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Top tips for travelling safely with a dog in the car

Posted by: Tim Berrisford  Date: 25/04/2014   Category: Owners Guides

Taking your dog on holiday with you can be a great experience, but you and your dog might not enjoy the journey so much. Alternatively, you might live quite a distance away from the nearest park or the local vets and so face taking your dog on fairly regular car trips. Either way, it’s important that you and your pet remain safe the whole time and make the drive as enjoyable as possible.

Train them first

If you have never taken your dog in the car before, you’ll want to train them first. Car journeys can be a daunting experience for your pet. Some dogs are fine in the car and will simply sleep the whole way. Others, however, can suffer from anxiety and car sickness, which makes them dread every trip.

To avoid this, start them off with short journeys at first and make sure the destination is a positive one. For example, if your first few car rides are to the vets, your dog will associate cars with something negative. Instead, take them to the local park or forest. Body language and tone of voice can also have a big impact on your dog’s emotions, so avoid using a sad voice or negative body language when trying to get your dog used to the car.

Car sickness

Just like humans, dogs can get car sick. For this reason, it is best not to feed them right before you go, as they will be more likely to throw up – not a nice experience for you or the dog. They should of course be well fed, just ensure there’s a three to four hour gap between eating and travel.

Some people choose to seek medical advice from the vet for car sickness. Although it is possible to get medication which can help your dog relax more in the car, some experts do not recommend it and believe that dogs shouldn’t be reliant on pills. Furthermore, you should never, ever medicate your dog yourself, always seek expert advice first.

Keep them happy

While most dogs will happily sleep for the whole journey, other dogs can become restless, especially if it’s a very long drive. Keep them entertained and happy by bringing their favourite towel or blanket, a good chew toy and a couple of (preferably high in protein) dog treats. Remember not to feed them too much though, in case of sickness.

You should also stop every so often to let them out of the car too, just so they can have a quick toilet break and let off some excess energy. Just ensure that wherever you stop is safe and not too near a road. It’s probably best to keep them on the lead too, as exploring a new area might excite them too much.

It’s important to mention that although dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows, it’s actually not good for them. The wind and cold can damage their inner ears and can even cause lung infections, not to mention the risk of being hit by something. You also don’t want them to attempt an escape out the window either, so try to keep them secure if possible.

Harnesses and carriers

If you want to really protect your pet, you should get them their own special seatbelt or a pet carrier. Although such restraints may come across as cruel to you, it is the best way to keep them protected in case of a car crash or any sudden braking. Smaller dogs can quite happily sit inside a pet carrier, which you should then secure in place by using a seatbelt.

However, if there’s no room to do this, or your pet is much bigger, you can get them a harness. These harnesses can be attached to seatbelts or the ceiling of the car and will allow your pet to comfortably move around, but not too much.

If you’re choosing the carrier option, you should train your pet to become used to it first. Some pets dread getting inside them, but this can be avoided if you adopt a positive attitude. Don’t force your pet to get inside, let them go in of their own volition and then close the door. Leave them alone for 15 minutes, but don’t use a sad voice to say you’ll be back soon, as your dog will think there’s something wrong and will become anxious. When you come back, don’t let him or her out of the carrier straight away, otherwise they might form a negative association with it.

As long as your cater for your pet’s needs and ensure they are trained to travel, you shouldn’t have much problem travelling safely with your dog. One thing you should definitely remember is to never, ever leave your dog alone in a hot car for more than five minutes. It’s understandable that you may need to stop for food at some point, but don’t believe that cracking the window open is enough to keep a dog cool. Try to pack a lunch instead, so you and your dog can eat outside together safely.