Does the thought of the car make your dog’s tail go into overdrive? Or do they become a drooling bundle of nerves? Whether they love or hate the car, it’s up to owners to make sure pets ride safe.
Even well trained dogs can become overwhelmed by nerves or excitement while in the car. Since the owner must have both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, it can be hard to keep pets safe while you drive.
A number of hazards can injure your dog during car rides that you might not know about. A dog that isn’t properly restrained could also injure you or cause an accident. To keep you both safe, here are 5 tips for safe driving with your dog.
Back seat riders
The best place for your dog to ride is the back seat. Riding on your lap or even the passenger’s lap may seem cute but is dangerous for both you and your dog. A front seat dog can distract the driver and potentially cause an accident. A fender bender that doesn’t hurt you can still cause the air bag to deploy. Air bags can crush pets in the front seat even if they’re inside a carrier.
Keep them contained
Small dogs are best protected when inside a pet carrier. That keeps them from running from the back seat to the front, or interfering with the brake or gas pedals. For dogs that are nervous, this also keeps them from howling in your ear or climbing in your face as you drive. Should the worst happen in an accident, containing your dog inside a carrier helps ensure they won’t be lost or end up as projectiles through the windshield.
Buy a barrier
Some cars can’t accommodate a big enough crate to contain large dogs. You can install pet barriers that separate the front seat from the back. These come as adjustable metal bars or grates, or as canvas slings that double as comfy travel beds for big dogs.
Belt your dog in
You can also find canine seat belts that attach to the dog’s harness. That’s very helpful for large dogs that don’t fit inside carriers, or for cars that a barrier won’t fit. Seat belts also keep dogs inside the car when you open the door to load groceries, for example, so they don't dash off and become lost during rides.
Keep heads inside
Dogs love sticking their heads out the window. The rush of air that brings exciting smells along the way must be exhilarating. But that same wind can throw sand or other foreign matter into canine ears and eyes, and a window open too far tempts dogs to leap out. Keep dog’s heads inside the car to prevent injury.
Take Your Dog for a Drive
Dogs can be very different in their opinions of car rides. While some love going for rides, others act terrified or become car sick.
It makes sense for dogs to be leery of going for a drive. The first time they hop in a car may be their drive away from mom to reach a new home in a strange place. That’s followed by frequent trips to the vet for puppy shots.
All dogs need to go for a drive now and then. You can improve their driving experience so they won’t get nervous when they do need to visit the vet. Most dogs can learn to at least tolerate car rides, and these 5 tips will help.
Change their attitude
Dogs that hate the car need an attitude adjustment. Figure out what your dog loves (toys, mealtime, a favorite game) and connect that to the car. For instance, feed your dog special treats but only next to the car. Do this every day for a week before they ever get into the car, so it’s a gradual learning process.
Entice them inside
Once your dog feels less intimidated by the car’s presence, open the door. Then start tossing treats into the back seat so they only get them once in the car. If your dog is more interested in games, try playing with their favorite toy in the car.
Take short trips
When a dog has felt sick or scared during a car ride, it’s best to start with short trips. Put your dog in the back seat in their carrier, or secured behind a barrier or in their carrier, and give them a treat. Start the car, and give a treat. Pull out of the garage and give a treat. Drive around the drive and back into the garage, praise, and give your dog a treat.
Choose fun destinations
If the only place your dog's been driven are scary places, change your destination. Maybe your dog loves the kids at your sister’s house, or adores playing with the other dogs at the dog park. If your dog's most favorite treat happens to be French fries, find a drive-through restaurant to take them to during your drive. A pleasant outcome helps your dog associate good things with the trip so they will anticipate the next drive you take together.
Settle their tummy
Feeling car sick takes all the fun out of the drive. Ask the veterinarian for help to settle your dog’s stomach before long trips. Withholding food may help, or placing a cover over top of their carrier to block the movement. Ginger is a natural remedy for car sickness, so ginger snap cookies might help your dog feel better as well as associate the trip with a treat.
Frequently Asked Questions
How should I drive with my dog?
It's important to make sure that your dog is safe and secure while you are driving. Use a crate or a dog seat belt to restrain your dog in the backseat of your car. This will prevent them from roaming around the car, which can be dangerous for both you and your dog. Never leave your dog alone in the car, especially on hot days. The temperature inside a car can rise quickly, which can be deadly for dogs. Make sure your dog is well-hydrated before you start your trip. Bring water and a bowl for them to drink from. Take breaks during long car rides to give your dog a chance to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom. Always use a harness or a leash to keep your dog under control when you stop at rest areas or gas stations.
How long is too long for a dog to be in a car?
It's generally not a good idea to leave your dog alone in the car for long periods of time, as the temperature inside the car can rise quickly, which can be deadly for dogs. The length of time that is safe for a dog to be left in a car will depend on the temperature and humidity outside. In general, if the outside temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it's not safe to leave your dog in the car for more than a few minutes. At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of a car can reach 99 degrees Fahrenheit in just 10 minutes, and at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of a car can reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit in just 10 minutes. If you need to stop and run an errand and can't bring your dog with you, it's best to leave them at home in a cool, comfortable place.
Should you buckle your dog in the car?
Yes, it's a good idea to buckle your dog in the car to keep them safe and secure while you are driving. You can use a dog seatbelt, which is basically a harness that attaches to your car's seat belt system and keeps your dog secured in the back seat. Alternatively, a crate can be used to keep your dog contained and secure in the back seat of your car.
How do I calm my dog down on a road trip?
There are a few things you can try to calm your dog down on a road trip. If your dog is not used to long car rides, it can be helpful to gradually acclimate them to the car. Start by taking short trips around the block and gradually increasing the length of the trips. Make sure your dog has a comfortable space in the car, such as a crate or a dog seatbelt. Bring along their favorite blanket or toy to help them feel more at home. Some dogs may find calming music soothing while they are in the car. There are several playlists available online that are specifically designed for dogs. Pheromone sprays like Adaptil can help calm anxious dogs. Some people find that natural remedies such as CBD oil or calming supplements can help reduce anxiety in dogs.
Do dogs like to go for a ride in the car?
Some dogs really enjoy going for a ride in the car, while others may be anxious or fearful. It's important to remember that every dog is different, and what one dog may enjoy, another may not. If your dog is not used to car rides, it can be helpful to gradually acclimate them to the car by taking short trips around the block and gradually increasing the length of the trips. You can also try creating a comfortable space for your dog in the car, such as a crate or a dog seatbelt, and bringing along their favorite blanket or toy to help them feel more at home. It's also a good idea to make sure your dog is well-hydrated before you start your trip and take breaks during long car rides to give your dog a chance to stretch its legs and go to the bathroom. With time and patience, your dog may learn to enjoy car rides.
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant to the pet care industry and the award winning author of 23 pet care books.