For some dogs, car journeys are a regular occurrence – whether it’s a trip to the vet for a poorly paw, to a nearby dog park or dog friendly trail, or daily journeys to doggie day care. Would it surprise you to know that there are certain things that you may be doing in your car which are dangerous to your dog, and you for that matter?
Not Introducing Them to the Car Correctly
When we speak of stressed dogs, this could be because they just weren’t introduced to the car properly. A stressed dog is far more likely to lead to a stressed driver.
Did you just pop your dog in the car one day and hope for the best? Dogs learn from the consequences of their behaviour – that is, if they have a positive experience, they are more likely to want to repeat it.
Introduce them slowly, just let them get in the car and explore initially. Praise and reward. Start with short journeys and praise and reward when you get home. Eventually increase the journey length as you are confident Fido is coping.
Not Restraining Them Correctly
No matter how long or short the journey is, your dog should be safely restrained. This is especially true for active and powerful dogs. This could be with a harness attached to a seat belt or crated. Having them securely restrained means they are safe should you be involved in a collision; they aren’t about to go flying around the car on impact. It also means they can’t wander around the vehicle and pose a distraction or cause an incident. Ensure that the car harness are fit for the purpose; they should be large and padded unlike walking harnesses. The harness should also have more than one point of attachment to distribute the load should any collision occur.
Not Taking Enough Breaks
Consider how long your journey will be and whether you need to take toilet breaks. Plan ahead. You will need to take rest for safety and your dog will need toilet stops too. Try to stop at open spaces where Fido can do his business and have a sniff around. Some dogs may become stressed during car journeys, and some time out in the fresh air with some new smells is a good way to reduce stress levels. A stressed dog in the car will stress you out as the driver; a distraction you do not need. A happy dog means a happy driver!
Paying Too Much Attention to Them
We all want to make sure Fido’s journeys are as stress-free as possible; we want to watch for stress behaviours such as crying, pining, yawning and lip licking. The issue is, if you are driving, your attention should be firmly on the road in front of you. Paying too much attention to Fido can seriously distract you and put you all at risk. If you get too concerned about Fido during the journey, find a safe place to stop; for you to both calm down.
Giving Him A Chew
We’ve mentioned that Fido should have positive experiences in the car, some owners may think that a good chew will help with this. Generally, the quick chews, those that can be eaten in a matter of minutes can just be used as a reward. However, if you are thinking of giving him a long-standing chew, you may want to think again. Dogs should be supervised when they are eating; you cannot do this if you are driving. What happens if he starts choking as you’re mid-way down the highway? Where can you stop? What if he suddenly goes quiet? He’s probably just having a sleep, but if you’re honest, what will be running through your mind?
Remove the distraction and potential that he could choke – just treat him as he gets in the car and when you get to your destination. It also reduces the chances of him getting an unsettled tummy from the chew and you having a particularly aromatic car journey.
There are maybe a few more things to think about before that next journey in a car with your dog, and the risks can certainly be avoided.
If you dog is visibly stressed by the prospect of being in a car then re-socializing them to the car is your best starting point. If they are perfectly happy in the car, make sure they are correctly and safely restrained and use frequent breaks, especially during long road tips.
Consider our suggestions and safe travelling!
John Woods is a professional dog trainer and member of the association of professional dog trainers. He writes for the blog www.allthingsdogs.com.