5 Road-Tested Tips for Traveling With Dogs

A dog riding in the backseat of a car, wearing a harness. Photography by peplow/Thinkstock.
A dog riding in the backseat of a car, wearing a harness. Photography by peplow/Thinkstock.

When the weather turns nice outside, our human minds begin to plan road trips, and our adventures often include our best four-legged housemates: our dogs. We humans can talk to one another in the car, kids can watch movies on handheld devices, and, if we’re alone and feeling confident, we can sing along to radio tunes as we barrel down the highway. But what about traveling with dogs? And what if you have a fearful dog who isn’t exactly wild to get in the car in the first place?

If your dog fears car rides, create a more welcoming environment for her well before you set out across several miles — or even states. Here are five helpful tips to make traveling with dogs safe and maybe even fun!

1. Rule out motion sickness

I ask clients to rule out motion sickness first and foremost, which means consulting your veterinarian, because there are medications that can help. If your dog gets nauseated or dizzy while riding in the car, that feeling won’t go away with time. Address this quickly, or you could end up with a dog who has such a negative association with traveling in the car that she balks or hides whenever you approach it.

2. Take short, fun trips

Once you’ve addressed motion sickness, help your dog associate a car ride with fun endeavors. If she only gets put in the car for a trip to the veterinarian, it’s natural for her to refuse a car ride. Start slowly, and take short trips. Some of my clients begin by taking their dog to a drive-thru fast-food restaurant and ordering a small hamburger (removing everything but the patty). It’s not exactly health food, but the smell and taste can help change a dog’s opinion about getting in the car. If your dog loves outdoor walks, drive to a nearby park a few times a week.

3. Keep the drive interesting

If your dog doesn’t get carsick, make her ride more enjoyable with food. I freeze large Kongs filled with cream cheese and kibble or treats overnight. Once the car is moving, I give the dog the Kong. To kick up the chew value, put a plastic sheet or disposable cloth in the back area where your dog rides, and give her a delicious frozen (and uncooked) lamb or beef bone to gnaw on. The goal is to provide something that occupies her mind while delivering a sensational taste — while the car is in motion. You want your dog to associate a moving car with delicious treats.

4. Keep your dog safe

We humans buckle up for safety, but if your dog is left unsecured in the car, she could not only be severely hurt in a wreck, she could come flying up from the back of the car and slam into human passengers. Most wire crates aren’t meant to be safe for car travel in case of an accident.

The most secure way of traveling I’ve seen was the way one of my dog-savvy clients traveled with her large Husky mix in the back seat of her pickup. She secured a metal pipe across the ceiling of the back seat. She puts her dog in a harness and secures a leather (or nylon) leash around the pipe and onto the back of the dog’s harness. The dog isn’t going to move much if an accident should occur, and he has enough room to move about comfortably. You just need to make sure that the pipe is securely attached.

5. Be calm and steady

If your dog is fearful in general, putting her into any new environment or situation could create more anxiety. Take everything more slowly, including when you arrive at your destination. If you’re staying in a hotel for the first time or in a large family group with your dog, prepare with mind puzzles and treat dispensing toys. Give her quiet downtime once you arrive, or talk to your veterinarian about fast-acting anxiety drugs if you feel your dog will be extremely stressed.

Have a great time this summer on your adventures, and take time so your four-legged best friend enjoys the trip, too.

Thumbnail: Photography by peplow/Thinkstock.

Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our June/July issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

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