Having a well-behaved dog in a vehicle makes traveling with the dog simple, easy and enjoyable for everyone. Unfortunately many dogs are so poorly behaved in vehicles that they actually become safety hazards for the driver, resulting in the dog having to stay home of further expeditions and trips. This doesn't need to occur with a bit of simple training that will teach your dog how to behave in the car.
What not to do
Although you may see these things often, they are really dangerous for all the people in the car, the dog, and other people on the road. These are often the poor habits that owners let their dog's get into when in the vehicle:
Sitting in the owners lap while he or she is driving - not only is this dangerous for the dog in the case of a sudden stop or accident, it is very distracting for the driver. A dog that is sitting on the owners lap will have nowhere to go but into the steering wheel in the event of a sudden stop or accident. This can lead to broken bones, teeth, jaws and even more serious injuries. At best the dog is a distraction to the driver, you wouldn't let an infant sit in your lap when you were driving, you would have them in a safety seat secured in the vehicle and so should you pet.
Sticking their head, upper body and even paws out the window - again, a serious safety issue for the dog in the event of a sudden stop, swerve or even an accident. In addition a dog that is already that far out of the vehicle could easily overbalance with the movement of the car and fall, usually with fatal results.
Riding loose in the back of a truck - there are now safety laws in most areas that prevent owners from having their dog unsecured in the back of a truck. There are a wide number of harnesses, crates and tethers that can be used to secure the dog if it cannot ride in a secured area of the cab.
Jumping around in the car or sitting unsecured in the vehicle - dogs can become projectiles in an accident, injuring people and definitely hurting themselves. Having the dog secured in a seatbelt harness or crate in the car is really the best and safest option.
Getting in and out of the vehicle on command
A very exciting time, getting in and out of the vehicle is often a time and place where the dog acts silly, possibly resulting in injury. Teaching the dog to sit and wait for a command to enter the car as well as teaching them to wait until the leash is fastened and they are given the exit command is simple and easy to do, plus will prevent that excitable behavior.
To teach the dog to sit to get into the car simply walk towards the car and give the sit command. If the dog does not sit, don't open the door, just wait patiently and make the command again. Keep repeating this until the dog is seated and calm. Tell them "wait" or "stay", of course they must know these commands first, then open the door and give the "in" command. Since the ride is the reward that the dog is looking forward to most dogs catch on very quickly. Be firm and do not give in and open the door until the dog is seated outside of the car.
The next step is to teach the dog, just like the kids, that the car is not moving until they are in the crate or seatbelt harness. Use the same process as above. Usually after two or three rides the dog will automatically get into the crate or sit quietly and wait for the seatbelt harness to go on.
To teach the dog to exit, apply the leash to the collar and then have the dog sit in the car. When they are seated and calm, open the door and call them out. The reward is the walk, but you can also add a treat at this step if you want. Gradually introduce the stay command when the door is opened and start with just a second of sitting before giving the "out" command. Gradually increasing the length of time the dog sits in the car before exiting will ensure that the dog understands what you want.
Traveling with a dog
When traveling with a dog plan regular stops for the dog to stretch his or her legs as well as have time to go to the bathroom. Always use the leash at these stops. If the dog runs away and he or she is in an unfamiliar area it can easily become lost and frantic, running randomly to try to find you or the car. Keeping the dog on the leash during these stops is a safety precaution that is well worth the extra time.
Remember to provide water at regular times as well. Although the dog is not active he or she will still need lots of fresh, clean water, so be sure to pack a few bottles of water and a plastic or metal dish. Give the dog water at every stop and then plan to make an appropriately timed bathroom stop. Dogs may become car sick so avoid feeding the dog during the traveling time if this is an issue. Feed at least one hour before traveling or feed when you arrive at your destination, provided this is not too much longer than the normal interval between feeding.
If you are planning on staying in hotels or accommodations be sure to check in advance if they allow pets. Typically there is a slight additional room charge for pets, however having pets in a room without hotel knowledge can result in a huge bill, so it is best to notify and pay the pet fee. Always have your dog fully vaccination and on a current and up to date treatment for fleas if you are staying in hotels with your pet. Additional vaccinations or treatments for kennel cough, heartworm, worms and other communicable diseases should be discussed with your vet before taking the trip.
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