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Lessons Learned Moving Cross-County with Dogs

Hi Pet Blog Readers, It’s been a long hiatus since my last post but for a good reason. My husband and I sold everything and followed our hearts and dreams to Alaska, The Last Frontier. I know it sounds crazy, it felt crazy! It was an incredible journey to get to my new home in the 49th state, and that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

Moving Cross Country3 dogs, 2 adults, 1 Subaru and enough belongings to get by for 2 months; we could have been a very entertaining Subaru commercial, had there been any room for camera equipment!

The 4,579 miles from our lifelong home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Chugiak, Alaska would take just over 6 days to complete, with no time for sightseeing. That kind of a journey doesn’t just happen on a whim; it took months of careful planning and preparation to ensure our safe journey across North America. I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned driving cross-country with my dogs.



Keep Pets Safe in the Car

Safety is the number one concern for driving cross-country. Our dogs are notoriously rambunctious in the car and we feared having to battle to keep them in the backseat while driving on a busy highway. I researched backseat barriers and travel harnesses at length.

The harnesses didn’t appear to be a good option for us because we would have three dogs in the backseat for days at a time. We didn’t want to limit any of their sleeping options; like the floor of the backseat. We didn’t know if they would tangle themselves while racing from window to window, and we didn’t have time to experiment. So, instead, we opted to install a backseat barrier. Being cost-cautious and of the mindset that any visual barrier would deter our dogs, I chose a mesh one with buckle fasteners.

We did test drives using the barrier with success in our home town. However, once we boarded the car with our luggage, everything changed and the dogs became more aware of every weakness in our system.

Lesson Learned: Do Your Research

If I had it to do over again, I’d gladly shell out the extra cash for a solid barrier properly installed in the car. Within the first 5 minutes, Gatsby and figured out how to maneuver into the front seat, the other two not far behind. We had to sacrifice some shoelaces to shore up the weak points.

Proper Hydration and Nutrition for Travelling Pets

Gatsby in the Front
We found a large cup that fit snuggly into the backseat cup holders. Every time we stopped we filled up the cups in the back and the dogs could drink whenever they needed to during the ride. It was messy, but effective.

If you can, leave enough space in your luggage for 1 gallon per 3 days of water using the water that your dogs drink at home. I should have taken 9 gallons of water, but I only stashed 3. I assumed I would refill at hotels and stops along the road.


Dogs WatersideThe reason for storing their regular drinking water is to avoid the very slight chance that the dogs would get sick; caused by the different chemistries of water from state to state. We were also traveling through remote areas of Canada and I didn’t know anything about the water quality in that region.


I wish I had taken more water not because of the water quality but because I forgot to refill our gallons more than once. This oversight caused us to need to purchase spring water from the next gas station; an unnecessary expense in added to an already expensive trip.


Lesson Learned: Pack more foodShowing the effects of a long trip

We packed enough dog food for our trip, plus one extra week. We had one week of food left when we got to Alaska, and the two local pet stores don’t sell our brand! Gasp!

Traditionally, to avoid gastrointestinal distress, you should slowly wean your pets off their old food and on to a new food over a period of 1 to 2 weeks. I didn’t have that kind of time.

We used the three or four days we had to wean them faster than usual. Luckily, we averted dietary-disaster and the dogs transitioned to a new food without much more than some extra gas. I would’ve appreciated more time to properly research my options and transition to a new dog food.



Crowded seatPack Light

Bring some of the comforts of home. The keyword there is ‘some’. The small collection of toys and dog chews quickly became overkill and a burden in our heavily laden car. Maybe pare it down to one favorite toy or chew per dog plus a thin blanket.

Leashes & Identification On At All Times

Lesson Learned: At all times means at all times

I let my guard down. I was tired after long days of riding in a car. I checked us into the hotel, entered the room, removed the dogs’ leashes and got ready for bed. I forgot, however, that my husband would be bringing some of the luggage into the room in a few moments.

ArrivedThe card reader beeped and the door opened. In a blur, all three dogs were racing down the hall into the lobby and towards the front door before we had time to react!  One of my dogs is skittish and the first slight noise sent her scurrying back to me where I held onto her collar. My husband ran after the two excited escapees and was able to herd them back into the hallway where I could lure them back into the room with desperate offerings of treats and food.

I don’t like to think about losing my dogs, but I’m prepared. Microchips are great and I have heard a lot of wonderful stories about microchip reunions, but the remote areas I was traveling through wouldn’t have regular access to microchip readers, or even internet access. I relied on a backup of up-to-date ID tags. I had just my dog’s name and our cell phone numbers

Worlds Largest Truckstop SignTime Zones May Change, But A Dog’s Internal Clock Doesn’t

We travelled across 4 time zones, but our dogs were still hungry at noon instead of 4:00pm. Prepare for some transition time.

