How to get your dog tired before a road trip



My dog has a low to medium amount of physical energy. He’s tired after a short walk.

However, Ace does have a fair amount of mental and emotional energy. While he’ll be trailing behind me after a 30-minute walk, he still needs ways to work his mind every day or he becomes anxious, stressed and annoying.

Since I’m limited on how far I can walk my dog, I have to get creative if I want him to be well behaved and worn out before a road trip (otherwise, there’s a lot of whining!).

The following are some tips I use to tire out my dog mentally. I thought these would also be helpful for dogs with higher amounts of physical energy.

Please share your tips in the comments. I think most of us could use some extra ideas!

How to get your dog tired before a road trip

Lab mix Ace sitting in the grass

Lots of tug of war

This is a fun game that seems to eliminate much of my dog’s pent-up stress. I learned the benefits of tug through Neil Sattin’s natural dog training techniques. It really works. I recommend a 5- to 10-minute game of tug two or three times a day in the days leading up to your long car ride.

Mental challenges

Ideally, I like to visit a new park or even a coffee shop with my dog the day before a trip. Visiting new places really helps tire him out.

Since I’m usually not that organized with my time, I’m more likely to play a quick “find it” game with Ace. For this game, I tell him to sit and wait while I hide a toy. Then I release him with the command “find it!” We play this in the house and at parks if it’s safe for him to be off leash. He loves this type of “work,” and using his nose tires him out.

More walks in the week leading up to the trip

I used to run with my dog in the morning before road trips. While this would leave him huffing and puffing temporarily, it didn’t really work to tire him out for the whole day.

Instead, it’s more effective to start increasing the dog’s exercise a week before your trip or event. For example, walk for 45 minus a day instead of 30 for an entire seven days. This will use up some of your dog’s “reserves” before you have to travel.

“It’s more effective to start increasing the dog’s exercise a week before your trip …”

How to tire out a dog before a roadtrip.

Puzzle toys in the car

Another way to drain some energy is to use any sort of food-dispensing, puzzle-type toy that will keep your dog interested. You could give these to your dog in the car or even once you reach your destination if it will help your dog remain calm and still.

In the week or so leading up to your trip, you can even feed your dog from puzzle toys instead of from a bowl. This will require your dog to work for his food, slowly draining some of his mental energy. Or, give your dog his food in small amounts throughout the day while you’re working on training.

A quick walk once you reach your destination

Even a 10-minute walk once you get to your destination can help settle your dog a bit. It will also give him more time to fully relieve himself, which means less of a chance for accidents or marking in the house/hotel room. Always a plus :)

How do you tire out your dog mentally or physically before a road trip?

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  1. Jane Y. on June 19, 2014

    so interesting. i love how there are tips for so many things. i never thought to consider this as piri love car rides and he is pretty chill. we used to call him our navigator. now that he’s older he doesn’t like to look out the window all that much and just lays down and takes a nap. we look forward to going on another road trip with him this summer.

  2. Dawn on June 19, 2014

    I have to get my Labrador Maya tired before a road trip. Otherwise, she’d whine with excitement. Very distracting. Getting her tired before a trip would also help keep her from running about the car from window to window… that is if I didn’t already make her wear a dog seat belt.

  3. Colby on June 19, 2014

    In general I don’t usually drive much more than 2-3 hours with my dogs and I’ve only been on a few longer road trips 6+ hours. I’ve been lucky and haven’t had any troubles with my pups whining in the car with the exception of the first week or two when they are only 7-8 weeks old. I’ll definitely bookmark this and refer back next time we go on a long road trip.

  4. Emma on June 19, 2014

    I’ve never had trouble with my dogs in the car and they have spent a lot of time in cars. Even my higher energy dogs are always real mellow and content to just nap and ride along.

  5. Sylv on June 20, 2014

    We take our two GSDs up to a cottage 6+ hours north twice a year. Our routine is as follows:

    - Make sure they are “on empty” before we set out.
    - Stop for coffee at end of the street.
    - Bathroom stop for me, and leg stretch for them after about 2 hours.
    - Stop at a Provincial Park for bathroom for me and leg stretch for them.
    - Next stop is in another two hours, for gas, groceries, and yet another bathroom/leg stretch break (one of us stays with the car while the other does groceries).
    - Final destination is 1 1/2 hours from that point.

    We take lots of breaks as we’re not in a hurry and as their space is somewhat reduced by all the stuff we have to take up (mind, they can still lay down), so we want to give them lots of opportunities to stretch and sniff.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 20, 2014

      Sounds like a great routine! I don’t stop that often for my dog, so he is jealous to hear this.

  6. B on June 20, 2014

    We often take 18+ hr drives with our dogs/kids etc and (knock wood) have never had an issue with the dogs. The dogs get a kong or bone in their kennel when we start out. When we stop for gas or bathroom break for the kids, we take the dogs out as well to stretch their legs. Might be a 2min pee break or a lap or 2 around the rest area depending on the humans’ needs.

  7. Mary Alice Kropp on June 30, 2014

    Great tips! We plan on taking our pit bull, Lambeau, on trips with us in the future. He does whine a lot in the car, even on short trips, and my husband has not been looking forward to that for hours. I’m hoping these tips will help. Going to try some of them for short trips, and see.

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