Every time you get in the car there are certain safety precautions you must take, like putting on your seatbelt. The same is true when your dog is a passenger. The training it takes to help your dog ride comfortably and safely in the car involves a lot of factors, but the good news is that there are several ways to accomplish this, and a variety of products to help you do so.
Getting Used to the Car
Getting your dog used to riding in the car is a process, and it will take some dogs longer than others. The first step is helping your dog become familiar with just being in the car and sitting quietly. Work on this with you dog while your car is parked, rewarding him with praise and treats while you sit in the car with him for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Once he seems comfortable doing this, you can start the engine and see how he responds. Reassure your dog if he seems nervous, repeating the above process. When you are ready, try going for short rides around the block so your dog can get used to the motion of the car. The key to this process is repetition, and you can gradually build up the distance you travel depending on how your dog is responding. Be sure to give lots of praise while in the car, just don’t go over-board with the treats since it’s not safe to feed your dog while you’re driving!
One helpful hint: if possible, make sure your dog gets lots of exercise before a car ride, especially a long one. A dog who’s just had a good workout is much more likely to rest contentedly in the back seat than one with lots of pent-up energy!
Why Buckle Up
Once your dog is comfortable being in the car, you can consider options for restraining him. Restraining your dog in the car, whether with a crate or a special seat belt, is very important for a variety of reasons. It can help make the ride a lot less stressful for you; when your dog is buckled up he can’t lean over seats or out the window, or cause some other kind of distraction. Even more important, a restraint can save you and your dog’s lives in the case of an accident. An unrestrained dog can become a projectile during a crash, injuring himself and other passengers. Should he escape unharmed, he can still escape through the window and run into traffic. Finally, an unrestrained dog alarmed or hurt by a crash may be hostile and interfere with rescue workers’ efforts.
Crates and Seatbelts
A dog crate or a harness is your best bet for safely restraining your dog during car rides; each has its advantages, and it might just be a matter of which your dog prefers. Crates work especially well if your dog is already accustomed to lying down in one. You can also cover a crate, which is helpful if your dog is especially reactive to the constantly changing scenery during a car ride. Just be sure to secure the crate to the car seat before driving. If you can’t fit a crate in your car, or your dog just doesn’t seem to want to use one, you might consider a canine harness that attached directly to a seatbelt. Make sure to choose one made of sturdy material that is adjustable to fit your dog comfortably. You can consult the staff at your local pet store for a good brand. Both of these options will require some getting used to on your dog’s part. Make sure to do some conditioning before going on any long car rides.
If you simply can’t crate or belt your dog while riding in the car, there are still safety precautions you can take. Never let your dog ride in the front seat, as the airbag can be deadly to him. As mentioned above, teach your dog to sit quietly in the back seat, and don’t let him hang out the window.
Open windows in a car can pose a serious risk to dogs. There’s always a chance your dog will stick his head out the window, no matter how well he has been trained. Airborne debris can harm your dog, especially if it gets in his eyes. Even worse, your dog could fall out the window, especially if he is small. If you (or your dog) want to leave the windows open, make sure your dog is well-restrained. You can also purchase a special guard for windows, although these are expensive, but in general, you are much better off keeping car windows closed.