NOTE: Never leave your dog alone in a parked car. It could be dog-napped, but more important it could die if the sun heats the car too much. A dog cools itself by panting--a very inefficient method--and will soon suffer from heat stroke and brain damage in a hot car. In weather as cool as seventy degrees it takes only a few minutes of sun to heat the interior of a car to well over a hundred!
Problem: Oscar narrowly missed a head-on collision in his car when he was taking his Airedale, Shandy, to the veterinarian's office for a checkup. He was driving along with Shandy on the front seat next to him when a girl with a big Newfoundland walked by on the driver's side of the road. Just as a small red truck came around the corner in the opposite direction, Shandy leaped onto Oscar's lap to scream and bark at the Newf out of the half-open window. Oscar momentarily lost control of his car and swerved into the oncoming lane. Fortunately, the truck driver was able to stop, averting a serious accident. Shaken, Oscar scolded Shandy severely and drove slowly on.
Most dogs enjoy car riding, but serious automobile accidents can and do occur when dogs that haven't been taught car manners jump on their owners or become tangled between their feet when they're driving. A dog has no way of knowing how to act in a moving car unless it's been taught. Added to this, many dogs ride in cars only once or twice a year--to go to the doctor or groomer, for instance--so have no opportunity to practice good car manners. It does no good to scold a dog after it's caused a problem in a car. That only serves to confuse the animal and make it nervous.
You must be absolutely sure your dog is under control if you're going to drive alone with it in the car, no matter how small the animal is. This is for the dog's sake as well as yours.
- Never drive with car windows all the way down if your pet's in the car. The dog might take it into its head to jump out. Or flying dust or debris could severely damage a dog's eyes.
- Even if you don't think you'll often take your dog in the car with you, the most practical thing to do is teach it how to ride in a moving car when it's a puppy. First, put the puppy in the car and tell it to sit. It can ride in the front with you or the backseat, but it must learn to stay quietly until you tell it it's all right to move around.
- Take the puppy with you on short trips, around the block or up to the corner. Go to the park, get out and take a short walk, then get back in the car. This will help socialize the puppy to car travel. Then you can graduate to longer trips in busier areas until you're sure the dog knows what's expected of it no matter what the distractions are.
- Take practice runs from time to time to reinforce your pet's car manners.
- At first, always hold your dog's leash when you're riding in the car. This will give you control over the animal. The minute it begins to act excited or upset, snap the leash and say "No."
- Alternatively, special car-riding "seat belts" for dogs are available in pet stores and by mail order. Adjustable harnesses that come in various sizes, they attach to a car's existing seat belt. One of these devices will keep an animal from harm in case of a hasty stop or even an accident, and also keeps a dog quiet and in its place as you drive.
- An overly excitable small dog may travel better in a carrying case. The case will keep the animal safe and quiet and also prevent it from becoming upset at outside sights. This method of car travel can also help a carsick dog.
- If you have a station wagon or van, a large dog that's accustomed to a Crate can ride in one in the back. There are also wire barriers on the market to close off the back of a wagon. These, too, provide the animal with security and prevent any interference with the driver.
Problem: The Carpenters had anticipated driving to their new country cottage every weekend with their basset hound, Pete, but they find they have a bad problem. They get no farther than the corner when Pete begins to pant rapidly and whine piteously, and before long he throws up all over the back of the car. They're at their wits end--they can't leave him home every weekend, but they really can't stand to take him with them in the car.
Dogs get carsick for several reasons. If a dog hasn't been socialized to car riding when it's young, nervousness may cause it to become upset enough to vomit. Other animals seem to be particularly susceptible to motion sickness. Puppies in particular are apt to become nauseated in a car; they often outgrow this tendency.
- Don't give a puppy or dog anything to eat or drink for several hours before a car ride. An animal with an empty stomach usually won't vomit. Wait until you get to your destination to let your pet drink and have a snack.
- If your dog is an adult that hasn't been socialized to car riding, suspect nerves as the primary cause of its trouble. Try socializing it gradually to the car just as you would a puppy. Follow the steps in the discussion of car manners, to do this. Once the dog realizes nothing bad will happen when it goes in the car with you and that it will end up in a nice place with you at the end of the trip, it may overcome its nervousness and become a good car rider.
- When a puppy or dog continues to become sick in the car despite your efforts to calm it, the next step is to put it in a carrying case or covered crate in the car. Motion sickness is often closely related to vision, and it may be that the rapidly passing landscape makes the animal nauseated. It may feel better if it can't see outside the car.
- If none of these steps does the trick, consult your veterinarian. It's possible that a mild tranquilizer may help your dog relax and get over its nervousness and nausea.
Problem: Vicki wants to take her Maltese, Whitey, on a four-day car trip. The dog loves to ride in the car and is very well behaved, but Vicki wants to be sure everything will go smoothly.
Car travel with a well-behaved dog usually presents no problems as long as you prepare ahead of time. If your dog has barking problems, is especially nervous, or suffers from extreme Separation Anxiety, it's best to make other plans. It can be very difficult if not impossible to deal with behavior problems when you're away from home, and a bad-mannered or excitable dog will make your trip miserable.
To make sure your trip goes smoothly, follow these steps:
- Even a well-socialized, calm dog may be a bit stressed in strange surroundings, and stress makes any animal more susceptible to disease. So be sure your dog's immunizations are up-to-date.
- Take along an ample supply of your dog's food, any medications it currently uses, and some familiar toys and chewies. Also take a thermos of water and a bowl so you can offer the dog water while you're on the road.
- If you are going to stay in a motel or hotel along the way, be sure to make reservations ahead of time and ascertain the motel or hotel does take animals. A bed or familiar article of your clothing will make it easier for your dog to stay quietly alone in a strange room when you go out to eat.
- Be especially careful to keep your dog under complete control in any strange place. Walk only in designated areas and be sure to clean up after your pet.