Taking your Dog on a Road Trip?
As the nice weather has finally arrived up here in the “Great White North” and as the highways become safer and less traitorous our thoughts turn to road trips. We travel abroad twice a year, but we also really enjoy discovering things a little closer to home. A few places on our list of possible destinations this year are Niagara Wine Country, The Thousand Islands, Tremblant or a possible trip up to the Quebec Region of Malbaie for some whale watching!
I like traveling by car. Other than the train I think it is my favorite way to get from point A to B. It offers me an opportunity to view the scenery, to travel at my/our own pace, and enjoy rest stops, walks and food along the way. It is also one of the few modes of transportation that doesn’t take a dogs size into account.
As always when traveling with a pet – there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Older pets or those who have a medical condition, should be examined by a vet prior to travel of any kind. Yes, even for “just” a road trip.
- Take frequent rest stops so that your pet can stretch its legs and take a bathroom break. We like to plan a small hike or stroll in a quaint town about half way.
- It’s safer for everyone if you keep your pet in the back seat. It will help to prevent your dog from distracting the driver or getting in the way in case the driver needs to perform some emergency maneuvering. Please don’t allow your pet to ride in the open bed of a pickup truck, even if leashed – many dogs have jumped or been thrown from trucks and suffered serious injury and even death. Flying debris are also a major hazard in this scenario.
- Consider the use of a restraint such as a kennel or a pet seat-belt. It will offer extra protection in case of an accident, as well as prevent nervous or excitable pets from distracting the driver. Pets have also been known to escape out the car door at rest stops, so be sure your canine is securely restrained before opening the door… especially near highways!
- Don’t let your dog hang its head out the window. Flying debris can be kicked up from tires or worse your dog could fall out the car in front of oncoming traffic.
- Pets can become dehydrated, just like humans can. Keep a supply of cool water and a dish in the car. You can even freeze small containers of water for travel. We often have a little cooler in the back seat with a picnic and two large bottles of water for everyone.
- In cold weather, pets should have adequate warmth at all times and should not be left alone in the car for extended periods. In warm weather, be aware that even a few minutes in a hot car can cause serious harm. It can even be fatal!
- Bring appropriate documentation just in case. You never know what might happen you could need to go see a vet, or suddenly decide to cross a border! Be ready with your pets brief health history and information such as rabies vaccination etc. always have your pets ID tags with you and/or on your pet. Consider a microchip for your dog. Should something happen to you (say a car accident) this will allow animal services to at least know something about your pet. Keep papers such as copies of your pet insurance and emergency contact phone numbers in the glove compartment or dog carrier.
- It can be a challenge to find hotels or rentals that will accept your pet, particularly at the last moment. By booking ahead, you will ensure that both you and your pet have a safe place to stay. Make sure you get the pet policy sent to you (fax or e-mail) and bring a printed copy of the agreed to arrangement with you. It is always good to have this in writing… trust me.
What about car sickness and/or the fear of cars?
For some dogs, car rides produce a great deal of anxiety. A combination of fear and not understanding what is happening will cause drooling, shaking, or even vomiting in some dogs and cats. Humans refer to this as car sickness or motion sickness. True motion sickness is a result of an inner ear problem and some dogs truly do have motion sickness, and for these animals products such as Dramamine can be used under the supervision of a veterinarian. In my case a booster seat allowing me to see out the window was all that was required.
The truth is that for most dogs, it is strictly an over-reaction to the fear and apprehension of car noise and motion. If your dog would rather be anywhere but in the car, here is how you can help your canine to overcome his or her fear.
- Without turning on the car, just walk around it in a circle until your dog relaxes. Get your dog to sit up against the car and give it a treat. Walk around some more and get it to lie down. give a treat. Do this every day for a few minutes for a week or as long as it takes.
- Still without turning the car on … get in the car together and give your pet a treat. Talk. Be happy. Make it a fun time. Repeat this a number of times on different occasions. Remain in the car quietly until your dog relaxes. Never force the issue. If you go to fast – take a step back and just walk around the car again.
- Get your dog used to the car while it is running. Repeat step two, only this time start the car. Give a treat before and after. If your dog looks or acts nervous, reassure that everything is OK. Take your time and make sure your canine is relaxed before ending the session. Repeat this for a week or however long it takes.
- Get your dog used to the motion of the moving car. Once your dog is used to the car running without any fearful reaction, back the car to the end of the driveway, then forward again to the garage. Give your dog a treat and some praise. Repetition is the key. The more you do this the more confident your dog becomes that cars are no problem. In fact, to your dog it becomes a great place for attention, praise, and even treats.
- Now it is time to take a short trip around the block. Treats and praise before and after, and calm, reassuring talk throughout the ride are a pre-requisite. Gradually increase the distance traveled until your dog is calm no matter how long it is in the car.
- Get puppies used to the car while they are still young and are more receptive to new adventures.
Some animals still need something to calm them. There are non-prescription products such as Serene-um, Pet Calm, and Rescue Remedy. In severe cases, even stronger prescription anti-anxiety medications can be dispensed by your veterinarian. But if it that bad, we do not recommend you take your dog on a road trip.
Dogs make excellent traveling companions so it is well worth the training now for the enjoyment it will bring both of you over the years! Start with a short and easy trip and slowly you will find your horizons open! What was your favorite road trip and why?