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My puppy Niffler is 4.5 months old. Over the past week, he’s slept in hotels, AirBnbs, and cabins and driven 17+ hours from Montana to California. Here are my tips for road tripping with a puppy.
Your experience will vary depending on the age and personality of your puppy. Niffler has been a really easy puppy so far; he’s mostly potty trained and has been for a month. He doesn’t chew much and is quiet in the crate. All of this makes my life MUCH easier. Even if your puppy is younger or less well-behaved, I think you’ll find this helpful.
- Ensure your puppy is ready for the trip. If your puppy isn’t comfortable in the car at highway speeds or panics whenever you’re out of sight, it might be better to delay your trip or find a dogsitter. You and your puppy might both have more fun if you’re not constantly stressed out about her chewing, potty training, socialization, shots, or other common puppy concerns.
- Plan for dog-friendly stops. It almost goes without saying, but you’ll need to find dog-friendly hotels and a creative way to eat meals. Hotel chains including Red Roof Inn, La Quinta, Motel 6, and Best Westerns are usually dog friendly. Confirm when you book; there may be fees or size/breed restrictions. Many restaurants aren’t dog friendly either, so plan on getting to-go food and eating at a park with your dog or setting up your car so that your puppy can safely wait in the car while you eat.
- Take extra breaks. Most rest stops have a dedicated pet area – but this isn’t safe for unvaccinated or undervaccinated puppies. Instead, I often check AllTrails for OHV (off-highway vehicle) trails. These are often remote and dog-friendly, but far less popular and therefore unlikely to have parvo-carrying feces along the trail. Puppies need lots of extra potty breaks compared to adult dogs. On our ten-hour driving days I usually stop every 2 hours to let the dogs stretch their legs.
- Pack extra food and water. Puppies eat more than you think – I almost ran out of Niffler’s food on his first trip because I forgot he eats lunch! Puppies also dehydrate really easily, so it’s smart to have a gallon jug of water. This makes it easy to offer water to your puppy every time you stop.
- Bring a puppy containment system. I brought a foldable fabric crate with us, and it’s been a lifesaver. When I saw that our hotel room had pristine white sheets but we needed to leave to get dinner, I simply popped Niffler in the crate with a bully stick! This really reduced my stress levels. If you have a bigger car, a wire crate would be better because it’s less likely that your puppy will damage the crate and escape. I drive a mini Prius, though.
- Pack a variety of toys and chews. I brought some codfish rolls, bully sticks, pig’s ears, tug toys, squeaky toys, and some balls. The pacifiers (edible chews) help keep Niffler happy in the car or alone in the hotel. The toys ensure that he had lots of good options to play with other than my socks, the hotel pillows, or other inappropriate options.
- Be flexible. I noticed that Niffler was getting a bit antsy on one of our long car rides, so I pulled over for an extra-long play session at a rest stop. This slowed us down but was worth it for both of us to have a good experience. Just pay attention to your puppy’s needs and work to meet them.
Kayla grew up in northern Wisconsin and studied ecology and animal behavior at Colorado College. She founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She’s an avid adventurer and has driven much of the Pan-American Highway with her border collie Barley. She now travels the US in a 2006 Sprinter with her two border collies, Barley and Niffler. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams.