Driving Miss Daisy: How to Keep Your Dog Happy in the Car

Updated: 5/12/2021
One of the delights of dog ownership is visiting new and exciting places for your dog to explore. 

However, the joy of seeing your fur-friend lolloping through the surf can be diluted if they are a poor traveler. From travel sickness to keeping safe in the event of an accident, it's important to plan ahead when traveling with your dog. 

How much thought do you give to transporting your pet? 

In this guide, we look at keeping your pet safe, how to prepare for a journey with a poor traveler, and planning ahead for a bombproof puppy that loves car travel.

Keep your dog safe
A loose dog in the car is a danger - both to himself and to you. Loose dogs can get under your feet while you are driving, cause a distraction, or in the event of a crash, become a mobile missile. It's important to keep them safely secured.
  • Toy or Small Dogs: Consider a pet booster seat or a special box to transport your pet. These raise your dog up so they can see out of the window, but restrain them within a safe cocoon so they don't wander, or in the event of a crash - get propelled through the windshield.

  • All Size Dogs: Travel harnesses are a great option for most dogs. Look for a crash-tested product that passed (not all do, and yet the manufacturer proudly proclaims "Crash Tested" - but omit that it failed!).

  • Large Dogs: Consider a car travel crate that fits in the rear of the car. The best models are crash-resistant so your dog doesn't get crushed if the worst happens.

Be prepared for your pup
Prepare for your journey and plan for all eventualities.

  • Dog ID: Have your dog microchipped or wear a collar with an ID tag. Then, if they accidentally run off during a bathroom break, you stand the best chance of being reunited
  • Pack Provisions: It's always a good idea to take water, and possibly some food. Even on short journeys, the unexpected can happen, and a car breakdown can leave you in a lurch.
  • Dog collar and Leash: Have a means of restraining your dog from getting to and from the car.
  • Cleaning Equipment: Should your dog get motion sickness, be sure to keep things calm and low-key. (Stress will only make them more anxious and likely to be sick again.) Take along basic cleaning stuff such as disposable towels, disinfectant spray, and plastic bags.
  • Fully Charged Phone: Always a good idea.

Plan ahead for your and your pup's trip

The more often your dog travels in the car (and has fun!) the better traveler they will be. Make regular trips to exciting places like the park or fields, so they don't only associate the car with 'bad' things such as vet visits. 

If your dog is already a poor traveler, there are ways to turn things around. By 'desensitizing' them to unpleasant associations, you build new and positive links that make travel something to look forward to. 

Try these steps. Make sure your dog is relaxed and happy with each step, before moving on to the next one.

With the car stationary in the driveway and engine off:

  • Put treats on the back seat
  • Feed meals in the car
  • Play with a favorite toy
Switch the engine on:
  • Fuss and pat your dog when they are calm
  • Continue feeding meals in the car
  • Play with a toy
Reverse out of the driveway and back in:
  • Praise your dog for being super good
  • Reward with a treat
Drive around the block
  • Reward and fuss
Drive to a nearby dog park

  • Reward your dog with a great walk
Drive a longer distance
  • Finish at the park with a fun walk
  • Come home and reward them with supper in the car

Cover all your bases
And last but not least, if your dog is determined to be motion sick, then speak to your vet about medications to ease travel nausea. The dog that strongly links car travel with being sick is already on the back foot. Once they realize a journey is imminent, before even getting in the car they start to feel nauseous. 

Happily, there is an excellent medication that acts on the vomiting center in the brain to switch off this sensation. Better news still is that it doesn't cause sedation and one dose lasts a whole day...which means that trip to the ocean is a runner after all.

Happy traveling, pet people!

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