Never Travel Alone

I had the misfortune of coming down with mild food poisoning during our trek through Canada. I would have been in trouble if I were traveling alone. Thankfully my husband did not suffer this fate and was there to help with the dogs and all the added stress that they bring to a cross- country car trip.


Road into mountains

So Many Lessons, Not Enough Time

I could probably continue to write about this for days and still have advice left to give. All in all, we were very well prepared and made it safely without any major incidents. The lessons we learned were infinite, and I’m sure yours will be too. I can sum it up with one statement: It was an adventure that I wouldn’t be quick to repeat; but one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’m really interested to hear if any of you have your own tales of the road with your furkids and any lessons you’d like to pass on to fellow travelers? Reply below. Safe travels, everyone!


  1. avatar

    Hello! I am going to move to another town with my two dogs and I am so excited. I hope that they won’t be so stressed while the traveling. We are moving in a bigger house with a yard and I am sure that they will like the space there.

  2. avatar

    Good luck to you! In my experience, just being with you will keep them happy. As long as you are stress free, they will be too 🙂

  3. avatar

    Thank you, great article about dog’s training. I found more about obedience training specifically here: http://dogsaholic.com/food_treats/raw-food-diet.html

  4. avatar

    I have a puppy called James and we are going to move to Australia. I am glad that he is still a puppy because I think that he will get used with the change faster. Thank you for sharing this helpful article!

  5. avatar

    Hi Alex, thanks for your feedback!

  6. avatar

    Good tip on packing more food. Traveling can give some pets anxiety so plenty of treats, as well as food and water is a must. Thanks for the advice!

  7. avatar

    What type of pet supplies would I need to bring for my dog when going to a different state? My wife is thinking of bringing the dog with us out in the east coast. From what we know is that the climate would be quite different out there compared to the climate here in the west coast of Oregon. http://www.surreymeatpackers.com

  8. avatar

    Hi Correy, thanks for commenting! As Heather mentioned, the essentials would be food, water, leashes and identification. Maybe also a nice chew toy to occupy their time. The weather here on the east coast is pretty warm this time of year so blankets or dog clothing is probably not necessary. Hope that helps, please let us know if you have any other questions. Thanks!

  9. avatar

    I’m so worried for my terrier Rusty, I’m moving cross states in two months and I’m taking him with me. Thank you so much for the info, I hope more people read it!

  10. avatar

    We are a military family and have moved our dogs from Japan to California. And from California to North Carolina last summer. That last trip also included 3 cats as well as our 2 children. All in two vehicles.

    Just two weeks ago I ventured from North Carolina to California with just one of our Labradors by myself. We are getting ready to drive back this week. I have a two door car and she rides seat belted up front. A reflective harness is a must. Night travel is much cooler in the summer. Although not recommended for the easily scared, or those with dogs still in training. Also I use a 3 gallon bucket for her water.

    A 24 inch leash is great for hotel check in. And martingale style collars are a must. I found a fan at a camping store that fits in the car plug so she can have extra air on her when we stop for coffee. I admit she is well traveled and that does help. But with a little extra preparation the trip was a success and I’m hoping the return is also wonderful. We only stay at LA Quinta hotels as they’ve so far allowed our large dogs no problem.

    Another suggestion is fold up kennels. My dogs are large and actually use them like hamster balls. But, they are handy for emergency situations so I do keep on folded up in my back seat. They are great for cats as well, and containing litter boxes in hotel rooms.

    Good luck to all traveling with their fur babies.

  11. avatar

    Hello, It is always an adventure to travel with your dog. My dog loves sitting on my back seat. When he was a little puppy I visited a seacoast with him. He was the most patient puppy. Thank you for sharing your article. Best regards!

  12. avatar

    We’re about to start our trek from Brooklyn to Palm Springs, California with our two best pals, one a thirteen-year-old beagle named Pepe and the other a half beagle/half Jack sweetheart rescue (seven-years-old?) named Luna. All of this has been VERY helpful about preparing us for the long trek with stop for sightseeing. Because let’s face it… it’s TOTALLY all about the dogs!!! 🙂

  13. avatar

    Thanks for sharing your experience. This is exactly the kind of help I needed. We’re moving next month and I’m coming back to this site to refresh the info. Thank you. Sharing this!

  14. avatar

    Sadie, my black lab and I just returned from a North Carolina to Michigan adventure.

    Just a reminder to watch the pest! Fleas and mosquito type pest! Each rest stop potty break presented a new type of yuck!

    Because of my extreme allergies I carry an epi-pen. And I’m always looking before I exit my vehicle, watching other travelers are they swatting, are dogs itching?

    I think we will wait for cooler Temps before our next road trip. Less bugs!

  15. avatar

    Hi, I just read your thoughts after doing some more reading for my upcoming trip. We just brought a house in Wasilla AK and will be traveling from Alabama. With 6 dogs….I am concerned about hotels that will accept us? And I will be pulling my travel camper but I read that most rv sites are closed for winter and I will be going at the end of November. I wouldn’t mind saying at camps with our RV as then the dogs would be fine but I have read the further north you get the more that will be closed.

