Driving with dogs: What you need to know and what cars are best

golden retriever in back cabin of an SUV


Posted August 07, 2023

Taking your furmily friend for a road trip? We answer your questions about the road rules with dogs, the best dog-friendly cars and handy accessories for a safe and comfortable trip.

Australians love their pets. Approximately 69 per cent of Australian households own pets, according to RACV car rental partner SIXT, and over two million Australian travellers are planning a pet-friendly holiday, with 83 per cent stating that they have had to compromise their holiday plans in order to take their dog with them.

There's plenty of joy and adventures to be had bringing your dog along on your road trips. With Fido along for the ride, you can explore off-leash beaches, dog parks, dog-friendly hikes and even dog-friendly pubs, cafés, and restaurants. Your pooch may well encourage you to stay more active on your holiday, and their excitement can be infectious for the whole family.

But what are the rules for travelling with a canine in your car? Is it legal to let your dog lean out the window? Can your dog travel in the front seat? And can dogs travel in hire cars?

Here are your most asked questions answered for a safe and happy road trip with your pooch.

Victorian road rules and laws for driving in cars with dogs

Can my dog travel in my car? 

In Victoria, dogs can travel in the cabin of your car, in the back of a station wagon or SUV vehicle, on the back of a ute, or in a trailer.

Does my dog have to be restrained in the car? 

Technically, there are no road rules or laws in Victoria about securing animals in a vehicle while driving. That said, you should still restrain your dog while on the road. In the event where a car has to brake quickly or is involved in a collision, there is a significant risk that an unrestrained animal could be injured.


Dogs sits in the back of car looking out back window.

Some car rentals allow you to take Fido along for the ride. Image: Unsplash

Can my dog sit on my car's front passenger seat? 

Although it’s not illegal, it’s not safe for your dog to sit in the front passenger seat. If your car's airbags deploy, they could seriously injure your dog on impact.

Can my dog travel in the back of a ute or in a trailer? 

Yes, dogs can be transported on the back of a ute or trailer, but the law states that they must be appropriately tethered or caged. It's also the law that you must provide your dog access to an area of insulating material protecting it from contact with the metal surface when outside temperatures are at or above 28°C.

Can my dog sit on my lap while I’m driving? 

No. VicRoads says that you may not drive a vehicle with an animal on your lap.

Is it legal for my dog to lean its head out the car window? 

Yes, your dog is free to lean its head out the window, but you should discourage your furry friend from doing so. Debris on the road may fly up and hit your dog, causing serious injury. Dirt particles could also enter your dog's eyes, ears or nose, resulting in injury or infection.


dog having harness attached for a car ride

Your dog may like leaning out the window, but consider their safety too. Image: Getty

Can I leave my dog alone in a parked car? 

Sometimes, but you must be very careful. Putting your dog at risk inside a car can result in criminal charges. It is illegal to leave an animal unattended inside a car when outside temperatures are at or above 28°C in case they get too hot. Regardless of the temperature, you should consider whether your dog has adequate ventilation when the car is turned off. You should also be wary of pet theft from unattended vehicles.

If you might need to leave Fido in the car for a few minutes, Tesla cars like the Model 3 and Model Y might be best. They feature Dog Mode, which maintains a comfy cabin temperature for your pet and displays the temperature on the touchscreen display to inform passersby that your dog is safe. There's also a mobile app so you can actively monitor the temperature inside your car. Regardless, you should park in the shade and leave your dog water whenever they must stay inside the car.

Can I put my dog in the boot? 

No. The state government’s Department of Agriculture says that putting dogs in the boot of a sedan-type car is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019.


red Tesla Model Y

Tesla Model 3s and Ys have a Dog Mode to keep your pooch safe. Image: Supplied

Best cars for driving with dogs

How do I choose a car to suit my dog?

The perfect vehicle to transport a dog depends on the size of your pooch.

Small, toy and miniature breeds like Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds and Miniature Schnauzers can easily fit inside a medium sedan or small hatchback car, such as a Tesla Model 3Kia Rio, Kia Cerato, Kia Picanto, or Toyota Corolla.

Medium dog breeds like Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies and British Bulldogs may need a small compact SUV such as the Hyundai KonaMazda CX-30Mitsubishi ASX or Nissan Juke.

Large dog breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks will definitely need a larger, medium-sized SUV or station wagon such as the Mitsubishi OutlanderMG HSNissan X-TrailToyota RAV4 or BYD Atto 3.

Giant dog breeds like Great Danes, Bullmastiffs and Newfoundlands will need a large SUV or station wagon to travel, like the Toyota KlugerToyota Landcruiser 300Toyota Landcruiser CarrierToyota Prado or Jeep Wrangler.

Are SUVs good for large dogs?

