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Eventually, all dog owners will find themselves in a situation where they have to take their dogs in a car.
It could be to take the dog to the vet, moving to a new city, or perhaps for an adventure.
Regardless of the reasons – you want to be prepared.
Your dog may travel happily in the car from the moment your ride starts until you reach your final destination.
Or, you could also end up dealing with a car-sick pup or one that won’t settle down.
In this article, we are going to look at how to prepare your dog for a car ride.
We will go over what to bring, and general car safety for dogs.
There is a lot to think about when you want to set yourself and your dog up for a successful ride.
But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Practice Makes Perfect
You can’t expect your dog to behave perfectly the first time you get into a car or a moving vehicle.
With that in mind, you don’t want to wait until the day before a planned ride to introduce your dog to the experience.
By the time you are packing your bags and getting ready to go, you want your dog to be an expert when it comes to car rides.
It is true that some dogs are natural when it comes to traveling by car. You might be lucky enough to have a dog that loves car rides right from the start.
But, just in case you aren’t, plan ahead and ease your dog into riding comfortably in a car. Just like you would train anything else.
Car rides are an important step in properly socializing a dog and it doesn’t always click on the first try.
The sooner you can start practicing, the more your dog will grow up to become an excellent road ride partner!
If your dog is a puppy, start by letting him explore the car.
Put him on the seat and watch as he sniffs around (just watch out for potty accidents). Reward him with treats and praise when appropriate.
You need to set time aside to familiarize your dog with the safety equipment you plan to use. (such as a travel crate or harness)
When your dog is comfortable being inside the car – that’s when you can go for a drive.
If possible, have someone else drive so that you can sit with your dog, and continue to reward good behavior. Start with driving around the block and gradually make the car rides longer.
Old Dogs Can Learn Too
Perhaps your dog is already an adult and still hasn’t been introduced to a car?
Don’t worry! Adult dogs can also learn to become excellent road trip buddies. It is a myth that it is impossible to teach an older dog something new.
The difference is that training might take longer with an adult dog than it would with a puppy. Just be patient and use the same positive reinforcement methods you would with a puppy.
Encourage Appropriate Behavior & Fight Dog Anxiety in Car Rides
It may look cute when a puppy tumbles around in the backseat, climbs all over the people riding in the car, falls down on the floor, or chews on the seatbelt. But, none of these behaviors are going to be cute or safe as the dog gets older.
Imagine a fully grown dog bouncing around while you are trying to focus on the road! Sounds like fun? Probably not. Fight the urge to go “aww” and encourage appropriate doggy behavior by acknowledging it with verbal praise and treats.
This doesn’t mean that you should allow undesired behavior to continue. Instead, you should focus on what the dog is doing right.
Remember, the goal is to make sure car rides become a positive experience for your pooch to set the standards for a future road trip.
You want to use positive reinforcement methods when teaching appropriate car behavior to a dog, regardless of the dog’s age.
This means that you will be rewarding correct conduct, and ignoring incorrect actions.
Positive reinforcement promotes desired behaviors by keeping the experience positive for both you and your dog.
It is highly effective when attempting to control an otherwise negative or stressful situation by turning it into something positive.
Ride with Different People
As part of the socialization process, you can also ask family members, neighbors, and friends if they could come to pick you up in their cars. This will give your pup the opportunity to experience different vehicles, different drivers, new smells, and more.
Don’t underestimate a dog’s need to familiarize itself with the unknown before gaining confidence.
Practicing car rides with different drivers or cars is great should you ever need to rent a car, ride with someone who is a stranger to your dog, or if you decide to buy a new car somewhere further down the line. It is always better to be prepared.
What to Bring
Planning for a car ride is fun and exciting. Don’t forget to plan for your dog! Dogs don’t need much to have a good time, that is for sure. But, a few different items can make the ride both easier, safer, and more enjoyable for everyone.
Food & Water
A must-have when you go for a ride is water. Make sure you always have fresh water with you, along with a bowl for your dog to drink from. It isn’t a good idea to have water out during the drive as it is going to spill. Just make it a habit to offer your dog a drink as often as possible, especially on hot days.
If you are planning a long drive, pack some dog food too. Take a break somewhere along the road to stretch your (and your dog’s) legs and get some lunch.
