Anyone who has owned a dog knows they’re not exactly the greatest travelers. Whether it’s the car, train, or plane, dogs tend to be nervous passengers—and understandably so. After all, these are strange new environments that involve traveling at high speeds in an enclosed space. The risks of being injured or feeling anxious are very real for dogs.
However, as with most things in life, preparation and conditioning go a long way toward mitigating those risks and keeping your dog safe on your next trip. By arming yourself with the right information and taking some simple precautions before you leave home, you can ensure your dog will have an easier time during your road trip or flight.
Read on for some helpful tips!
Photo Credit: Ron Gaylord/Pixabay
Make sure your dog is well-fed and hydrated before the trip.
Dogs get anxious in strange environments, and it can be especially difficult for them to eat when they’re anxious. Before you leave, make sure your dog’s last meal was at least three hours ago. If your dog is particularly anxious, it might be a good idea to skip the last meal entirely. You also want to be sure to have plenty of fresh water available at all times during your trip.
Use positive reinforcement.
If your dog is the type to chew on things, make sure you have appropriate chew toys available for the trip. If you’re planning on using a crate for your dog, be sure to have an appropriately sized cushion for them to lie on.
If your dog is reluctant to approach the car, walk towards the car and reward them with a treat when they walk up with you. Continue until your dog is comfortable approaching with the car door open. To encourage them to investigate inside the car, place a treat on one of the treats inside.
Once your dog is comfortable sitting inside the car, you’re ready for your first trip. Initially, keep car rides short and sweet, and continue to reward them when they manage to stay calm. Until your dog is completely comfortable in the car, it would be best to steer clear of taking them to places that may make them feel uncomfortable - e.g. the vets. This may cause your dog to associate car rides with negative experiences, and reverse your training!
Use a muzzle, even if your dog doesn’t usually wear one.
This may sound strange, but hear us out. Unless your dog is trained and socialized to travel in the car, they may be tempted to lunge or jump out of the moving vehicle. If they accidentally get caught in one of the doors or the window, they could get seriously injured.
If your dog is running loose in the car and they start to get anxious, they may bite the driver or another passenger. Even breeds known for being gentle, like Saint Bernards, can accidentally bite their owners when they’re scared or stressed.
If your dog wears a muzzle, you can rest assured that they won’t cause any harm if they get anxious and start barking or lunging. A dog's bite can have a lot of power behind it, so it's important to train safely, especially in confined spaces such as cars.
Practice during off-times, but don’t leave your dog in the car unattended.
The best way to prepare your dog for car travel is to practice during off-times. If you’re able to take your dog to a car dealership and let them sit in the car while you take a test drive, do it! If you have friends or family with cars they’re not using, try taking your dog for a little drive. Just make sure to bring them back home before you leave. It’s not safe to leave your dog in the car for an extended period of time, even if the car is in a shaded parking spot.
Photo Credit: Gary Samaha on Unsplash
Temperatures can rise surprisingly quickly in parked cars, especially in warm weather. It only takes a few minutes for temperatures to rise above dangerous levels, even if the windows are down. If you’re traveling with a dog, make sure you have a safe place to park and a crate or dog bed for them to lie on in the trunk.
To help with motion sickness, use an enzyme supplement.
If your dog is susceptible to motion sickness, you may want to try giving them a few doses of a dog-specific enzyme supplement like Dog Relief. These supplements contain natural anti-nausea and anti-motion sickness herbs that should help your dog feel better while they’re traveling. These supplements work best when they’re given at least a few hours before you leave, so you can give your dog one before you start packing. While you’re traveling, be sure to give your dog plenty of water and take frequent breaks. If your dog’s nausea persists, take them to the vet to be sure that nothing else is wrong.
Be sure to take frequent breaks and pay attention to your dog’s cues.
Your dog is an individual, and they may have different needs from you in the car than other dogs. Make sure you pay attention to their body language and listen carefully to their cues. If your dog gets uncomfortable or starts to get anxious, stop the car as soon as possible and let them stretch their legs and take a break.
Other things to try
Even with the best preparation and care, every dog is different—and some may never be comfortable traveling in the car. If your dog is particularly anxious, it might be a good idea to give them a puzzle game to distract them during the ride. Soft music has also been known to decrease stress in dogs, and music specifically for dogs is readily available!
By Lisa Smith
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