Tips for long car journeys with your dog

Setting off on a long drive with a dog? While many dogs find time in the car comfy and stress-free, it varies from pet to pet. Here’s what to consider when heading off on an hours-long journey with your canine companion.

Written by Lucy Thackray

Don’t go from 0 to 60

The worst thing you can do is go straight from never driving with your dog to embarking on a huge journey. “If driving is going to be part of their life, start by going for really short journeys with them when they’re a puppy,” advises dog behaviourist Carolyn Menteith. “You don’t just suddenly put your dog in the car and say, right, off to Inverness.” Start with short drives to walking spots or the beach, to see friends and family, and watch out for any nervousness or unsettled behaviour. “Some dogs get really anxious seeing cars go past, some of them love to look out of the windows,” says Menteith. Whatever the issue, you can resolve it well before a long journey arises.

Create a comfy environment that’s safe for you and them

Take time deciding which part of the car your dog will travel in, making it as comfy and reassuring for them as possible. A built-in crate secured in the boot or back of your car is the absolute safest option, says Menteith, while potentially distracting areas like the footwell or back seats could be dangerous for drivers. “Consider using window shades to block the view of cars going past, if it distresses them,” she adds, “but make sure they can see you, if possible.” Many dogs are happy in the boot of the car. Once you have the area, she says, make sure it’s cool and ventilated, adding in their bed or a blanket. Menteith suggests padding an area with veterinary bedding – “It’s soft and warm without causing overheating” – with a bit extra in the car for puppies, in case of any... ‘accidents’!

Watch out for queasy puppies

Puppies can get carsick – though most grow out of this by the time they’re fully grown. This is because their inner ear isn’t fully developed, and it’s one of the reasons to do shorter test drives before any mega-trip. “Cars are weird – it’s a very unnatural thing,” says Menteith. “The first time your puppy goes in the car, put them in their area, give them their dinner and then let them out again. All while still in your driveway. Then do it another time with the engine on, then try a short drive. So they get used to it a little at a time.” It’s key that dogs don’t associate early car journeys with stress and sickness, so watch out for this.

Factor in food and water

When it comes to feeding your dog around a car journey, the best thing is to keep as close as possible to your dog’s usual routine. If they usually have a small breakfast in the morning, do that as normal, then set off. If you’re travelling over the time they usually eat dinner, have a portion handy and take a break in the journey. Menteith advises buying a no-spill water bowl, so your dog can drink whenever they need to. As with human food, it’s good to have a supply of more than you need, in case of long delays in traffic jams or bad weather. “If they like toys and chewing things, indestructible toys like a Kong will keep them busy for hours,” says Menteith. “Gnawing is comforting for dogs.”

Plan regular stops

There’s no hard and fast rule for making stops throughout your journey, but Menteith advises stopping every two to three hours. Look ahead at your route and try to factor in stops for walks or in quieter areas that your dog will enjoy – service stations can be busy and confusing, with lots of people, other dogs and cars rolling past. “Maybe a nice dog-friendly pub or café where they can relax for a bit, have some water and a sit down,” she says. “The key thing is lots and lots of small journeys before any big one – it’s as much for you to get used to driving with them as for them to get used to the car.”

Check out our 10 dog-friendly alternatives to motorway services.

Carolyn Menteith is a Kennel Club-approved dog behaviourist and an observer for Advanced Motorists.

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Written by Lucy Thackray

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