So you said the magic “W” word and now your fate is sealed. The anticipation of a walk has caused a frenzy of excitement and if you want normality and calm again, you better get out walking soon. You’ve never been to the beach together before and what better way to spend a lazy Sunday. It’s only a 10 minute car journey, what’s the worst that can happen? Well after constant whimpering and a bout of wrenching, you’ve finally arrived at your destination only to find that the boot of your car is soaked through with urine. It’s not quite the relaxing stroll you had in mind.
Dogs love visiting new places for walks. Its fresh surroundings to explore with unfamiliar and intriguing smells, unknown activities and there’s the potential to meet new playmates. However, getting your dog to the destination can be frustrating as you deal with car sickness, a hyperactive dog clambering around the car and constant barking or howling. Traveling with dogs isn’t as easy as loading your canine family member into the boot or backseat of your car and expecting him to wait patiently until you arrive.
Anyone that has traveled in a puppy’s first car journey can attest to the difficulty in trying to get a dog to sit still and behave in a car. If you’ve been struggling with travelling with your dog, read on for some helpful tips that will make the journey much more enjoyable.
Dealing with car sickness
Car sickness or dog motion sickness is more common in pups or younger dogs. This is due to an underdeveloped ear structure which dogs rely on heavily for balance. As the ear structure develops, most dogs will grow out of motion sickness. However, if your dog associates rides in the car with nausea and vomiting, this is unlikely to stop as your pup matures.
Negative past experiences in the car can also result in triggering anxiety and can literally cause your dog to worry himself sick. If your dog was locked in the car for long periods as a puppy, or you only use the car for trips to the vets or the groomers, then of course your dog is going to be apprehensive about travelling.
So what’s the solution for dealing with a queasy dog in the car? Well, there needs to be a positive association created with car trips. This can take time to build and will need to be done in a series of small actions. Food is a great reward with any kind of dog training and getting comfortable inside a vehicle is no exception.
Try feeding your dog in the car or if he is completely fear stricken, try placing his feeding bowl close to the car, then edging it closer with each feeding session. If you’re still not having any success, use your dog’s favorite treat or something really special, like cold meat or chicken, to entice him into the car. When inside, keep the doors open and slowly feed him while lavishing with lots of praise. If you can get him to stay in the car, try getting him to relax by sitting with him and talking in a soothing tone while giving long strokes to his mane.
If you’re unfamiliar with the symptoms and treatment options for when your dog is throwing up, read our article about dog car sickness to prepare for the next time your dog is feeling ill.
After this has been repeated several times and you feel your dog is comfortable with being in the car while at rest, the next milestone is going short excursions. Keep these first few rides brief. A trip around the block is more than sufficient for the first couple of times and then gradually increase the duration with each outing.
When dogs are comfortable riding in the car, they love for nothing more than to stick their head out of the window and feel the full force of the passing air pull back their gums and ears. You’re sure to see the biggest grins of delight when passing a dog with his head fully stretched out of the window.
However, having your dog jumping from seat to seat as he sticks his head out of each and every window, is not only stressful, but also illegal. Not to mention that in the event of an accident, your dog could get seriously injured as the force from the impact sends him airborne. You wouldn’t let a child ride without a seatbelt, so why would restraining your dog while travelling be any different?
An energetic dog that won’t sit at peace in the car is a huge distraction. You need to have your eyes on the road and your attention on driving, not worrying about your hyperactive dogs’ next movement. Ideally, your dog should be separated from you and then there is no temptation for him to jump on your lap or for you to clap him while driving. A guard rail can be used to divide the boot space from the rest of the car.
Guard rails are affordable and easy to install. A screwdriver set, Allen keys and an adjustable wrench is all that is usually required. Or if you struggle with DIY, someone from the pet store where you purchased the guard rail may be able to help you with installation. Guards with a mesh instead of bars are more effective for smaller or medium sized dogs. Make the boot space comfortable with some bedding or a blanket and bring along some toys or a chew to provide entertainment for the ride. Leave the back window down to provide adequate circulation to the rear of the car.
If you dog has been crate trained, transporting your dog in a crate provides a safe enclosure. When crate training is done properly, dogs find comfort in their crate and it is often the place where they go to relax and have “down time” when in the house. Travelling in the crate within the boot of your vehicle is no different and will often make your dog feel secure and bring on those familiar feelings of relaxation. It is one of the safest methods of traveling with your dog provided the crate is anchored to something.
If your boot space is relatively small, harnesses that attach your dog to the safety belt are available. They are often adjustable allowing you to control your dog’s freedom of motion which is great if you allow your dog to stick his head out of the window. However tempting it may be to have your dog ride “shotgun” up front with you, travelling with your dog attached to the rear passenger seats is by far the safest option.
A barking dog can be a huge disturbance to your safe driving practices. Dogs bark in the car for a number of different reasons. Sometimes it is brought on by fear and other times it is the vocal release of excitement and pent up energy. However, if you’re dog isn’t displaying signs off fear, don’t assume his barking is a sign of enjoyment. Barking could still be triggered by anticipation of both a positive or negative experience at the end of the journey.
People, cars, other dogs or just about anything else, provide much excitement for a car bound dog. Dogs become restless sitting for long periods of time and the temptation to bark at moving targets is just too great for some. To address the issue, you’ll need to go back to basics with training.
This works best if you have someone else that can drive while you sit with your dog. During the course of your journey, constantly correct barking with the “No” command or hissing (popularized by Cesar Millan, “The Dog Whisperer”). Reinforce good behavior where there was no barking when passing by targets with lots of praise and a treat.
