Dogs are part of the family for millions of people across the UK, and that’s definitely the case for many of us here at Just Kampers. We spend a massive amount of time with our four-legged friends and want to keep them safe and happy. This applies to making sure our dogs are safe while we’re driving with them in the vehicle, and while we’re camping.
We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to the laws on driving with a dog in the car and how to make the most of camping with your dog.
We’ll cover everything from understanding the Highway Code to top travel tips for you and your pets, to help ensure you have a great time with your dog whether you’re hitting the open road or on a camping adventure.
The laws on driving with your dog
Everyone wants to make sure their dog stays happy and healthy, and stays safe while they’re in the car with us, but there’s also the risk of hefty fines and penalty points if you’re found to be driving with an unrestrained animal in your vehicle.
You can now receive an on-the-spot fine of between £1,000 to £5,000, and get nine penalty points on your driving license, if you haven’t properly restrained your dog or other animals inside your vehicle while driving. In some cases, you may even face a driving ban and compulsory retest, which could have a serious impact on your ability to get to and from work and other essential journeys.
As well as the potential financial impact of facing fines and driving bans, there’s also a really serious risk that a dog or other animal which isn’t properly restrained could severely injure itself and other passengers in the vehicle if you’re forced to brake suddenly or are involved in a collision, which for most of us is reason enough to make sure they’re properly secured.
Rule 57 of the Highway Code
The Highway Code has a section dedicated to the rules about animals (sections 47 to 58). While many of these are dedicated to horse-drawn vehicles and horse riders, Rule 57 explains the laws on driving with a dog in the vehicle:
"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. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars."
It’s being in breach of this rule which could see you landed with hefty fines and penalty points, so it’s best to be aware of the rules. Luckily it’s just a couple of sentences, and they’re pretty common sense!
Keeping Your Dog Safe in Your Vehicle
Whether you’re cruising in a camper or just heading out in your daily driver, there are some really easy ways to keep your dog safe in your vehicle.
As we’ve seen, the Highway Code suggests the use of a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage, or dog guard, so let’s go into these and see what’s what.
Dog Seat Belt Harnesses
A seatbelt harness is exactly what it sounds like: a harness which secures around your dog’s chest, which can then have the seat belt fed through a loop in the harness to keep your dog securely in place.
This means that your pet can enjoy the comfort of relaxing on one of your vehicle’s seats, while also gaining some benefit from the seat belt’s inertia system. Most of these harnesses will also have an attachment point for you to secure your dog’s lead to it, so you won’t need to struggle with taking the harness on and off your four-legged friend before and after getting them into the car.
Because these harnesses are fitted around your dog’s chest, with their front legs going through a pair of loops, it means that if you do need to brake suddenly or you’re involved in a collision, the restraining force will go through a much larger and less vulnerable area than if you just used their collar, which would obviously put massive strain on their neck and could cause serious injury.
Dogs and Pet Carriers
A pet carrier is another great option for keeping your dog secure in your vehicle, especially if you’ve got a smaller breed. The same dog carrier you use to carry them into the vet will also serve to keep them safe and secure in your camper, as long as you use the seatbelt to keep it in place inside the vehicle.
If you feed a seatbelt through the carry handle on top of the carrier and plug it in, you’ll prevent your dog from being able to roam around inside your vehicle and distract you, and ensure that, in the event of sudden braking, the carrier itself can’t lurch forward and injure anyone.
Another benefit of using a pet carrier is that your dog may feel safer and happier in an enclosed space, so with a couple of their favourite toys and a nice blanket, they might just fall asleep in there and give you a peaceful journey! We know from our own experience that some dogs are much happier in the car than others, so anything you can do to make them feel more relaxed is a huge benefit.
Vehicle Dog Cages
A more heavy-duty solution which is ideal for larger breeds, dog cages are ideal if you’ve got a vehicle which can accommodate them – which many campers and vans do, with a little planning.
Dog cages are designed to keep your four-legged friend safe and secure while you’re on the road, prevent them from escaping and causing a distraction while you’re driving, and will offer a level of protection during sudden braking or a collision.
Depending on the size of your dog (and the size and weight of the cage) you may be able to lift the cage in and out of your vehicle so it’s not taking up space when it’s not needed.
