They see me rollin’… they waggin’
Just one jangle of the car keys and your pup knows it’s time for a cruise about the neighbourhood. Add some fancy luggage near the front door and your furry friend’s anticipation for a long road trip sends them mental! We’ve all witnessed movie scenes of dogs with their heads out the window, ears flapping, tongues joyfully lolling… It seems idyllic, but there are actually very few dogs who can safely travel without turning the car into a slobbery, fur-ridden playground.
In this article, we’ll explore the safest and calmest way for your dog to travel by car. Give your dog the car ride they deserve: minimum anxiety, maximum enjoyment, and safe and fun to boot.
1. Get a dog car seat
If a dog car seat inspires the thought of your dog sitting stock-still in a booster seat on a four-hour road trip, that’s not what we’ve got in mind. Depending on the size of your dog, a car seat can mean different things.
A dog car seat for small dogs
The best dog car seat for small dogs is a booster. It gives your little dog a literal boost; elevating them high enough to see out of the window and orientate them to the outside world. Lifted up to your level, your little furry buddy gets to share your travel experience with you – just make sure that if you’re taking pics of your four-legged passenger, someone else is doing the driving. Don’t get distracted!
A car booster seat is pawfect for little (and small-medium) dogs like Frenchies, Yorkies, Bosties, minpins, miniature and toy poodles and Chihuahuas – offering them a comfortable nook of safety with a woofing good view!
A dog car seat for large dogs
If you’re not the pet pawrent of a tiny ragamuffin, but rather that of a large hound, then you may think you can forego a booster seat and just strap your dog in behind a seatbelt in the backseat. Seatbelts aren’t just for compliance – they serve the purpose of restraint in the event of an accident… and technically they aren’t made for dogs’ bodies.
A dog car seat for large dogs comes in the form of a car seat hammock. Before you think of netting suspended between two palm trees at the beach, the dog car seat hammock serves a more functional purpose. It has straps that loop around the front and backseat headrests, keeping the hammock in place, which forms a convenient ‘basket’ to secure your large dog in the backseat, while still giving them freedom of movement. Car seat hammocks are usually made of thick canvas on top and a rubberised or waterproof bottom. This not only protects your car’s upholstery but also stops the hammock from sliding around while you’re driving.
If you drive a station wagon or SUV and your dog can comfortably ride along in the uncovered boot or luggage area, all you’ll need is a handy car boot cover. Since the boot already offers a secure area, place a tailor-made car boot cover over your upholstery; your dog will have a comfortable place to ride along and your upholstery won’t get exposed to muddy paws, dog hair and possible claw marks.
If your dog is super chilled and loves a car ride enough to just lie down comfortably on the back seat, all you’ll need is a dog car blanket. All your dog will need is a treat and a pat on the head. Awww!
2. Put up a dog car barrier
Make no mistake, pet heroes love their dogs – as in LOVE-love – and it’s defurnately a mutual love. When dogs know they’re going with you on an adventure in the car, they can get over-excited, jump up and down, and run around. This excitement, running and jumping doesn’t stop as soon as you get into the car. Many dogs will continue hopping from front seat to backseat, looking out of the left window, then jumping across to the right window and back into the front seat. Dogs also know the cues when you’re getting closer to your destination, and this can ramp up their excitement even more, adding whining and barking to the mix.
This is dangerous.
Too many car accidents occur because of a distracted driver. Your full attention should be on the road and on your surroundings when you drive. A dog hopping about in the car is a sure-fire way to steal your attention and put you and your furry friend at risk of an accident. If your dog is excitable and mobile in a car, the best way to curb their energy and enthusiasm is with training (i.e. they are only allowed into the car when relaxed and quiet). In the meantime, a dog car barrier or car net can be suspended behind the front seats, keeping your dog in the backseat so you can focus on the road.
