Driving Miss Doggie: Training tips for car rides, proper crates and travel restraints, sidebar on car anxiety and motion sickness.
Or not. If you plan on taking your dog on a road trip, please be sure that he or she has been on a few mini-trips before you start your vacation.
Many people make the mistake of taking their house-/yard-bound dog on a trip and expect them to behave as if they’re travel veterans. When my students tell me that they’re taking their dog on a trip for the first time, I suggest they arrange a “sleep over” for them and their pet at a local hotel or even at a friend’s home. Dogs have to learn not only to travel but also to sleep in new surroundings. If your dog’s bedtime has never been anywhere but your home, it’s better to acclimate him before the trip to prevent separation issues and the potential behaviors that go with it, such as barking, whining, destructive behavior, soiling etc.
Which is either in a seatbelt or in a crate. And before you ask, here’s why you need to do this:
1. Because an unrestrained dog can become a flying projectile of unimaginable force in a car crash, which means that your 60lb dog becomes a 2,700lb missile during a 35mph collision.
2. Because having your dog sit on your lap can cause him to interfere with your steering and, if he jumps or slides down to your feet, interfere with the gas and brake pedals.
3. Because having your dog loose is dangerously distracting.
Now that I’ve convinced you why you need to seatbelt or crate your dog, now let me convince you where he should travel while in the car. The safest place for seat belted dog is in the middle back seat. I know, you like to have your dog next to you, but if your airbag were to deploy it would come out of the dashboard or steering wheel at 140mph. Enough said. Those of you who are choosing to crate your dog need to know that the crate itself can become a flying projectile in an accident, so you need to have the crate securely fastened.
”Ok. I’m on board with restraining my dog. So what do I buy?”
I’m so glad you asked. If you’re thinking of a seatbelt, make sure that it is certified as “U.S. Crash Tested”. Remember, a seatbelt is not a walking harness – it’s a specially constructed safety restraint. If you’re considering a crate, you need to research which ones are the most secure. An airline or wire crate would provide the most protection in an accident, while a soft-sided crate would provide the least.
What’s In Your Wallet?
If you’re traveling with your dog, it should include a recent photo of him, a copy of his health certificate, a listing all of his recent vaccinations, and your veterinarian’s contact info, In the unlikely event that you become separated from your dog, you’ll have the information you need to make posters and contact rescue groups in order to have him returned home.
It goes without saying that your dog should be wearing a collar with his ID tags attached. The phone number on the ID should be your cell number, not your home number (you won’t be there). Another option is to purchase a personalized collar with the word “REWARD” and your cell number on it. Those of you who have your dogs micro-chipped are ahead of the game. Those of you who haven’t “chipped” your dog yet, put that on the top of your To Do list.
When you’re traveling (provided someone else is driving!) you can read a book, work on your laptop or listen to your iPod. But what about your dog? Providing him with a few new toys will ensure he doesn’t get bored. My dog’s favorite kind are “puzzle-type” toys, like a Kong stuffed and frozen with peanut butter. What you stuff yours with depends on what your dog loves. One of my students stuffs her dog’s Kong with cheese tortellini!!
Literally! Your dog should be allowed out and about whenever possible. Letting him stretch his legs and have some fun time out of his crate or seatbelt will make him more accepting of the time he has to spend in it.
A calm owner usually has a calm pet. Our dogs pick up on our stress, so if you’re nervous and uptight, guess who else feels it?
Whether traveling for a dog show or for pleasure, I remind my students that their dogs are Doggie Ambassadors for traveling. Being able to keep your pet with you on vacation is a privilege. Arriving at places with a well-trained dog and being considerate of those around you will go a long way in assuring that our animal companions will always be welcome away from home.
SIDEBAR: It’s Not Your Driving. Really.
The most common reason that dogs get carsick is stress. If your dog doesn’t see the fun in car rides because he associates them with negative events (vet visits, being left at a kennel, trips to the groomer), try changing his attitude by:
- If he loves mealtime, start feeding him in the car! Start with the car off, go in with him, feed him, and then everybody out! Nice he’s excited to get into the car for a meal, try it with the car turned on in your driveway.
- How about taking him on a short 5-10 min trip that ends with you taking him out and playing his favorite game?
- Some dogs do better on an empty stomach while some need a small meal. Trial and error is the name of the game.
- My border collie used to look at every car going past us! Whipping his head back and forth made him car sick, so I switched him from riding in a seatbelt to a sheet-covered crate in the back. Now he just lays down and focuses on the toys I give him, NOT the cars.
- Sometimes cracking the windows to let some fresh air in is a good idea. Of course, since your dog is safely secured, you don’t have to worry about him sticking his head anywhere near the window.
- There are homeopathic and pharmaceutical remedies for car sickness. Speak to your vet about your options.