Dog Guards in Vehicles
The final option listed in the Highway Code is a dog guard, which effectively turns your whole boot area into a space for your dog. This prevents your pets from entering the rest of the vehicle and causing a distraction, and will stop them being thrown forward if you need to brake suddenly or are involved in a collision.
These are generally not available for campers, but can be a really effective solution for many different types of car.
Tips on Dogs in Cars:
Here’s a few tips from the JK Team to help you make sure your dog enjoys a ride in your VW as much as you do:
• Make sure they’re properly restrained, ideally with a crash-tested harness,
• Give them one of their favourite toys or blankets, so they feel at home in the car,
• Don’t let them hang their heads out of the window - we all know they love doing it, but it’s potentially really dangerous and will signal to the police that they’re probably unsecured,
• Carry some water with you, in case they overheat and need cooling down,
• If you can avoid it, don’t feed them for a couple of hours before going out in the car, to avoid carsickness. We learned this the hard way!
Most members of the JK Team use dog harnesses to keep their pets secure while they’re driving, especially as it works just as well in a classic Beetle as a modern Transporter, so it doesn’t require cages, carriers or guards to be moved between vehicles.
We also carry cab window air vents, especially during the summer, which can be quickly popped into place to keep a nice breeze flowing through the interior of our Volkswagens if we’re just stepping into a shop for a moment and can’t take the dog with us.
It’s becoming increasingly common knowledge that you can’t leave dogs (or people) in hot cars, but it’s always worth repeating!
A note about cats
We’ve spoken a lot about dogs in this article, and that’s mostly because dogs are driven around in cars and vans a lot more often than dogs. Still, some cats do travel by car, and the same rules apply to them.
Cats definitely fall under ‘other animals’ when Rule 57 of the Highway Code talks about “dogs or other animals”. The internet is full of cool cats who love to travel around with their human companions in campervans, and we’ve been able to help Dean and Nala live their dream of hitting the road in a classic VW camper together. Dean made sure Nala was right at home by properly securing a cat tower in place of the passenger seat in the camper, and then securing Nala with a cat harness via the seatbelt.
Whether you’re hitting the road with a dog, cat, goat, or any other animal, you’ve got to ensure that they’re properly secured and safe.
Rules on Camping with your Dog
Everyone at Just Kampers loves camping just as much as we love our dogs, and our dogs are always super keen to come with us for a camping adventure.
One of the biggest advantages of camping holidays is the freedom to bring along your beloved dog. Camping can offer pet owners the freedom to share their adventures with their dogs, who relish the thrill and sense of adventure just as much as we do.
It’s pretty easy to bring along your dog as a travelling companion but it’s always safer to travel prepared. Putting some thought into their comfort and security will make travelling and camping with your dog incredibly enjoyable.
Find Yourself a Dog-Friendly Campsite
While almost all campsites will share a similar set of rules, each site is unique and may have different policies in place around things like whether or not you can bring your dog along with you.
A campsite’s rules and regulations are typically posted and advised in advance of your stay, whether they’re sent to you via email or listed on their website.
Often campsites, especially in peak times, will have a pet fee which is a nominal amount per night or a small upfront payment.
As travellers with dogs will be responsible for their companions, they should thoroughly read the rules of guidance, which is likely to change between campsites. Some sites may be pet-free, so it’s worth checking before you travel.
Giving advance notice to the site where you intend to bring along your dog is also best practice, as the site authority may ask you to pitch near other dog owners.
Conventional campsite guidance for dog owners includes:
• Often, dogs must remain on a lead and are not allowed to roam on the site freely, or unescorted by their owners,
• Dogs must be exercised in designated pet areas or off-site,
• Owners must clean up after pets and ensure the site remains tidy, clean, and hygienic for other guests,
• Owners must limit pets behaving like a nuisance to other guests, including anything that causes a disturbance like repeated or loud barking,
• Under the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991), certain breeds of dogs may be prohibited.
The specifics of campsite rules will vary between sites, but there will always be etiquette that those travelling with dogs should acknowledge, whether it relates to hygiene or other responsibilities.
A Note on Guide Dogs and Other Assistance Dogs
Unlike those travelling with pets for leisure, if you rely on a guide dog or assistance dog for health reasons like mobility, then different rules may apply.
