It’s that time of year when we start thinking about days out, holidays and exploring the countryside with our dogs. For most of us, that means driving somewhere – so how can you make sure your dog enjoys the experience as much as you do – and how can you keep them (and you) safe while you’re taking trips out together?
When I’m not working with dogs, my other passion is driving. I’m a trustee of a local (Gloucester) IAM Roadsmart group – a road safety charity dedicated to improving driving standards in the UK. As part of that, I coach people through their advanced and master’s tests.
So with both my dog and driving heads on, I want to talk about dog car travel.
Dogs – safety and comfort
There’s no point heading out in the car with your dog unless they’re happy to travel and enjoy the whole experience. Otherwise the stress of the journey will ruin any pleasure your dog will have from the destination.
The secret to having a dog who enjoys being in the car and looks forward to road trips is preparation.
Where to start
- Think about where you want your dog to travel and how you’re going to restrain them in the car. In most cases, (with a hatchback or an estate (or larger), the safest place is in the back of the car, behind the seats, in a purpose built, secured crate, or behind a well-fitted dog guard. This gives them a dedicated space where they’re free to move around, get comfortable, and change position when they want. They’ll also be safe in the event of an accident. You can also use a dog seat with restraint, car seat cover with restraint, or dog seatbelt.
- If you choose to have your dog travel in the back, there are a couple of things to think about. The main one is ‘can I keep my dog cool there?’. Most people have air conditioning and so think they can control the temperature of the car, but don’t realise air conditioning is only designed to keep passengers cool, and often doesn’t reach the area behind the seats. In the back of a hatchback/estate, there’s also a lot of glass that will magnify the heat of the sun.
- Get someone to drive your car while you sit in the area your dog will travel. Is the air con reaching you? If not, you need a fan you can direct onto the crate, to shade the windows (without obscuring or affecting your driving vision), and travel with windows slightly open to allow air to get to your dog. The advantage of a crate is your dog doesn’t have access to the open windows. If they’re behind a dog guard, open the windows immediately in front of it. You don’t have to open them far to get air flow into the car.
- Make the space your dog is travelling in comfortable – so give them a soft surface to lie on. Veterinary bedding is ideal as it’s soft, doesn’t slide or bunch up, and is waterproof (just in case!). Or you can put your dog’s bed into that space.
- Some dogs travel better if they can’t see out of the windows. Other traffic whizzing past can be either scary or highly arousing, so consider window blinds if this sounds like your dog!
- Travel with water and a bowl. A non-spill water bowl can be left in the crate if your dog won’t chew it or throw it around.
- While it’s an expensive option, if you’re planning frequent journeys with your dog, it’s worth buying a car that will be as good for them as for you. The best cars for dogs are ones that have a good safety record, and give you space to put a crate or a dog guard behind the seats. Usually these are hatchbacks or estates.
Got a travel sick dog? Get help in this article.
Get your dog used to the area they’ll be traveling in and the car/movement before you head off. You want to teach them the car is a great place to be.
- Start by putting them into the car (with the boot/door open), giving them a treat and taking them out again. You can even give them their dinner in there. Do this for a few days.
- Repeat, but this time shut the doors – first with you beside them, but then with you in the driving seat.
- If they’re happy, repeat but turn the engine on while they are enjoying their treat/dinner.
- Next you can go to the end of the drive – or around the block – doing exactly the same thing.
- Slowly you can build up the length of your journeys.
- Mix up where you go to on these practice drives and how long they are – sometimes for a nice walk, others just to sit in a car park. You don’t want your dog to think that every journey is really exciting – or they can get slightly car crazy!
How to drive with a dog
Safety on the roads is down to the driver – and we owe it to our dogs to be as safe as we can when we take them out.
Like it or not, having your dog in the car is a distraction. And distractions can and often do result in accidents.
Having a safe and secure place where your dog is happy to travel is key to not being a distraction. Having your dog wriggling around or struggling to escape, trying to clamber over seats, or shouting out the window, is a huge distraction to your driving. You find yourself worrying about them, checking out what they’re doing, trying to keep them quiet or reassuring them – and your driving and safety suffer as a result.
Also dogs chewing seat belts is a leading cause of them snapping or giving way when you need them most!
If you think your dog is likely to be a distraction to you:
- Re-think where in the car your dog travels and try to find a way to keep them secure and relaxed.
- Make your early journeys with a friend or family member – whose only job is to sit beside or near your dog. They can make sure they’re happy and relaxed so it’s something you don’t have to worry about.
- There’s also a recent study that indicates dogs might well travel better in electric cars. They also don’t like bad gear changes or jerky driving!
Many people who do an advanced driving course/test do it to make sure they can keep their family members safe when they are driving them. Maybe it’s worth considering doing just that in order to ensure we are the very safest drivers we can be for our dogs too!