your veterinarian may strongly advise against flying. If that’s the case, then you may need to find another alternative for your pet.

However, if the veterinarian gives the all-clear, you can ask what additional steps you should take to ensure the dog is comfortable and not stressed during the flight.

The veterinarian may suggest anti-anxiety pills or calming treats to help your pet sleep through the endeavor, but you should never give your pet sedatives or other medications without first consulting a veterinarian.

How to Bring a Dog on a Train, Bus, or Boat

Finally, one last mode of transportation is the train, bus, or boat trip.

Although all three may be less common modes of transportation for pet owners and their dogs, they are still available, and each may pose less harm to your pet than flying in the cargo hold of an airplane.

Many train and boat companies have harsh restrictions on allowing pets onboard.

Even in large cities like New York, subway trains have banned pet animals on many of their busy lines — unless they fit inside a bag.

On typical passenger trains and cruise ships, dogs may be banned altogether, so it’s important to research all the pet rules and policies before heading out on your trip.

Conduct Thorough Research

Many train, bus, and boat companies only allow service animals on board, which means pet animals may not be able to travel with you.

However, some companies are beginning to change or adjust their policy to now allow regular pets to travel as long as they are contained or restrained.

One big train company, Amtrak, is now allowing small pets to come onboard for some lines. Additionally, Amtrak charges a fee to include a pet on your trip.

No matter what mode of transportation you decide to take, be sure to do thorough research about the rules and regulations related to pets, including size restrictions, carrier requirements, fees, and any other potential areas of concern.

Double-Check Policies

Similar to airline policies, some bus, train, and boat companies may have specific policies related to the size of the dog and how they are expected to travel.

Depending on the size, your dog may be allowed in the regular cabin, but larger dogs may still be required to stay in a cargo hold.

When doing your research, make sure the cargo hold area is protected from the elements and regulated to be comfortable for animals and humans.

Additionally, if the trip is long, make sure you have some way to either visit your pet or have someone check on them regularly to ensure they’re comfortable and have access to water or food.

Be sure to check these policies and contact the travel company in order to get further information.

No matter where or how you end up taking your dog on a trip, be sure that you always have their safety and wellbeing in mind.

They will appreciate it, and so will you when you arrive safely at your destination.

If you need to find travel insurance to protect your canine companion, use our FREE comparison tool to find the best rate.

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