Driving with your furry friend by your side can be fun, but it’s important to keep safety top of mind. According to the American Automobile Association, unrestrained pets in vehicles account for over 30,000 injuries and hundreds of deaths each year. By taking some simple precautions, you can make car rides enjoyable for both you and your pup.
Choose the Right Restraint
The first step is choosing an appropriate restraint to keep your dog secure in the event of sudden braking or an accident. There are a few options:
- Dog seat belt – Attach to your dog’s harness and clip into the seat belt buckle.
- Dog car harness – Made specifically for travel, with straps that latch into the seat belt system.
- Dog crate or carrier – Sturdy plastic crates can be buckled directly into the car seat.
- Dog barrier/gate – Prevents access to the front seats during drives.
Make sure to select the right size device for your dog’s weight. It should fit snugly without restricting movement. Test out restraints before extended trips to ensure compatibility with your vehicle. It’s also wise to get them accustomed to the device while they are still in your car for short distance drives.
Use a Comfortable Harness
In addition to the car restraint, your dog should wear a well-fitted harness designed for travel. Look for padded, adjustable options that distribute pressure evenly across your dog’s torso. Proper harness fit allows you to securely attach the tether with minimal discomfort. Check for signs of rubbing or irritation after initial uses.
Prep Your Dog for the Car
Take steps to get your dog comfortable with car travel:
- Take short local trips before longer drives.
- Reward good behavior generously with treats.
- Use a calming spray or plugins to ease anxiety.
- Crate train your dog to make confinement less stressful.
- Play calming music to muffle outside noises.
This gradual exposure can help prevent travel sickness and fear. Be patient, as some dogs adapt easier than others.
Mind the Temperature
Dogs are sensitive to heat and cold. With limited temperature regulation, your pet can develop heat stroke or hypothermia when left unattended in a vehicle. On hot days, run the A/C and bring water. In winter, turn the heat on and bring a cozy blanket. Avoid leaving your dog alone whenever possible.
Plan for Pit Stops
Long drives require regular bathroom and exercise breaks. Stop at least every 2-3 hours to let your dog relieve themselves and get the wiggles out. Bring waste bags and bottled water. Scout rest stop locations along your route that have grassy areas.
Bring the essentials to keep your dog comfortable and safe:
- Collapsible water bowl
- Dog food/treats
- Waste bags
- Dog bed/blankets
- Towel and cleaner in case of accidents
- First aid kit
- Dog-safe insect repellant/sunscreen
- Favorite toys
Feed smaller portions to help prevent car sickness. Have plastic bags and cleaning supplies on hand just in case. Place a dog bed on the floor or backseat to give your pup a comfy spot.
Help Your Dog Settle In
When you reach your destination, don’t immediately take your dog out of the vehicle. Wait until they are calm and quiet. Maintain structure by keeping to their normal schedule as much as possible. Set up a separate space with familiar beds and toys. Be patient as your dog acclimates to the new environment.
Watch Your Dog Closely
Keep a close eye on your dog when stopping during long trips. Do not allow them to roam freely, as they may run off or get hurt. Practice solid recall commands and keep them leashed when outside of the vehicle. Be aware of signs of stress or overexertion.
Clean Up Accidents Quickly
It’s not uncommon for nervous or ill dogs to experience vomiting, urination, or defecation accidents in the car. Come prepared with waste bags, paper towels, stain/odor remover, and disinfectant. Pull over immediately to clean up and allow fresh air in. Be understanding if accidents happen.
Check the Back Seat
Before existing the vehicle, always check the back seat for your pet. With tinted windows and warm interiors, dogs left unattended are at risk of heat stroke and death. Develop the habit of glancing back each time to ensure you did not forget your companion.
Get an Emergency Kit
Prepare for unexpected situations by keeping an emergency kit on hand. This should contain:
- Reflective safety vest
- Flares or hazard indicators
- Basic tools
- Spare leash and harness
- Contact info list
- Pet first aid guide
This allows you to safely handle roadside issues and tend to your dog if injured until you can get veterinary care.
Know Your Route
Carefully research your route before a long drive. Map out rest stops and areas to refuel, eat, and recharge. Identify 24-hour emergency vet clinics along the way in case of a pet health crisis. Planning ahead helps reduce unexpected stresses.
Driving with pets requires preparation, vigilance, and patience. By outfitting your vehicle properly, scheduling frequent breaks, and keeping your dog’s needs in mind, road trips with your furry co-pilot can be enjoyable. Stay focused on the road and don’t let your dog be a distraction. With some common sense precautions, you can hit the highway together while prioritizing safety.