Car journeys are a fact of life for most dogs — and being able to travel happily is a really important life skill. Carolyn Menteith explains.
If your dog enjoys being in the car, you can involve him in your life far more — taking him out and about with you, exploring the countryside, going on holiday, and just generally giving you more time together. Not only do you need a dog who is happy in a car, however, you also need one who is safe and behaves well in a car.
Making sure your walks begin under control, from the moment you drive into the car park, is a vital skill — both to keep your dog safe, and to start your walk off on the right foot.
Practise makes perfect
The starting point is to get your dog used to the car and more likely to travel quietly and arrive calmly. Firstly, make sure he has somewhere in the car to travel that is secure, comfortable, and safe, where he can’t interfere with you and your driving, and where he is contained in case of an accident.
- Spend some time putting your dog into the car and giving him treats in there — first with the boot open...
- ...and then with it closed.
- You can even feed him his dinner in the car, or give him a stuffed Kong or similar, so he knows that it is a place where good things happen. Start with the engine off, and then on (with the boot closed). Take him for short drives and bring him back again. Many dogs become crazy travellers because they are only ever taken out for a fabulous walk, agility classes, or something equally exciting — while others only go in the car for visits to the vet.
Good car manners make the dog
It is dangerous for your dog to leap out of the car the second you open the door, without giving you the chance to put him on the lead. Not only that, but it means you start your walk totally out of control. How often have you seen dog arguments in the car park, dogs charging off, or the area covered in dog poo because owners just open the back and their dog leaps out and vanishes off into the distance?
Practise this at home, somewhere safe and secure, before doing it for real at the start of a walk.
- First make sure your dog can do a short wait (in either a sit or a down). Before you let him get out of the car, ask him to wait.
- You need to teach him to wait while you open the car and crate...
- ...and attach the lead to his collar. Give him a treat for doing so — otherwise the thrill of charging off will be far more rewarding for him than staying put.
Once you have him on the lead, you can give him a release command so he can jump out. Then ask him to sit for another treat while you close the boot, lock your car, and get ready to set off on your walk totally prepared and in control. Once you and your dog can do this at home, you can start putting it into practice when you are out and about. Start somewhere quiet where there aren’t many distractions, before building up to doing it in a busy area with lots of dogs, or at the side of a road, where these skills are vital.
Top tips for travelling with your dog by car
- Avoid feeding your dog before a car journey to reduce the risk of travel sickness.
- Sedation should only be considered as a last resort - only use sedatives prescribed specifically for your pet.
- Never allow you dog to sit on the seats unrestrained; if you brake suddenly he could end up hitting the windscreen or other passengers in the vehicle with fatal results.
- It is a good idea to restrain the dog in the car for his (and your) safety. Use a harness or if you travel regular basis, it may be worth buying a travel kennel to fit in the boot. Another option is a dog guard which will prevent him from jumping around while you are driving.
- Always travel with a basic kit in case of ‘accidents'. Make sure it contains newspaper, paper towels and some plastic bags.
- Give your dog access to fresh drinking water and take regular breaks to let him stretch his legs and relieve himself. Never exercise your dog on the hard shoulder of the motorway, check your route before hand and make note of service areas.
- Try to avoid leaving your dog alone in a car, particularly on warm days. If possible travel early in the morning or in the evening when it is cooler.
- It may look entertaining but do not allow your dog to stick it's head out of the window as you are driving. Not only could he be injured by passing vehicles, but loose particles could cause damage to his eyes and ears.
- According to the laws the inside of a car constitutes a public place. Anyone who sticks their fingers through a window and gets bitten by a dog could report you under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
- Check that your breakdown service will allow the dog to travel in the cab with you if your vehicle needs to be towed. Both the AA and The RAC advise customers to say they have dogs with them when they report a breakdown. Whether a dog will be allowed in the cad will be at the discretion of the patrolman.