There are numerous considerations when travelling around with your canine companion in your vehicle –it could be a prized pooch as a passenger in a Porsche or a “brakkie” locked up at the back of a bakkie.
Not all dogs take readily to riding in a car. Some can be violently ill from car sickness by vomiting up an enormous meal en route, followed by shivering and salivation, while the milder cases of autophobic pets may hyperventilate and drool until the journey is over. There are odd individuals that displace their fears by howling or whining irrespective of the length of the trip. Car sickness is not acquired but, rather, evident at a very young age with a puppy’s first ride; and it need not be a long journey to set off the symptoms. One often wonders whether it is the owner’s bad driving that sets it off –not a good reflection on anyone!
There are some mildly affected pups that grow out of the symptoms with repetitive rides. Those that remain nauseous, trembling and slavering need to be taken seriously by the owners and advice sought on a desensitization programme.
Various possibilities exist regarding the causes of autophobia; it may be the claustrophobic effects of a closed up vehicle, the movement of the car, the inability to see out the window if the dog is lying on the floor, while having a visual may make matters worse for others. The stopping, starting and turning of the vehicle is the most likely cause of the problem coupled with the individual dog’s inner ear mechanisms setting up a vertigo reaction.
The counter-conditioning programme should start of by the owner simply sitting in the vehicle with the puppy while stationary on the property. When the puppy starts to relax in acceptance of the confines of the car, offer a reward titbit. Repeat this exercise several times. The next phase is to do the same, only this time, allow the engine to idle. After repeating this a few times and is tolerated by the puppy rewards are again offered. The final part of the desensitization is to drive short distances only, then gradually increasing them with time until the distances required for travel are well-accepted without symptoms.
For any dog that travels in a car irrespective of its tolerance levels there are certain safety requirements that must be taken in to account. In case of an accident or sudden braking, loose dogs can become dangerous free-flying projectiles, slamming into seats or passenger’s heads, smashing into windscreens or escaping through broken windows to face highway hazards. Small dogs like to be close to their owners and if let loose in the car may find refuge at the owner’s feet thereby obstructing access to the foot pedals – some people have been killed trying to brake but cannot get the dog away in time.
A loose protective dog can deter rescue workers from helping injured humans in the event of a car accident.
Some responsible dog owners prefer crating their dogs. Crates are safe, secure contraptions designed to fit into most vehicles. Crates are nothing more than lock-up cages. One has to accustom the dog early on in life to be crated. If one has left it too late there are training tips that can be implemented at home, in the home whereby you can get the dog to love his crate. Once the crate is accepted at home it is a simple matter to transfer his crating behaviour to the car. When the dog is happy to run into the crate and stay there and when he is happy to hop into the car on cue, then put the crate in the car and work on them together. Another benefit is that the crate can be covered if the dog is reactive to stimuli outside the car – if it cannot be seen the dog will remain calm and be less stressful to the human passengers – it is very disturbing to have a vociferous dog in the confines of any vehicle.
Seatbelts are sometimes a better option. If your car is too small to accept a crate comfortable for the size of your dog then you have to consider the seat belt option. The dog must ride in the back seat when belted up – airbags can be as deadly to canines as to young children. Alternatively, if he must ride in the front passenger seat, disable the airbag and make sure that the seatbelt arrangement does not allow the dog to access the driver’s lap or hinder steering competency in any way.
The features of the best seatbelt products include a strap that clips directly into the seatbelt mechanism of the car, good quality material, has reinforced stitching at stress points, options for customized fit of the dog, easy to attach around the pet’s body and must be comfortable for the travelling canine. In essence the dog is fitted with a harness snugly around the lowest part of the neck and shoulders and then around the chest which has a short firm attachment for the seatbelt clip. This allows the dog to stand, sit or lie down but cannot venture off the back seat.
Obedient trained dogs will accept the mechanism without a problem – because they trust their owners and most probably was exposed to some form of attachment in the past. Any dog not accustomed to the seat belt can be trained by gradual conditioning.
A tired dog is always a well-behaved dog and in order to transport a hyperactive pet it is advisable to exercise it well before getting in for the ride. A good workout is not always practical but a good recommendation, nonetheless.
A BioAcoustic Research and Development company in the United States has designed several CDs to calm anxious dogs with a certain kind of music while travelling long distances in a car.
A calming cap has also been developed which is fitted over the dog’s face with ears and nose and mouth exposed and although the dog can see through the sheer material it is of such a reduced intensity of its visual stimuli that it helps calm many autophobic and reactive dogs. It is the same principle as a comfortable-fitting blindfold.
Some pet owners enjoy watching their dogs stick their head and neck out the window while driving. Whether it is sharing the breeze or watching the dog’s hair and ears blown back in the wind it is not a responsible pastime. Some dogs may get a fright and fall out the window and fall in the road in front of oncoming traffic – you will never know what may trigger a dog to do this. Debris can fly into your dog’s eyes at high speed and cause injury. Harmful particles can be inhaled and ingested through its nose and mouth. If you wish to drive with the window open rather secure the space with grid specially designed for this purpose.
The toy breeds can be comfortably and safely placed in pet carriers which are in turn tied up securely inside the vehicle in the event of having to brake suddenly. These plastic, durable containers also can serve as a reservoir in case the little dog has to relieve itself en route – it avoids having to clean the seats and carpets.
Car seat covers are another invaluable invention. This roll-out water-proof covering is used in the back section of sedan cars where it is attached between the head rests right at the back and the head rests in the front of the car. This can prevent dog hair disseminating all over the back seats and prevents the dog’s toenails from puncturing and ripping the seat upholstery. They are easy to remove and clean and give pet owners a better feeling of security about sharing their precious Porsche with a passenger pooch.
Always select and purchase the car safety option that is best suited for you, your car and your dog.
Take the time to train your dog to use your chosen safety equipment.
Commit to taking appropriate safety measures every time your dog rides in the car.