Is your dog a good passenger?

Is your dog a good passenger?
Photo courtesy of Sleepypod.

How to keep your canine passenger safe and stress-free during road trips.

You’ve got big plans – a road trip with your dog full of adventure, bonding time and photo ops. You’ve mapped out your route and bookmarked the most Instagrammable cafes and scenic spots. But how much thought have you given to the car ride itself? Wherever you’re going, you want to get there safely. So here’s one of the first things you should ask yourself: “Is my dog a good passenger?”

Most vehicle accidents involving a dog arise from the animal causing a distraction. This is why the first rule of traveling with your dog is that he should be safely restrained by a crash-tested carrier or harness. (My preferred brand is Sleepypod because of their high standards for testing.) A calm canine passenger makes the car ride safer, more enjoyable, and less stressful for other vehicle occupants; and, of course, it keeps the dog safer in case of an accident.

Helping your dog feel comfortable with car trips

  1. To set him up for success, bring along some favorite items – toys, blankets, an old t-shirt that smells like you – as well as favourite treats and a water bowl for breaks
  2. Dogs usually feel less anxious when securely buckled in. This can also help with animals that get carsick. Get your dog accustomed to his harness/carrier by using it at home for a few days before trying it out in the car.
  3. Have fun going nowhere. Practice getting into the car, working on a “down” and “stay”, then rewarding. For nervous canine travelers, put your dog in the car and give him his food by hand. Repeat over the next few days.
  4. Buckle in your dog and reward him with some treats and scratches. Sit with him and just hang out together for a few minutes.
  5. Next, start up the car and go a very short distance — even half a block will do. When you return home, unbuckle your dog or take him out of his carrier, then offer him some treats.
  6. Keep rides short and fun. For example, don’t make his first car ride a trip to the vet – you don’t need any negative associations. Good destination ideas are the local pet store, dog park, or hiking trail.
  7. Slowly build up your time in the car together. Remember, when you’re on the road, you can always pull over to give your dog a snuggle and tell him how good he is.

A few quick reminders

  • No animals in the front seat. A deployed air bag can injure him.
  • Make frequent stops to give your dog a chance to stretch his legs, have a potty break, and drink some water.
  • If your dog isn’t comfortable buckled in, the next safest place is on the floor well behind the front seat.
  • Never leave your dog alone in the car, especially when it’s hot.

With a little patience and practice, you and your best friend can look forward to hitting the road together!

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