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Driving with dogs

Monday May 7th, 2012

For some dogs, a car ride is one of life's happy experiences — almost as good as a roll in dead squirrel. For others, it's a nerve-wracking experience that leaves them shivering and tense. What makes the difference?

Let's put it this way: If the destination is always the vet's office, he's probably not going to enjoy whatever gets him there. But if the car also takes him to parks, beaches, and on shopping expeditions, well, then, cars rock.

Here are some other suggestions for making a drive fun — and safe for your dog.

What to pack

  • Paper towels, stain and odor remover, and anything else you need to clean up after any accidents
  • Plenty of poop bags
  • A bowl, water, and some treats
  • A safety harness, crate, or barrier
  • Seat covers (an old sheet with plastic bags underneath works in a pinch) if you want to protect your car from stains and hair

Tips for a pleasant trip

The most important pointer is to make driving in a car a pleasant experience, from the moment you start spending time together. Many vets recommend you drive your new pet home, rather than pack him in a crate and fly him there, because it's far less stressful on your dog.

If you're just bringing him home for the first time, ask a friend or family member to come along so he or she can sit next to your puppy or dog, cuddle him, and offer reassurance that he'll survive this first trip.

Within the first days of being home, take him somewhere fun in the car — to a park, or a beach so he starts associating it immediately with good things. Make sure you make each trip pleasant don't play the music too loudly, talk to him if he seems nervous, make sure he's comfortably settled.

Other tips for a smooth ride:

Treat car sickness. If simple motion sickness is the cause, ask your vet about anti-nausea medications. If nervousness at being in the car is the culprit, try having your dog sit in the car without going anywhere, providing plenty of praise and treats; then practice taking short trips that end someplace fun.

Bring your dog's usual food. A sudden switch can upset your dog's stomach — so not what you want when you're stuck in the car together.

Try not to feed your dog right before you leave or when you're on the road. A dog with a full tummy and a car in motion can be a bad combination. Aim for a mealtime three to four hours before you leave, and if you need to feed him on the road, make a pit stop.

Take along bedding and toys from home for longer trips. They can comfort your dog when his usual routine is disrupted.

How to avoid an accident

Use a safety harness, barrier, or crate to restrain your dog. If you use a crate, secure it so it doesn't slide around the car.

Some people think this is a bit obsessive, but think about what happens if you brake suddenly or crash. A restraint will:

  • Protect your dog, by keeping him from hitting the windshield or flying out of the car
  • Protect you and your passengers from being hit by a flying dog
  • Prevent the pile-up that could ensue if your dog flies out of the car and on to the road

At the very least, keep dogs out of the front seat, and definitely out of your lap. Not only can they distract you and cause an accident, small pups can be killed by a deployed air bag.

Don't leave your dog in the car alone on cold or hot (or even just warm) days. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car hits 102 degrees within 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked open. Just 15 minutes in a hot car can lead to brain damage. And dogs can, and do, freeze to death when left alone in cars in winter.

Don't let your dog ride in the back of an open truck or hang his head out the window. It's too easy for a dog to jump or fall out of a truck bed. And even sniffing the breeze from an open window can lead to a vet visit if a pebble or something from the road is kicked up into your dog's eye.

Bottom line: Cars are one of the best ways to hit the road with your dog. With a few safety precautions and some advance preparation to prevent car ride anxiety and stomach upset, you'll both be much more likely to enjoy the ride.

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