Harness, Leash & Collar
Don’t forget your walking gear so that you can take your furry friend for a walk during your ride! Make sure you use a crash-tested dog harness for car rides.
Never connect a collar to a dog seatbelt buckle. This could snap your dog’s neck in the case of an accident.
When you are traveling, it is a smart idea to add a dog tag with your phone number and home address to either the harness or a collar to prevent your fur baby from getting lost in an unfamiliar location.
Traveling can be stressful for a dog and their behavior can sometimes be unpredictable as a result.
All pets crossing state borders, with the exception of service dogs, are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have a rabies immunization and valid health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian within 30 days of travel.
You should also bring your pup’s paperwork, such as vaccination records, pet insurance information, microchip number, and anything else you think could be useful.
This will be helpful if you need to visit a vet clinic while you are traveling, but also in the case of an incident. Like, if your dog gets in a fight with another dog or if the dog was to run away or get lost.
Emergency Vet Contacts
You probably have a veterinarian you trust and to whom you usually bring your dog. But, what happens when you are out on the road?
Your vet back in New York won’t be of much help when you and your pup are in Los Angeles.
Perform a Google search before your ride to find a vet clinic located at your destination. Perhaps also a couple of vet clinics located on your travel route. It is always better to be prepared.
What happens if your dog cuts a paw at a rest stop or gets a tick? Accidents tend to happen unexpectedly, but you can prepare yourself for the unexpected. We recommend keeping a basic first-aid kit for dogs in your car, just in case there is ever an emergency.
Safest Way For A Dog To Ride in A Car
It may seem easy to let your dog in the car and for the two of you to drive off into the sunset. But, there are some safety precautions you need to be aware of. Imagine another car hitting you from behind.
In this scenario, your 75-pound dog is going to turn into a 3,000-pound projectile.
The dog will either go straight through the windshield and most likely get killed. It could also hit you right in the back of the head and kill you both on the spot.
This may seem extreme, but it is realit. The scary part is that it doesn’t take a big accident for it to become a reality.
What could have been a small fender bender could easily turn into the greatest tragedy when you drive with an unrestrained dog.
Use a Travel Crate or Harness/Seatbelt
One of the absolute safest ways to travel is by having your dog ride in a crash-tested travel crate.
Not only do you give your pup a safe space to rest, but you also keep him from moving around too much during the drive.
He is a lot more protected in the case of a crash or accident.
Crash-tested harnesses and leashes also provide security in a case where you cannot fit a travel crate.
Keep in mind that you can’t just put your dog in a travel crate and hope for the best. If your dog isn’t used to wearing a harness, that’ll take some getting used to.
The best strategy here is to practice at home for a while before heading out to the car.
Leave the crate inside your home for some time to give your pup a chance to get used to it.
The same goes for a harness! Practice makes perfect, and you might as well start practicing in the house.
Car Seat Covers and Hammocks
Have you ever noticed that dogs tend to shed more when they are stressed or a little worked up? This phenomenon could quickly turn your car into an inferno of fur.
By investing in dog car seat covers, you can keep all that hair from ending up all over you and your vehicle, plus they can easily be removed and washed in the washing machine.
Add an additional safety feature by choosing a backseat hammock over a regular seat cover.
These hammocks provide a barrier between the backseat and the front seat which prevents your dog from bothering you while you drive and also further contains any fur.
Preventing Motion Sickness
Motion sickness does not affect all dogs, but some dogs don’t seem to be able to ride in a car for more than a few minutes without throwing up!
While there is no magic switch. There are a few things you can do to set your pooch up for success.
Canine motion sickness can cause a dog to start to pant, pace, whine, drool or lick its lips, and this often happens before they eventually vomit. Vomiting could also come unexpectedly, and it can be difficult to prevent.
In some extreme cases, motion sickness can also cause diarrhea.
The most important step you can take to prevent motion sickness is to make sure your dog feels comfortable riding in a car. Anxiety may or may not make motion sickness worse, but it definitely won’t help prevent it.
Follow the steps previously mentioned in this article to condition your dog for a longer ride.
Below are some additional tips:
- No food right before the ride.
- Offer water frequently.
- Provide the dog with its own space.
- Play relaxing music.
- Keep the car cool.
- Provide distracting toys.
- Try natural calming treats.
The last tip is for you to relax. Don’t pity a car-sick dog, even though you are likely to feel sorry for your best fur friend.