  16. avatar

    Hi Amy, You may experience some bad weather, but there are camping sites that remain open year round. I have only experienced a few that have closed during the winter months, but that would fall into December-March. Just by using the keywords “year round campgrounds” I was able to pull up a list on Google designated in my area. Try using Gopetfriendly.com’s road trip planner. You can actually plug in your destination from start to finish, and it will bring up suggestions based on what you are looking for. I hope that helps, and please let us know if you need any more information 🙂 Happy travels!

  17. avatar

    Thank you all so much for your experiences. We built a cabin in Va next door to my 80 yr old mom. It’s done but I have to figure out a way to get there. I’ve got 3 dogs and one cat (1 dog will chase cat) and a sick husband that needs to stay in Tx for doctors and elderly father. So I have to find a way to make this trip alone. Dog fence even up on other end waiting. Oldest dog is Bassett that thinks everything fun, but has prostrate issues and won’t stop whining & barking. Next is Catahoula who is my baby & very skittish. Then the 4 yr old Boxer that is ok with everything until a squirrel enters the picture. Already shipped enough to household stuff. I need to go and at least try the place out. Then decide if dogs go back & forth or just me & hubby. Any suggestions on doing this animal trek alone?

  18. avatar

    Hi Kathy, You can make this trip alone. It may seem difficult, because it is a lot for one person to take in. I would suggest having the pups in the back, and purchase a car seat barrier. This will keep the dogs contained in the back, but not as limited as being kept in a carrier (which will help to decrease their traveling anxiety). I would also keep your cat in a carrier, in your front seat. Your cat will likely not care as much (may meow during the trip due to uncertainty), but you can put a blanket in the carrier or a shirt that your cat likes to help decrease its anxiety. I would also suggest taking a few “practice runs” with the dogs if you can. Start with a trip around the neighborhood, and slowly increase your time out. Driving from Texas to Virginia, you will likely have to make one stop or two. If you don’t already, get a double harness for the two dogs that like to chase cats and squirrels, and a single leash for the other dog. From my understanding the one dog seems more laid back, so getting him out will not be an issue. Keep the other dogs harnessed while traveling, and hook up the leash before getting out of the car. You can hang the leash on the hanger (by the door) before opening your car door, that way you can grab it with ease once the door is opened (as opposed to struggling to hook up the two dogs as they are trying to get out of the car). You can even keep a small litter pan on the floor in the front seat to allow the cat to use. This will also help once you arrive in Virginia in the event that you do not have a litter pan already ready. I would also toss some of the dogs favorite toys in the back. I really hope that helps, and please let us know if you have any other questions or concerns. Thank you, and happy travels!

  19. avatar

    What a great adventure! I don’t know if I were you whether I could manage doing it. It’s a big challenge to move with your pet, but I admire that you did it!

  20. avatar


    If you don’t mind me asking, what hotel did you find that accepted three dogs? We’re making a long trip with three dogs and i can’t find a single hotel that will take more than two!


  21. avatar

    Hi Lindsey –

    We got pretty lucky. I think there was a Best Western and the rest were small motels. The area where we were travelling was very rural. We typically called ahead and just said we had dogs that were well behaved and would be under our supervision at all times. Everyone was very accommodating, but I think it depends on where you are travelling.

    Happy Travels!

  22. avatar

    Hello All. Moving cross country myself with family a pets. I thought it would be a good idea to rent a truck, load my fur babies in the back, covered, and stop every 2/3 hrs for water and restroom break. They would also be in kennels. My wife does not like this idea wants them in the car with us. two cats dogs a daughter and luggage to me seems to packed and will be uncomfortable for all. with the rental, I can pull my car and place all our needed in it and we can all be comfortable… what do you all think??

  23. avatar

    If there is room in the vehicle, I would suggest keeping them in the car. Sometimes a rental can leak fumes, gases, etc that could potentially be harmful to your pets. Not to mention if something should happen to fall while you are driving, you would not be able to see that as you are driving in your car. Good luck with the move!

  24. avatar

    How did you handle sleeping arrangements along the way? Did you stay at pet friendly motels along the way? We are considering our own xcountry move but the pets give us so much hesitation. Thanks!

  25. avatar

    How did your dogs adjust to the climate?? I’m contemplated bringing my dog from coastal Carolina to Alaska! But I’m afraid she will suffer with the polar opposite weather My dad is willing to keep her so I do have another option, please be brutally honest! She’s a pure bred German Shepard

  26. avatar

    Hi Alisha, we will reach out to Heather and give her your email address.

About hcrotsley

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Currently an owner of 3 dogs and 2 cats, I’ve gained a plethora of pet-related experience over the years. I strive to provide the best home I can for my little terrors, and you’ll read all about our trials and tribulations as I continue down the rewarding yet rocky road of pet parenthood.
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