Guide dogs are, typically, allowed more freedom around a campsite because they’re classified as a mobility aid. If you’re travelling with a guide dog, you will be exempt from some of the standard campsite rules for pets, so you can unlock access to more areas around the site and move more freely.
It’s always best to check with a campsite before you book if you need to bring a guide dog or assistance dog with you, as the site may be able to make accommodations to help make sure you have an easier and more enjoyable time during your stay.
Keeping your Dog Safe While Camping
The best place to start when planning a camping trip with your dog is to make sure your camper, motorhome, or caravan is as safe as it can be for your pets.
As discussed before in this article, you need to ensure that your dog is properly secured while you’re driving, to prevent injury or distraction.
Still, there’s more to a camping adventure than just driving there! Don’t forget to pack the essentials like bedding, food, water, bowls, toys, leads, harnesses, treats and the other things your dog enjoys day-to-day at home.
Depending on how active your dog is, you’ll likely also want to make sure you’ve got curtains, thermo mats, or some other means of keeping the interior of your campervan warm through the night and dark in the morning.
No one wants to be woken up by enthusiastic licks or barking as soon as the sun rises, especially in the summer months when it can start to get light long before most of us would want to get up!
If you’re planning on sleeping in a tent or awning, you can get creative with where you and your dog sleep. Many awnings have an optional inner tent which can form a cosy sleeping space, and some of these are created with blackout material, which will stop your four-legged friend from waking up at dawn each day.
Some tents will have a porch area, which can give you some space if you’re not keen on waking up with a dog in your personal space every morning – just make sure they’re securely kept inside, and can’t go wandering off in the night to investigate every nocturnal noise they hear outside!
Tips on Camping with Dogs
Here are some of our tips on camping with dogs, based on our own experience:
• Expect your dog to be more active than usual, as they explore new surroundings, wake up earlier, and look to meet new people,
• Bring as many blankets, bedding, toys, balls, and other familiar items as you’ve got space for, so your dog feels that your camper is an extension of home,
• This will make them feel more relaxed and make your camping adventure more enjoyable,
• Make sure you’ve taken steps to limit the amount of light getting in your camper, if you don’t want your dog to wake up at sunrise and drag you off on a walk,
• A towel is about the most massively useful thing a dog owner can take camping. You’ll almost never come home with a dry, unused towel when you return from a camping trip with your dog, so take as many as you’ve got room for,
• Add water, a bowl, and dog food to your backpack. If you’re setting out on a hike or a day trip with your dog while you’re camping, don’t forget to bring food and water for them, too. There are loads of collapsible bowls and other handy accessories out there for dog owners, so they don’t need to take up a huge amount of space in your bag.
Bringing your dog along on your next camping trip is as simple as checking the campsite(s) you’re look at are dog friendly, and adding their things to your packing list. Having your dogs along with you can make camping even more fun, for them as well as you!
We hope you have a great time exploring the great outdoors with man’s best friend, and find the information and advice in this article useful.
Feeling Inspired to go Camping with Your Dog?
If reading all of this has left you eager to head out on a camping adventure with your four-legged friends, then here are some of our recommended camping accessories for dog owners, to help you make the most of your time in the great outdoors together.
You can also click here to see our full camping range.
Camping With Your Dog in Australia: Be Aware of 1080 Poison
Shortly after originally publishing this guide, a JK customer named Jane got in touch from Australia to let us know about the problems that dog owners face surrounding the use of 1080 poison. Since we've got a lot of followers in that part of the world, due to the great team at Just Kampers Australia, we wanted to include some information about the poison, especially as Jane lost her own 8-month-old dog, Doble, to it.
While not in use across much of the world, anyone camping with their dogs in Australia should be aware that poisoned bait may have been left in the area, in an attempt to control unwanted wildlife nearby. 1080 is indiscriminate in what it poisons, and any animal - including dogs - who ingests it will be affected. There is no antidote, and very little that pet owners can do if their dog does come into contact with the poison. Bait sites are meant to be properly sign-posted, although this may not always be the case, and so anyone camping with dogs is advised to keep a close eye on their pets to ensure they're as safe as possible.
Jane and others are working to change the laws around the use of 1080, and you can read more about her story and the substance here.