If you have a medium to large dog, a medium SUV or large family car is a practical option. The bigger the dog, the bigger the SUV required. Cargo space is usually pretty good and it will have a high roof for taller dogs. Consider installing a grille between the cargo area and the back seat to prevent the dog from moving around the cabin, which may distract the driver.

Are station wagons suitable for dogs?

A station wagon is a great alternative to an SUV, as it’s lower to the ground, meaning your dog doesn’t have to jump up as high to get into the cargo area. And more often than not, there is more space in a station wagon cargo area than in an SUV.


spaniel puppy on the backseat of a car

Many Australian households want to travel with their dogs. Image: Getty

Must-have car accessories for driving with dogs

What’s the best way to restrain a dog on a car trip?

There are many types of dog restraints. You can use a crate that is metal and mostly used for larger dogs, or one made from soft fabric for smaller dogs. There’s also a variety of harnesses and leads that connect to the car’s seatbelt fasteners to keep your dog secure. 

My dog travels on my ute tray, what restraint should I use?

Whatever restraint you use, ensure that the leash is shorter rather than longer. A long lead may enable your dog to jump off the vehicle, which would be very dangerous.

Dogs can be injured from falling or jumping off moving vehicles due to inappropriate tethering. Your lead or chain should be short enough to prevent your dog from reaching the sides of the vehicle or getting onto the cabin, but long enough to allow your pooch to sit and lie down. Use swivels to attach the tether to the vehicle and the dog's collar or harness to prevent tangling.

If you prefer to use a cage, make sure that it's big enough to not cramp your dog and well-insulated from sun, rain and wind. The cage should also be made from mesh rather than solid material for ventilation, and placed directly behind the cabin to decrease wind and dust exposure.

I’ve got leather seats, how do I protect them?

You can always lay down a protective surface, like a blanket. Some people also get their dog to wear dog booties, which stop nails from scratching upholstery.

My dog is too old or big to climb into my car, what do I do?

You might need to invest in a dog ramp or some steps for older or infirm dogs to climb into your car.

What’s the best way to remove pet hair from cloth seats?

There are specialist vacuum attachments to remove pet hair.

My dog is coming on a road trip, what do I need to take?

Always carry water and a bowl for your dog to drink - there are plenty of collapsible and portable options. Don’t forget wet-wipes in case your dog gets carsick and poo bags for cleaning up after your dog en route.


people walking down to a beach

Some beaches allow your dog to have fun on the sand with the family. Image: Getty

Best dog-friendly road trips

The best dog-friendly road trips are ones where you can stop off at dog-friendly locations like off-leash beaches, dog parks, and walks.

Wherever you go, make sure to plan ahead and check park, beach, and hike information online and on park signage before taking your four-legged friend walking. Luckily, dogs are allowed on-lead in many of Victoria's metro, regional and reservoir parks. Some of the best dog parks in Victoria include Alfred Nicholas Reserve in Sherbrooke (on-leash), Brackenbush Unleashed in Lakes Entrance (off-leash), Sebastopol Dog Park in Ballarat (off-leash), and Seagull Paddock Dog Park north of Geelong (off-leash). Dog-friendly beaches like Warrnambool Main Beach, Flinders Beach on the Mornington Peninsula, Inverloch Beach in South Gippsland are also a big hit with your pooches.

If you'd like a nature walk or hike with your dog, state forests in Victoria are open to dogs on leads, except Steavensons Falls Reserve and Murrindindi Scenic Reserve. You can also tackle the Macedon Ranges Walking Track, the Woowookarung Regional Park, the Agnes Falls Scenic Reserve, or the rugged Cape Conran Coastal Park. Many regional parks also allow camping with your dogs.

It's important to note that dogs aren't allowed in most national parks in Victoria, which includes any beaches that form part of the park. You can, however, drive through national parks with your pets remaining inside the vehicle. For dog-friendly national parks, head to:

  • Great Otway National Park - dogs are permitted on-lead at the Otway Forest Park, St George River Track, Lake Elizabeth walking tracks and camping areas, Johanna Beach, Southside Beach, Addiscott Beach, Surf Coast Walk, Ocean View Walking Track, Ironbark Gorge Walking Track, Ironbark Basin Picnic Area, and Point Addis to Anglesea via beach.
  • Greater Bendigo National Park - dogs are permitted on-lead at Bendigo Regional Park and State Forests, and on specified roads and trails in the One Tree Hill area.
  • Kinglake National Park - dogs are permitted on-lead in the Frank Thomson Reserve.
  • Lake Eildon National Park - dogs are permitted on-lead in the Jerusalem Creek Campground.
  • Heathcore-Graytown National Park - dogs are permitted on-lead in the McIvor Range area.

After something a little different? Book into the Puffing Billy Dog Express in the Dandenong Ranges to ride a dog-friendly carriage on one of Victoria’s heritage railways.


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The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s)issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.