Driving with Dogs; 10 Tips for Happy Hounds

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Our Continental Cavapoos are pretty seasoned travellers these days. We’ve had Fur Babies in France, Pups on Piste and Barked around Bohemia. One day last year, they traversed Austria, Italy and Slovenia in a single day!

In our chosen lifestyle, the journey is as much part of the experience as the arrival. We are, after all, on a road trip. But a vital ingredient to all happy travels is making sure that everyone’s experience is comfortable, safe and stress free.

Here are 10 essential tips that will help you to make sure that your adventures with your canine companions are safe, legal and enjoyable.

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“Are you ready, Mum and Dad?” At the hint of a trip, The Fab Four leap eagerly into the car!

1. Get Your Dog Used to the Car

Our pups came from all over the UK and have been car travellers since the day they came into our lives. However, like some humans, some dogs can be fearful or get car sick. It pays dividends to get your pooch used to the car at as young an age as possible – and certainly acclimatise him well ahead of a long trip.

Start with short journeys that end somewhere fun; like the park, or the beach. If your pup won’t even get in the car, put food in the car and encourage him to hop in and out by himself (be patient – don’t lift or force him!) This will reinforce that the car is nothing to worry about. A favourite blanket or toy will also make the environment of the car smell friendly and familiar.

Car sickness is clearly not a training issue, but your vet should be able to provide advice and perhaps medication to calm or suppress nausea. Most dogs find the scent of Lavender very calming. However, if your dog is not a good traveller, maybe you need to rethink your plans.

2. Prepare the Car

Waterproof seat-covers or blankets mitigate against accidents, muddy footprints or hair. Shades on windows keep all passengers comfortable in bright sunshine. A familiar-smelling blanket or toy will help to make your pup feel at home in the car. When ours were babies, we also took puppy pads (the cheapest and best were from Home Bargains) and Odor Kill, to clean and remove odour in case of any accidents.

3. Tire ‘em Out before a Trip – and After!

If we can give the puppy-people a good run before a journey, it helps them to chill and rest during the journey. However, as seasoned travellers, they now know the drill. As soon as the vehicle door is open, they leap eagerly in, snuggle down and sleep in the large, secure and comfy bed that we have built for them behind the seats in the van!

If possible, we also have an evening walk on arrival as a treat – and to burn off any excess steam!

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Evening Walk – a nice treat for all and a great way to burn off steam!

4. Doggie Seat Belts & The Law

For yours, your pets’ and other road users’ safety, dogs should be restrained in a car. Failing to do so can result in fines, points on your licence and may also invalidate your insurance.

But worse than that, if you don’t, a person or your pet could be killed or seriously injured in an accident. Being hit by a flying pet is just as dangerous in an accident as being hit by a flying human. Colliding with a windscreen at 70mph is not good therapy for a pet. Nor is being flung out of the vehicle into the road.

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Don’t let your dog become a projectile in case of an accident.

Rule 57 of the UK Highway Code states: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

Similar rules also apply abroad; in some countries you can be prosecuted under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation as well as Road Traffic Law for driving with an unrestrained dog.

5. Hot Cars

We all know that dogs die in hot cars (and cold cars!) Don’t do it. Not even for 10 minutes. Not even with the window open.

Dogs can also be stolen from parked cars. It happened to a friend of ours.

In some places, it is illegal to leave a dog unattended in a car.

But do also have a care while driving. If your dog is restrained and can’t move freely, use window shades to make sure that they are not overheating or suffering with blinding sunshine shining in their eyes. Carry a large (5L) bottle of water so that you can cool them down rapidly in case they do overheat.

6. Water & Food

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Kai needs a little encouragement to eat ‘on the paw’. Here, he’s happy being spoon fed!

Make sure that clean, cool drinking water is always available on long journeys. We use a ‘Road Refresher’ non-spill water bowl, which is excellent not only in the car; it reduces slobber and prevents wet, spaniel ears when not travelling!

In Europe, we have never worried about the safety of drinking water, but as with humans, bottled water is advisable in countries where hygiene standards may not be quite so stringent.

We have food accessible if we are likely to be travelling during feeding-time or in case we get delayed, although we avoid feeding during a journey where possible. We never feed with the vehicle in motion.

In general; Full Tummies + Motion = Sick Fur Babies !

7. Frequent Stops

You know your own pets’ habits. With no pressing destination in mind, we generally plan to do our journeys in short hops, travelling for no more than a few hours per day. On longer trips, we stop every 3-4 hours for a short walk and to allow our dogs to relieve themselves. In France and other European countries, there are often many back-to-nature Aires or rest areas along the roads, as well as the more traditional motorway service stations. Driving with Dogs is an excellent resource for finding dog walks (and vets) close to motorway junctions, both at home and in France.

Picking up poo doesn’t seem to be as popular abroad as it is in the UK, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be responsible. However, in Aires, watch where you step!

8. No Heads Out of the Window

You all saw what happened to Vyvyan in ‘The Young Ones’ when he stuck his head out of the train window (his head got knocked off. Click here to see the clip from the comedy classic!) Something could, however, have flown up and injured his eye and, as he was unrestrained, he could also have jumped or fallen out. Then he would have needed to pay a visit to the vet. So. No heads out of the window!

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No heads out of the window, please…

9. Packing List

  • Water & water bowl + an extra large water bottle to cool down hot dogs
  • Food & food bowls
  • Blanket or toy
  • Crate, seatbelt harness or other form of restraint
  • Lead
  • Seat covers, window shades
  • Poo bags a’plenty + puppy pads & Odor Kill if required
  • Basic Doggy First Aid Kit

10. In Case of Emergency…

There is a school of thought that recommends leaving your dog’s lead on while in the car, so that he can be controlled easily in case of emergency. I am not so sure about this, since I would worry that if it caught on something, it could present a strangling hazard. Our dogs are small and wear a harness each to travel; in an emergency we could pick them up or restrain them by holding the harness. Really, you need to make your own call on this one.

Stickers are also available, which highlight to Emergency Services the number of dogs in the car in case of an accident.

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I hope that these tips will ensure that you have safe and happy travels. You may also be interested in my related blogs about travelling at home and abroad with dogs, which you will find in The Wuff Guide to Travelling with Dogs 

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