Dogs travel about in cars for all sorts of reasons – to accompany us to work, to get to the park, to go on holiday, to visit friends. Many of these journeys will be short, but we also take our dogs on longer trips. How can we minimize danger to our dogs when traveling?
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Many dogs are car-sick, especially when young. Some simply grow out of this, but others are less fortunate. There are various things you can do to accustom your dog to being in the car. If you are the breeder of a litter of puppies, you can do a great piece of socializing for your puppies, which will be much appreciated by their future owners, if you take the pups out and about in the car. An occasional short journey is all that is needed, and the puppies will feel more secure if in the company of their littermates or mother (assuming the mother is not nervous about cars). Note that as they will not have been vaccinated, these young puppies will need to be carried out to the car.
For slightly older puppies and dogs that are upset by car journeys, try any of these suggestions:
Dogs that are allowed to leap out of a car are at grave risk of causing or being involved in an accident. Put the dog on the lead and spend time teaching the dog to sit beside the car before calmly getting into the car. Teach a wait command, using a hand signal such as the flat of your hand facing the dog – like a policeman directing traffic to stop. The hand signal can be used through the window when you are outside the car and the dog is still inside. This has to be practiced in a place of safety, but you must be able to open the car doors whilst the dog waits for permission to leave the car.
Where is the dog? Jumping from the front to the back seats? Barking like fury at anything that passes? Trying to sit on your knee? In the same way that a toddler should not be jumping about in a moving car, the dog should also be restrained – for his and your safety. An unrestrained dog could become a danger to your own life – imagine the crushing effect of a large dog being hurtled from back to front of a car when you brake suddenly. There are many products available to keep your dog safe. A cage behind the back seat, a seat belt that attaches to the human seat belts, dog guards – any of these will protect you and your dog. If using a cage/ crate in the car, this can double as a means of quietening the dog during a journey – just put a cover over the cage so that the dog can not see those passing motorbikes, horses or cats.
Where the dog goes in the car should not change as the dog gets older. If you have a puppy, decide where you will want the dog to be when traveling in the car when he is fully grown. This is where the puppy must learn to be from Day 1. It is not the puppy’s fault that he will grow bigger! Do not allow your dog to travel with his head sticking out of the window. Even a tiny particle of grit in the air can become a dangerous missile when you are traveling at speed. The dog is also more likely to be distracted by things you pass, perhaps even attempting to jump out of the window. This could obviously be a major distraction whilst you are driving.
Stopping for a break? A dog left in a car can die from heat exhaustion within only 10 minutes. Dogs do not sweat as we do, and have to pant to lose heat. A hot car becomes an oven and the dog can not pant efficiently enough to remain cool under such adverse circumstances. Even leaving the windows partly open is not enough on a warm day to stop the inside of the car reaching an incredible heat. Many cars are now air-conditioned. Although the interior of the car may have seemed pleasantly cool when you left the dog, always remember that the air conditioning will not be operating once the car has been parked. If you do have to leave the dog in the car for a short while, make sure the window is not open so wide that the dog can jump out, or be stolen.
Imagine that you have been involved in a serious car accident, resulting in your being unable to speak. Many ambulance crews have encountered dogs loose in cars that will not allow them to treat the dog’s injured owners. Could somebody arriving on the scene of an accident manage to catch the dog and attach his leash? Is the dog’s leash clearly visible in the car or has it been tossed under the seats? If the car is badly damaged, the dog may have been able to escape and run away in panic. Was the dog wearing its collar and identity disk whilst traveling in the car? If the dog was not with you in the car, how will rescue services know that there are pets at home if you are unconscious? A simple post-card kept in the glove compartment could give details of pets that are at home, and an emergency number to contact somebody who could care for your pets in your absence.
If only going away from home for a short break, it could be worth taking sufficient water with you for the dog. Water quality and bacteria content vary greatly between different areas and the change in water could upset your dog’s stomach. Taking “home” water with you could save having a dog in the car with a troublesome stomach! If going away for a longer time, you can start to mix the “home” water with the local water to gradually accustom the dog to the change.
By taking a few of these simple precautions, you and your dog can travel confidently and safely.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his dog Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy, a mischievous, mixed breed rescue. A leading authority on dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.