How to Transport Your New Puppy in the Car Safely

How to Transport Your New Puppy in the Car Safely | golden retriever puppies in truck

You’ve decided to expand your family and now it’s time to bring your new puppy home. It’s an exciting time, but there’s a lot to do to get ready for your new addition, including that first car ride home.

The car ride home will be one of your dog’s first memories with you, so it’s important to be prepared for the trip. Puppies and young dogs in particular won’t be used to the car and may find it scary. Add the unfamiliar scents and territory and you have a stressful situation on your hands. However, there are a few things you can do before meeting your puppy, both at home and in the car, to ensure your dog’s first car ride is a joyful occasion.

Get Your Car and Home Ready for Puppy

A few days before you pick up your puppy, you’ll want to get your home and car ready for the big day. You should start by cleaning to get rid of any hazardous materials that your puppy could get into, like cleaners, plants, or items your puppy might think are toys. New dogs like to chew on everything, so put away anything that you don’t want them sinking their little teeth into.

Make sure your puppy feels at home by purchasing essential items like:

  • Dog bed or crate mat, depending if you are doing crate training
  • Food and water bowls
  • Food - consult the shelter or breeder to find out what your puppy is currently eating and then talk to your veterinarian about your puppy’s diet
  • Grooming supplies
  • Gate - if you are keeping your puppy to one area to start, a baby gate will keep them corralled until they are ready to explore
  • Collar or harness and leash
  • Puppy pads and lots of paper towels or cleaning cloths - accidents will happen!

If you can, schedule a few days off to enjoy time with your puppy. Your home might be familiar to you, but to a new dog it could be a little scary without a familiar face, not to mention you’ll want to bond as much as you can!

How to Transport Your Puppy in the Car

How to Transport Your Puppy in the Car | golden retriever with car seat belt

Cars can be scary, so allow them to lead when getting into the car. Let them sniff around while the car is stopped to get familiar with the new territory and smells. Give them one of their favorite toys and a blanket with scents from their shelter or previous home to help keep them calm. Remember to not get overly excited or affectionate in the car if you can. If the dog is barking or crying, it will reinforce the negative behavior.

Once they are comfortable and it’s time for the journey home, secure your new puppy so they are safe in the car. There are a few options to securing your dog from crates to harnesses.

Dog Car Restraints

One of the best ways for a new puppy who might be a little nervous is a dog car restraint. They attach to a harness and then around the head rest or click into the car’s seat belt holder. Dog restraints are convenient to use and can be adjusted to a dog’s size. Unlike with a crate, you are able to hold your puppy, keeping them calm and reassured.

It is important to use a dog restraint with a harness and not a collar, so you will need to bring the right size harness with you to pick up your puppy. Excited puppies might pull on the restraint a little as they get used to it and a collar will injure their necks. Dog restraints attach to the harness in the back preventing any harm. Before picking up your puppy, ask the shelter or breeder for your dog’s girth and weight to find the right size harness.

Dog Car Seats

Like a dog car restraint, dog car seats hook either around the head rest or attach to the seat through child car seat loops. Car seats are padded and raised higher letting your puppy see around better and look out the window. Restraints lock onto your puppy’s harness to keep them seated and safe. 

Dog car seats come in many styles and shapes; choosing one comes down to style preference and whether or not it fits into your car’s backseat. It’s a good idea to find one that has a washable cover, especially for that first ride. Just make sure to read the weight limit on the seat before purchasing if you have a large puppy; car seats are best for small to medium sized dogs.


If your puppy is too small for a harness, try a dog carrier instead to bring your puppy home in. They will be able to feel the car’s vibrations allowing them to get used to the car, while being able to see you and feel safe. The carrier will also protect your puppy if there is an accident keeping them secure in one spot.

Choosing a carrier should be based on your puppy’s size, temperament, and how it fits into your car. Puppies tend to need smaller carriers depending on their breed, but they should be able to turn around in one without difficulty.

What material you select will depend on your dog’s comfort level and personality, if you know it. Dogs may chew when they are anxious, so look for a durable, hard plastic. On the other hand, soft-sided carriers are convenient for puppies, especially in the car. Many of them can be buckled into the backseat to prevent them from sliding around. They often come with a fleece pad that can be washed in case of accidents.

Whichever style of crate you choose, it should be secured with the car’s seat belt or other attachments. Otherwise, it will become a dangerous projectile in an accident or get tossed forward if you have to break suddenly.

Keep Them in the Backseat

With any of the above products, only use them in the backseat, never in the front. Airbags can be deadly to dogs if you get into an accident. Plus, someone can sit with your new dog on the way home to keep them company. If you do have to travel alone, opt for a crate to keep your puppy secure and comfortable. Dog car restraints and car seats are best used in conjunction with a puppy who can be held or petted as they get used to the car.

Accessories to Bring on Your Ride

 Accessories to Bring on Your Ride | dog water bottle

Aside from a crate or a dog seat belt, you’ll want to pack up a few extra items for your trip home and for future car rides. These will help to ensure your new puppy feels at ease in the car.

  • Water Bottle - If it’s a long drive from the pickup area, make sure to include a water bottle for your puppy. Don’t force them to drink the water, but have it as an option in case they get thirsty.
  • Pee Pads or a Car Seat Cover - Accidents happen, especially with a nervous puppy. Keep a few pee pads on hand or even a backseat waterproof liner that will keep your car seats clean and dry.
  • Collar and/or Harness - Bestow a collar with ID tags on your new puppy to make sure people know they have a home if they get loose from the car in all the excitement.

Start Small and Keep the Car Rides Short

Puppies aren’t used to the sway and vibrations of cars. If at all possible, keep the first car ride short. They’ll be anxious enough going from one place to another so it’s best to ease them into the situation.

If you are picking up your puppy from a far away place, try to keep in mind the following:

  • Take frequent breaks to stretch and use the bathroom while trying to avoid busy highway rest stops or parks. They are convenient, but unless your puppy has been fully vaccinated, they could catch something.
  • Keep food to a minimum, but still feed them if they are hungry. With shorter drives, it’s best to not feed puppies to limit car sickness. Try a few bites of the food they were eating at the shelter or house they lived at. Usually, you will be provided with a small sample of it to start with.
  • Try to keep future car rides on the shorter side until they get used to them. It might take a little time but soon enough, your dog will be excited to go for a ride.

Give Puppies Time and Space

Once your puppy is home and in a safe spot, give your puppy a little space and some time to adjust to their new surroundings. Your new puppy will be exhausted from the excitement and need to rest. Moving is a stressful time, especially for a little one going into an unfamiliar place with new people, smells, and sounds. After a few days with some love, treats, and toys, your puppy will feel right at home.


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