The Ultimate Guide to Travelling With Your Dog in a Car
Taking your dog in the car
When taking your dog in a car the secret is to make them feel confident. The more confident they are, the more comfortable and less stressed they’ll be.
As with so many things with dogs, the sooner they experience travel, the better. Ideally, you want your puppy to get used to cars as soon as you bring them home.
Introduce them gradually, starting with them sitting in a stationary car. They need time to have a sniff around the pen or area they will be confined to and feel comfortable before you start the engine. Once they’re happy, move onto a short, slow trip – to the end of the road and back. Give them praise and rewards at the end of the journey for riding quietly in the car.
Dogs generally prefer a firm footing under their paws so the foot well or boot is actually better for them to sit in than on your car seat.
Assuming all goes well, you simply increase the length of trips slowly as your dog’s confidence grows. You can use this technique with dogs of all ages so, if you’re rehoming an adult dog that’s not used to travelling, be slow and patient and you should soon start to make progress.
If you’re going to be travelling with your dog over long distances, make a habit of stopping every couple of hours. You’ll probably both appreciate a toilet break, a drink of water and the chance to stretch your legs – just always ensure that your dog’s wearing their collar and ID in case they escape.
Dog car safety isn’t just about keeping your dog protected; it’s about taking care of the driver and passengers too. Take time to train your dog to be calm and quiet in the car so they don’t distract the driver or cause a nuisance to other people in the car.
If your dog’s sitting in the foot well or boot, as recommended previously, use a crate or dog barrier to keep them safely contained. If this isn’t possible and your only option is to have your dog sitting on a car seat, make sure they’re wearing a harness. Harnesses are like dog seat belts; they come in different sizes and attach onto ordinary car safety belts. A harness can take a bit of getting used to so you might want to give it a trial run in the house first, giving your dog lots of praise for wearing it, before you try it out for real on your journey.
When taking your dog in a car never let them travel with their head out of the car window. It might look like great fun, and probably is, but they could get an eye irritation or, worse, get injured by something you drive past. There’s also the risk that they could slip out of their harness and jump out of the window. It’s absolutely fine to open the window a little bit so your dog gets plenty of fresh air, and on hot days you can use a window guard that lets you open the window more without allowing your dog the chance to jump out.
If the weather’s hot you can also buy shades that attach to the windows to prevent strong sunlight coming in.
Both the window guards and the sunshades are great for when you’re moving but even with the windows down and the sunlight protected, cars can heat up very quickly. NEVER leave your dog in the car on warm days, even in the winter, as it can be fatal.
If your dog gets particularly nervous in the car ask your vet about using synthetic pheromones which are available in different formats – including dog bandanas! The scents are believed to be similar to the reassuring pheromones their mums will have emitted naturally when they were a puppy, so it should calm them down and keep them relaxed for around four hours.
Also try to provide them with some kind of familiarity in the car to make them less stressed, such as a favourite toy or a rug that smells like home.
Carsickness in dogs is very common although some dogs do grow out of it. If your furry friend gets queasy in cars it makes sense to put down waterproof sheeting where they tend to sit or lie and always carry lots of paper towels and a cleaning spray in case they’re ill.
A car sick dog is an unhappy dog – and no one wants that – so don’t travel when they’ve got a full stomach. It’s best to hold off feeding your dog for two to three hours before you travel as a precaution and always give your dog a walk just before you set off so they’re not anxious about having an accident. If carsickness becomes a frequent problem, ask your vet for their advice.