Travelling with Dogs

As summer stretches out ahead of us, and with lockdown restrictions lifting, many of us are starting to plan day trips, staycations and trips around the UK.  As much-loved members of families, our dogs are often coming along for the ride too.

Revving up the engine causes some dogs to jump for joy whereas it can make others nervous and scared. Whether your dog loves the car or not, it is important that they are kept safe, and the driver can concentrate on the road.

This article covers everything you need to know to make the car a comfortable and enjoyable experience for your dog while keeping both two-legged and four-legged family members safe.

 

How to travel in a car with my dog

A few prior preparations are needed to make sure your car is adequately kitted out for your dog. Making sure you have the right restraint system in place, having your journey planned out with any pit stops you may need to take, and ensuring you have enough fresh water for your dog throughout the journey are key places to start.

 

Is it illegal to drive with my dog in the car?

Your dog is a very welcome travel companion, but just like us, they have to follow the highway code. Rule 57 states that while you are driving, dogs (or other animals) must be suitably restrained so they cannot distract or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly.

If you were to get into an accident and your dog wasn’t restrained in the car, as well as potentially harming themselves or someone else, you may find that your insurance is invalidated or that you are charged with dangerous driving.  This costly scenario can be easily avoided by making sure your pup is safely secured. There is a wide range of options to belt up so you can find the perfect system that works for you and your dog.

 

What is the safest way to travel with my dog?

There are a couple of things to think about when it comes to your dog’s safety in a car. It goes without saying we don’t want them to come to any harm and keeping them comfortable so they enjoy the car ride is also a priority.

Firstly, they need to be suitably restrained. The method of choice for this depends on both your dog and car, but there are many options to suit your needs.

  • A Safety Harness: a doggy seat belt, can attach to your dog’s harness and clips into the seat belt of your car. They come in a variety of styles, sizes and lengths to suit your dog.
  • A Crate: these can be large – think boot sized, or small enough to fit snugly on a seat. If you do use a crate its worth securing it though, so it doesn’t slide around.
  • Dog guard: these can be installed between the boot space and the back seats, allowing your dog to have free roam of the boot.

Ensuring they are safely in place protects both them and you. If you were to get into a crash, you wouldn’t want a loose dog flying around the car. Not only could they injure themselves by hitting the windscreen, but they could cause some serious damage to you or your passengers if they were to collide with you.  RAC have their own range of travel systems for dogs, keeping everybody in the vehicle safe.

Can they travel in front seat?

For more anxious dogs, being closer to you may help them when travelling, or maybe you just want your four-legged travel buddy up close to keep you company. Either way, it is ok for your dog to be on the front seat providing you stick to the rules.

As well as being restrained, the passenger-side airbag must be turned off.  You also need to ensure that they won’t distract you as you drive.

 

What do I need to bring for my dog?

So, you have your travel system sorted, but there are a few more things you will need for a doggy road trip. Be prepared and make sure you have everything you might need to make the journey stress free and enjoyable.

If you’re using a harness you might want to invest in some seat covers to protect your car seats from hair and stains. These come in a range of size and designs and can range from lightweight to heavy-duty depending on your needs.

A water bowl and some clean freshwater is really important, especially on longer journeys and hotter days.  You should plan in some stops on longer journeys to allow your dog to get out of the car and have a drink. It is definitely worth remembering that dogs should never be left inside a car alone.

You may want to bring some treats along too, but if you do try to keep to the same food that they are used to. Changing it up could give them an upset tummy.

It’s a good idea to have a stash of poo bags and paper towels in case your pup has any accidents. You will also need poo bags to pick up after your dog when you stop for breaks.

To make the journey more comfortable for your dog, you can bring its favourite blanket or toy. As well as helping with any anxiety and providing comfort, toys can help keep a dog busy and bust the boredom of a long drive.

How often should I stop when travelling with my dog?

If you’re going on a long journey, it is important that you plan in some pit stops. Just as we don’t like to sit for hours on end, your dog will also appreciate getting out of the car to stretch their legs and take a toilet break.

The length of time you should go without stopping varies from dog to dog. Young puppies or older dogs, who may not have strong bladder control, may need to stop more frequently, every few hours or so. Others might be happy for up to 4 hours. If you have a pup who suffers from motion sickness you may find you need to stop for breaks even more frequently than that.

Make sure you keep your dog on a lead while you stop, as you don’t want them to get spooked and run away. It's also worth checking that their microchip information is up to date before travelling in case you were to become parted.

 

How do I stop my dog from being sick in the car?

Just like us, dogs can get motion sickness too. Generally, they grow out of this as they get older, but for some dogs it can pose a problem.  You can talk to your vet about anti-nausea treatment, as well as trying a few of these techniques to help your dog;

  • Allow them to be forward-facing as much as possible.
  • Give them access to a window so they can see where they are going.
  • A slightly cracked window offering some cool fresh air can also be beneficial.

If your dog does suffer from travel sickness, it’s a good idea to have seat covers, and some cleaning equipment on board too.

 

Windows up or down?

We’ve all seen the cute pictures of dogs with their heads hanging out of car windows as they drive, but this really should be avoided. Dogs can sustain injures doing this, either by hitting their head on passing objects, or by stones and debris being flung up into their eyes.

Having the window all the way down also poses a risk of your dog jumping out. While having fresh air in the car is nice, its best to only open the windows slightly rather than have them fully open. For extra safety, there are vent guards that can be used to occupy the space.

Car window shades can be really useful to help block sunlight and keep the car cool for your dog with the sun out of their eyes. Remember these can only be used on rear windows.

 

How do I make the car comfortable for my dog?

Every dog owner wants their dog to have a nice experience in the car and enjoy going for rides.  If you have had your dog from a puppy, you can start their desensitisation to the car from a young age. Let them explore it, have some treats in there and go for lots of short drives.  If you have a rescue dog, it may take a bit more work depending on their history, but you can still work on desensitisation and positive reinforcement around the car.

As we have discussed, there are a range of travel systems available for your dog, and it may take a little trial and error to find the one that works best for you.  Generally, dogs prefer to be facing forward, and while they don’t want to overheat, don’t have the air ventilation blowing directly into them.  If you notice any signs of anxiety, remember to talk to your dog, and try not to have the music up too loud.

Don’t EVER leave your dog in the car alone

This is particularly important for warmer days, but even on the days that we perceive as cooler, things can heat up quickly inside a car.  Leaving dogs inside cars can be fatal, as the inside temperature rises and dogs overheat.

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