Law and advice for car travel with dogs

Your dog may well be your best friend and regarded as part of the family, so it's natural to take them with you on any journeys you make in your car. Our dog car safety guide covers all you need to know about car journeys with your dog, to make it a safe and happy experience for all involved.

 When should I start car training my puppy or dog? 

It's a good idea to get your puppy or dog familiar with the car as soon as you can. The earlier they get used to travelling, the easier it will be in the long run. If you decide to crate train your puppy at home, consider using a crate in your car. In your dog's eyes, this is their safe place and will reassure them on your travels. It also keeps them from jumping around the car and distracting the driver.

Ideally, before you even go anywhere, show your pup the car and let them have a good sniff around. You can start the engine and let it run to accustom them to the sounds and vibrations. When you think they are relaxed, start with very short trips and keep each experience positive. If they think you are off to visit the vet each time they go in the car, their enthusiasm won't last long!

The law and suitable dog restraints

Did you know you could be breaking the law in the UK if you don't follow the rules set out by the Highway Code for travelling with dogs?

Your dog must be suitably restrained so they cannot disturb the driver of the car. You are expected to put them in a dog crate, pet carrier, or dog harness or use a dog guard for the car's boot.

Driving with pets is covered under Rule 57 of the Highway Code that states: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly.”

You could be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention if your dog isn’t properly secured and officers observe you driving with your dog on your lap or standing on the parcel shelf.

It isn’t just people who face a greater risk of discomfort on long drives. According to a recent study*, unrestrained dogs are also more likely to be distressed during car journeys. Researchers found the pets that were safely secured with devices such as seatbelt harnesses or a dog guard for a car boot had heart rates seven beats per minute slower than dogs that weren’t restrained in any way. 

Always check with your car and pet insurance company when travelling with dogs, as many policies require your dog to be restrained.

By law, any dog over 8-weeks old, who is outside of the house, must be microchipped and wear a collar showing their owner's name and address. This rule applies to dogs travelling in cars too.

For the complete set of rules surrounding animals and the law, read the Government's website here.  

Dog restraint options for your car

There are four main options for keeping your dog safe when travelling by car:

  • Pet carriers. These work well for smaller dogs. They are portable and lightweight so they are easier to manoeuvre than a metal crate. Place them in the boot of the car, if it is not a saloon car, otherwise on the backseat.  
  • Dog crates. These work particularly well if you have already crate trained your dog. It keeps them safe while giving them a sense of security when travelling. If you chose a crate, make sure it is big enough for your dog to stand and turn around.
  • Pet-safety harness. There are many options on the market suitable for all sizes of dog. Effectively, these are dog seat belts! Most are harnesses fitted to your dog and then clipped into existing seatbelts, allowing your dog to sit on the back or front seat of your car. If they sit in the front seat, make sure you de-activate the airbags on the passenger side.
  • Dog guards. These metal grills fit in between the boot of your car and the back passenger seats. They give your dog the freedom of the boot space but keep them safely contained within that area.

Keeping your dog comfortable on a car journey

When you head off on a road trip, keep your dog happy and comfortable by following this advice:

  • Stop regularly to give them a leg stretch and a chance to relieve themselves. Offer them fresh water each time you have a break as it can get hot in your car.
  • Dogs may appreciate air conditioning to help keep them cool. But don't point it directly at their face as it can be very uncomfortable for your dog. If you open your window, make sure your dog cannot jump out or stick its head out in case you hit any foliage on your journey. It could seriously injure them.
  • If they are nervous travellers, give them their favourite comfort toy or blanket to help them settle.
  • Never leave your dog in the car when it is sunny or on a warm day. Even in winter months or on cloudy days, the heat from the sun can be deceptive. Dogs can get heatstroke very quickly, which can be fatal. If in doubt, take your dog out of the car. Don't risk it.

How often should I stop with my dog in the car?

Vets recommend stopping to give your dog a break every two hours. Offer them a drink, a toilet break, and a chance to stretch their legs.

How can I help my dog with car sickness?

Car sickness in puppies is very common. Some will grow out of it, but others may suffer into adulthood. There are some things you can do to help them:

  • Avoid feeding your dog or puppy 2-3 hours before they travel.
  • Put down waterproof sheeting in case they do get sick. Travel with paper towels and a cleaning spray so you can clear up if you need to.
  • Make sure there is some fresh air coming into the car. If it is hot and stuffy, this could make their sickness worse.
  • Give them a chance to have a toilet break before you leave home so they are as comfortable as possible when the journey begins.

If you are worried about your dog being sick in the car, speak to your vet. They may be able to prescribe travel medication. If you have any behavioural issues that arise while travelling by car, contact a dog behaviourist for expert advice.

* The “Volvo Reports: Keeping Pets Safe on the Road” study 2019

With an Agria Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.