Pitying a dog can result in the dog thinking that something is actually wrong and that they are right to get worked up about car rides. Instead, be calm and stop the car and go for a quick walk if needed.
Hot Car Warning
Another thing you need to consider is what you will do with your dog when you stop somewhere. It is never advisable to leave your dog in a car, especially not during the summer months.
A parked car heats up within a matter of minutes, and before you know it, your dog could be suffering from a deadly condition known as heat stroke. You probably wouldn’t leave a baby in the car on a warm day (we hope you wouldn’t, at least), so don’t leave your dog either.
If you are running errands – bring a friend who can stay outside with your dog, or opt for leaving your furry friend at home instead.
A dog left in a car is also exposed to other dangers, such as theft or accidents (another car could lose control and crash into yours).
Responsible dog ownership is all about keeping your dog and others safe, which is why you should avoid leaving your dog unattended inside a vehicle.
If you are a frequent traveler with your dogs, consider purchasing a Waggle Temperature Sensor for your car.
Advice for Longer Car Rides
Taking short rides to the vet, doggy daycare, a friend’s house, or the pet store is not the same as driving cross-country or taking a multiple-hour ride to get to the summer house you’ve rented.
Long rides require more preparation and better planning. While being spontaneous is great – it isn’t always an option when you are traveling with dogs.
Where to Stop
Longer ride require potty breaks – both for humans and dogs, but these breaks might need to be a little longer when you are traveling with a dog.
Keep in mind that you have the option to talk to the other people in the car, be on your phone, listen to music and even pull out your laptop and work remotely, but your dog is going to get bored.
Yes, you could just pull over and let your dog have a quick pee by the side of the road, but where is the fun in that?
Use each stop as an opportunity for everyone in the car to stretch their legs and enjoy the adventure.
You should try to plan ahead by checking for appropriate stops along your route.
Perhaps there is a short hiking trail somewhere along your planned route, or a dog-friendly beach or large dog park?
It is not a bad idea to keep a tennis ball and a tennis ball launcher in the car, just in case you spot a suitable park. Fresh air and a few minutes of fun will be good for everyone involved.
You can also look for farmer’s markets, dog-friendly flea markets, and local sights where you can take a stroll with your furry little friend. Just remember – you are shopping for your dog and not only for yourself, so make sure your dog is the one that gets to have a good time. You won’t lose much travel time, yet it will make your dog’s day!
How Often to Stop?
How often you need to stop on your dog-friendly road trip depends on the dog, but you are likely to need to make a stop every 2-4 hours or so. The type of stop you make will also impact how long you can wait until stopping the next time.
For example, if you only stop for a few minutes by the side of the road, you might only be able to drive for another two hours before the dog gets bored again.
However, if you stop for a game of fetch or let your dog play at a dog park, you might instead end up with a happy and exhausted dog that will happily sleep for a big part of the ride.
Where to Stay the Night
Long car rides usually require you to stop somewhere overnight, and while you are used to settling with any roadside motel – traveling with a dog requires you to plan ahead.
Dogs aren’t allowed everywhere, unfortunately, and you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where it is late and dark, where the driver is tired and you have nowhere to go.
Look up dog-friendly accommodation ahead of time, and make sure you write down all your options. When you are road-tripping, you never know if there is going to be a phone signal wherever you are, which is why we recommend doing all this before you hit the road.
Call hotels and motels to make reservations when you are traveling with a dog, and always have a few backup options as well, just in case your planned accommodation falls through.
You can find dog-friendly hotels in your area with a simple Google search, or by using an application like Airbnb.
Regardless of whether you are planning a cross-country car ride, or if you just want to be able to take your dog with you when you go pick up the kids from school – you need to condition both your car and your dog for the adventure (no matter how small) that lies ahead.
Safety is number one when driving with a dog, and we recommend using a crash-tested dog crate to keep your best fur friend properly secured.
A crash-tested car harness and seatbelt strap are also good options in a case where you can’t fit or don’t own a crate.
Our last tip is simply to have fun. If you are going on a longer trip – try to think of the trip itself as an adventure, and not only as transportation from one location to another.
When you travel with dogs you will inevitably need to stop frequently for potty breaks and walks, but if you make the best out of the stops (perhaps by researching fun places to stop ahead of time) – those stops could end up becoming the most fun parts of your journey.