3. Get a dog ramp for your car
Most dogs will want to go on car trips with you – whether on a beachside holiday or a weekly trip to the dog park or on an annual vet visit. Getting in and out of the car is a cinch for healthy adult dogs, but may be problematic for some of our furry friends. A dog car ramp is the ideal way to protect your dog’s joints and spine if they are:
- a large breed: think Great Dane, St Bernard, Bernese, Newfie, Irish wolfhound or any of the mastiff breeds
- an old dog with arthritis or weak back legs: arthritic joints must be protected, so absolutely no jumping up or down from cars or furniture should be allowed
- a rapidly growing puppy: too much impact on puppy joints during their first 18 months can cause skeletal and joint problems for life
- a breed known for joint problems: German shepherd, Labrador and golden retriever, Rottweiler, Old English sheepdog
- a breed known for back problems: a long dog with shorter legs like the dachshund, basset, beagle and Pekingese
A dog car ramp is also ideal for all dogs when your vehicle is quite elevated, such as a 4×4 or SUV. Every time a dog jumps down from an elevated platform (furniture or a vehicle), the impact on their shoulders can cause joint injuries over time, so rather be safe than sorry. Your dog’s physical health and fitness is pawramount!
4. Have these car travel accessories at hand
Sometimes going on a trip to grandma’s house or a quick drive to a friend won’t need much preparation – just open the backdoor, your dog hops in and you go. Usually, taking your dog anywhere in the car requires a little more thought and preparation, especially for a long trip. You can’t go wrong with these handy car travel accessories for your dog:
A collapsible travel bowl is SO convenient and takes up way less space than a conventional dog water bowl. Whichever option you choose, just always remember to take it with you. Dogs can easily become dehydrated, especially if they are excited in the car.
Collar/harness and leash
Leash your dog before you get out of the car, especially in an unfurmiliar place. Not only will it prevent them from running into traffic (always take your dog out of the car on the pavement side!), but it’s the law in South Africa. According to municipal by-laws, all dogs must be leashed in public.
This secures your dog’s collar or harness to the back seatbelt to stop them from being mobile in the car – a handy safety feature in the absence of a car seat or crate.
Offering your pooch a little positive reinforcement for staying relaxed in the car, using the car ramp correctly, or encouraging them to get back into the car after a pee break, will help to associate your car trips with pleasure and positivity. Spending time with you is the obvious pay-off!
Poop bags are very handy for when those pee breaks turn into poo breaks. Please always pick up and dispose of your dog’s mess responsibly.
Doggy first-aid kit
Thorn bushes, over-enthusiastic new doggy friends, ankle sprains, hypothermia, glass cuts – anything can happen while you’re away from home with your dog. A first-aid kit is a must when out and about with your furry friend.
If you’re travelling with your dog to the dog park, the beach, or any destination where they’ll be running, playing and exposed to nature, you’ll want to give them a good brushing or combing before getting back into the car. Have two or three towels handy to dry your dog off thoroughly before getting back into the car.
5. Know the law on transporting a dog in your car
There is no South African law specifically relating to the restraint of your dog in your car, but The National Road Traffic Act, 1996 (Act No. 93 of 1996) regulation 308 (1) states that:
No person driving or having a vehicle on a public road shall…
(c) permit any person, animal or object to occupy any position in or on such vehicle which may prevent the driver thereof from exercising complete control over the movements of the vehicle or signalling his or her intention of stopping, slowing down or changing direction;
- e) when driving such vehicle, occupy such position that he or she does not have complete control over the vehicle or does not have a full view of the roadway and the traffic ahead of such vehicle.
Ruffly translated, that means your furry friend must be restrained or at least controlled to such an extent that they cannot distract your attention from the road while you’re driving. While it’s always cute to see a little dog on mom or dad’s lap, looking out through the windscreen, traffic is unpredictable. Anything can scare your dog, who can then obstruct your view or get in the way of the gear shift or steering wheel. Sometimes little dogs will also jump into the footwell, which can be disastrous for accelerating or braking!
Consider, too, that you have no control over other people’s driving, and if you are involved in a car accident, which deploys your airbags, the force of deployment could be fatal for your pup. If your dog is not restrained in the car, they become a dangerous projectile if you had to brake suddenly – causing you and especially themselves great harm.
It’s safer and calmer for everyone if your dog is kept calm and restricted to the backseat or uncovered boot section of your car. Just as you would keep a child in a car seat for their and your safety, so too should you consider your dog’s safety in the car.
How pawsome it is to go on a car trip with your dog – just ask them; they know! If yours is one of those dogs who is nervous or anxious on car rides, needs help to calm down in the car, or gets a little bilious or motion-sick, stay tuned – Pet Hero has got you! Check out our information and tips on How to get your dog used to travelling by car and How to deal with your dog’s car sickness.
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