Treats, poo bags and acceptance: what to pack for a roadtrip with your dog

You know, as a dog owner, that having a pet requires a lot of, well, stuff. There are leads, treats, favourite toys and more, and now they have to be packed up and put in the car or van.

So before you go, sit down and make a complete list of what to pack, especially if you are on an extended trip.

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For new doggy travellers, start with short trips to see how your dog takes to car travel and life on the road. Some dogs get car sick, some dogs simply don’t like driving and need to be desensitised. If you have not taken your dog anywhere, begin with a day trip.

Make an ice lick by freezing toys, bones, and chicken broth into a cake mold.

You will need to make sure your dog has its own space in the car – room to curl up, but also do a full sleep stretch. The more comfortable your pet is, the longer you will be able to drive. A happy dog is a calm and quiet dog.

If your dog is a nervous traveller despite the short test-trips, you can try calming sprays, calming chews or, if your dog is crate-trained, drive them tucked up in their safe space with a few handy toys to keep them amused.

Dog running in a parkA key question when travelling with your dog is: is this place appropriate for them? A spot full of no-go zones won’t be much fun for them. Photograph: Erik Anderson/AAP

Use a plastic pitcher to store and dispense dog food. It takes less time and keeps the food fresher. I use the MUJI rice storage dispenser, which comes with a handy measuring cup.

You must also make certain that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date, check their microchip and the details on any dog tags they might have (you don’t want an old phone number on there when you lose your dog in the middle of nowhere). If you don’t have a dog collar, get one. It will be well worth it when you think your dog is lost forever and you get a mobile phone call from just a couple of caravans away.

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Be prepared to up the treat quotient as your dog will be learning to do a lot of new things, and cope with a lot of new situations and stimuli. But make sure you factor these treats into your dog’s normal healthy diet. A road trip should not be an excuse for weight gain or poor diet, but like us on holidays, you might have to relax the rules just a bit. The number one thing to be aware of is to make sure your dog has an easily accessible supply of fresh water, or make plenty of stops so they can hydrate. We all know that dogs can die in hot cars, but that’s not only in parked cars.

For a dog who loves to tear apart stuffed animals, make a durable activity ball with a Hol-ee rubber ball, scraps of fabric, and treats.

You will need to accept that this road trip might get messy. You already know that your dog is happiest when he is crusted in the dirt of a great adventure, but sometimes that adventure is going to happen on a brief stop, and you are going to have a dirty dog ready to jump back in the car. You can prepare somewhat by carrying a short hose and a quick-dry towel with you but you will also need to pack a fair bit of acceptance.

A woman holds a dog poo bag while playing with her pet on a beachBringing dog poo pags is a priority – take many more than you think you’ll need. And consider their sustainability. Photograph: PBWPIX/Alamy
Be aware of local wildlife, both good and bad. We might all know that “everything in Australia can kill you” – from ticks to tiger snakes – but your dog doesn’t. He just sees a very exciting, scaly plaything, so make sure your dog is safe and under effective control.

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With that in mind, a key question when you are travelling with your dog is: is this place appropriate for them? You can take your dog anywhere, but should you? If your destination is a national park or a place full of other no-go zones, your pet will not have a very good time.

Equally, if your dog is elderly, has health issues or simply does not like to travel, then you should make sure that taking them with you is the best option. Do not limit yourself too much, but do make sure you consider the accessibility of the region and the capability of your pet when you decide if your dog should come with you.

Invest in an escape-prevention harness if you have a small dog and a fenced-in yard. A little silly looking, but safer than risking a runaway dog. Buy it here.

Once you have made the decision, it’s time to write the packing list.

A Bernese mountain dog puppyBringing a favourite ball or frisbee can help you wear out your dog – a tired one is more likely to want to get back in the car. Photograph: Tierfotoagentur/Alamy

What you’ll need for a weekend away

Vaccination papers
This is like a dog passport if you want to get some on-the-road doggy daycare or even just see a vet. Make sure you have it with you, and take a photo of it and store it on your phone as well. Have it in as many places as you can.

Dog poop bags
This should probably be number one, but make sure you take far more than you think you need. And in the spirit of being out in nature, consider the sustainability of your poo bags.

Grooming equipment
If you think you do a lot of grooming at home, wait for all the burrs, dirt and dust that the wide-open road offers. Pack everything you use at home, and if you’re travelling in a van you should also consider a hair dryer for your dog as they are going to get wet – a lot.

Use a Front Clip Harness to Prevent Pulling on Leash. If your dog pulls on his leash get a harness that clips in the front. The harnesses that clip on the back promote more pulling. And when you’re working on leash manners ditch the retractable leash for a regular 6 foot one so your dog can get the feeling of what loose leash walking means.

An older dog laying downIf your dog is elderly, has health issues or just doesn’t like to travel, it’s worth weighing up whether taking them with you is the best option. Photograph: DeirdreRusk/Getty Images/iStock

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Dog bed
Whether your pet likes to sleep on a rug, a pillow or a posh, plush offering, you need to pack something for them to chill on. If it still has the smell of home on it for the first leg of the trip, that is a good thing.

Crate or kennel
If your dog is crate-trained you will get a better night’s sleep by keeping up the routine.

Leads, collars and harnesses
You will need your usual walking equipment, but also a travel harness that clips into the seatbelt.

Keep a supply of flea and tick medication and wormers.

Cover of Paul Chai’s The Nomad’s Guide to Taking Your Dog on the Road in AustraliaRoad-ready: Paul Chai’s book. Photograph: New Holland

Favourite toys
With all this new excitement your dog is going to require some soothing, or some distraction, so be sure you have their favourite sleep toy if they have one. For breaks you need to have a ball or frisbee on hand so you can help to wear them out – a tired dog is much more likely to be happy to get back into the car.

Find ways to enrich your pet’s environment. Your dog or cat needs your help to stay mentally stimulated. This is important not only to discourage destructive behavior in younger pets, but also to keep your older pet’s brain sharp.

Plenty. For the back seat, for towelling off your dog, or for any doggy accidents.

  • This is an edited extract from The Nomad’s Guide to Taking Your Dog on the Road in Australia: A complete guide to travelling around Australia with your dog, by Paul Chai, published by New Holland. RRP $29.99.