Once you have overcome barking, it’s time to work on perfecting car etiquette. The perfect car ride would have your dog sit or lie down for the duration of the car journey. If you’re having trouble with a rowdy dog in the car at present, this may seem like a fanciful dream. However, with enough training, it can be achieved. You will require your dog to have a solid understanding of the down command and follow your instruction when in the house or garden.
Similarly, as training your dog not to fear the car, having him sit or lie down when traveling should be learned in a series of steps. First, make him perform the “down” command while near the car, then while he is in the car when stationary, then when the engine is running and finally while on a short trip. Remember, obedience can be achieved with enough repetition and positive reinforcement.
Another solution is to try and distract him from the outside world and keep his mind occupied with toys and treats. Toys that are designed to be chewed, such as “Kong” toys are great boredom breakers. An effective way to keep him entertained for the duration of the trip, is to have a special “car toy” that he only gets when travelling. Long lasting chews such as pig ears and raw hide bones are also wonderful distractions.
If all else fails, try using blinds or sun shades to restrict the view your dog has of his surroundings. Although this hasn’t addressed the issue and is merely putting a band aid on a much larger problem, it may offer temporary respite until you have time to reinforce training or perhaps engage the services of a professional dog trainer.
What about long trips?
Long distance traveling with your dog should be avoided until you are certain that he is at ease in the car and has a good track record of obeying commands. Make sure there is enough positive associations with the car created through numerous visits to his favorite spots before attempting long distance travel. If car rides are associated with frolicking in the waves at the beach or swimming in the pond at the park, then you’re dog will be happy to hop in the car wherever you may be going.
Plan your journey well beforehand and make sure there are enough breaks scheduled for toilet outings, feeding and watering, stretching the legs and longer walks if possible. Be sure to prepare for unexpected breakdowns and getting lost, especially if travelling to somewhere you have never been before. Unforeseen events can result in much more time on the road than you had planned for. You should also travel with a full itinerary which should include:
- Fresh water;
- Feeding bowls;
- Toys (Pick a selection that is sure to keep your dog’s mind occupied);
- Bedding and blankets;
- Towels and/or kitchen roll;
- Poop bags;
- And don’t forget the leads.
We’ve compiled a more detailed list of equipment and practices in our article about dog car safety to keep your dog safe and happy.
If you are travelling for more than a day with a dog and expect to make an overnight stop, it may be more sensible and easier to look at alternative arrangements. A several day cross country trip by car is going to be exhausting for you, but for your four-legged friend, confined to the boot of the car, it will be excruciatingly boring.
Have you thought about accommodation if you’re traveling for several days? Many places will refuse to take pets and just because it says “pet friendly”, doesn’t mean that he will be willing to house your two Great Danes for the night. Always phone first and confirm your accommodation arrangements.
Even if your dog isn’t actually entering the premises and will remain in the car or off grounds, business owners may still be opposed to a potentially barking or howling dog disturbing other guests. To avoid the torment, a few hours on the plane instead of several days in the car could save you both the unneeded stress and hassle. There may be more costs associated with flying your pet across the country, but it could be worth the trade-off for the lower cortisone levels you’ll have.
Long trips in the car should be avoided for the first few journeys unless it is absolutely unavoidable, such as picking up your puppy from a faraway breeder. If a negative experience is formed during early puppy hood, it is almost certain to leave emotional scarring that will require further training to break the link with those fearful associations.
When your dog isn’t quite sure of his environment and also dealing with the stress of being separated from his litter mates, don’t subject him to any more intimidating situations. In the event that you are picking up a puppy from a distant location, have him sit on a blanket beside you while comforting him. Your new puppy will no doubt be shaking and extremely nervy. In this case, you may deem it acceptable to have him on your lap and wrapped in a blanket.
Leaving your dog in the car
Many dog owners have been guilty of leaving their dog in the car for extended periods of time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just popping into the supermarket for a couple of forgotten groceries or decided to go for a 3 course meal, your dog is still going to be left unattended in a stuffy car. Many people would proclaim that it is acceptable to leave your dog in the car. They reason that it is better than the alternative of leaving your dog at home in an anxious state, but is there any truth to this?
Well the fact is that many dogs die of suffocation each year from being left in vehicles. Often, their owners are responsible dog owners and don’t think they are causing any harm. But it takes as little as 20 minutes of being left alone in a car on a hot day to cause serious injury such as heatstroke, brain damage or even a fatality. Even on mild days, where temperatures are in the low 20’s outside, with constant panting this could raise the inside temperature to a staggering 40-45°c within only an hours’ time.
Dogs aren’t able to regulate their body temperature by skin perspiration like humans can. Instead, they have to control their heat by panting or sweating through their paws. This results in any available oxygen being used up very quickly. Even with using a sun shade or keeping all the windows opened slightly, your dog will still have difficulty breathing.
Dogs left in cars are also vulnerable to teasing and being tormented by passers-by, which may happen if kids or rowdy teenagers spot an unattended dog. In short, it is never truly acceptable to leave your dog in the car and you should plan your outings so there is no chance of it happening.
As I’m sure you’ll already know, traveling with dogs is not always easy. There is nothing more aggravating than dealing with a disorderly dog in the car or more infuriating than cleaning up sickness after every single trip. Plus, there’s the additional preparation work required for even a short five minute ride to the park. With so stresses and potential hours of training required to fix behavioral problems, you start to wonder if travelling with your dog is worth all the hassle.
However, if you have patience and persist with training you’ll get to experience so much more. You’ll create unforgettable memories and exciting new experiences for both your family and your dog. You’ll discover a whole heap of new places and be able to visit a few familiar favorites that is certain to keep your pooch happy.