8 extremely useful tips for a safe road trip with your dog

When your car's passenger has four legs
by Andy Leuterio | May 6, 2013

8 tips for a safe road trip with your dog

I have a soft spot for dogs. I've always had at least one dog in the family; I cry every time one goes on to doggie heaven; and I enjoy roughing up my reliable dog Magnum when I can see he's bored just lounging around and getting fat.

I came home one day to find a press kit waiting for me from Ford, along with a little basket of goodies. Pardon the pun, but I was dog-tired so before I even opened the press folder, I'd ripped into the basket already and opened the first pack that came to hand.

As I happily munched away on a biscuit I wondered why it tasted like liver, and then I realized it was actually a pack of "Big Bite" for my dog.  My dog gave me dagger looks as I gave him what was left of the treat.  He cheered up when I tossed him a squeaky toy, which will probably last him a few days before it ends up in his gut or as a mangled piece of "yuck" jammed in my car's bumper.

Apparently, Ford has realized that a fair amount of car owners are taking their dogs along with them when they drive, and would like to share some tips on how to happily co-exist with these four-legged backseat barkers.

Personally, I love it when I see a dog sticking his snout out of a car window, ears and tongue flapping in the wind, drool lightly spattering the side of the car. It's such a happy, carefree look. I can't help but go "aww" and make funny faces to the dog when the owner isn't looking; I'd even say it's almost Pavlovian.

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Though I can't say I drive around with my dog regularly, I have done it with my dogs several times, although all of what I did was based on trial-and-error. I had actually started taking it seriously a few weeks before my wife gave birth, thinking it would be sort of like a dry run for when I'd be driving around with an infant in the back. I was wrong, because I would find out that traveling with a baby is simpler. Strap the infant into the seat and you can pretty much drive in your normal style, albeit more slowly than you're used to. A loose dog in the car can be a handful, especially if he's the hyper kind of mutt like mine.

In the movies, it looks so easy to just stick the dog in the back and drive off. Reality is quite different. I've had one dog jump out and nearly garrote himself on the leash, scratch up the leather and console because I forgot to have his nails trimmed, stink up the cabin with the aroma of dog breath, and spread poop all over the carpet when our dear Wednesday (a sweet little terrier) got too excited. Did I mention the joy of vacuuming all that fur out of the carpet and headliner?

The upside is that, after all these trials have come and gone, traveling with a loyal companion is an enjoyable experience. They get to see something that looks, sounds and smells different apart from your home. They get to meet other dogs, and I suppose single owners also get to meet other single dog owners.

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So, if you've ever thought about bringing your dog along with you, let me share with you Ford's doggy travel safety tips, as well as some of my own personal experiences.

1. Never keep your pet in your lap or the front seat. While this makes sense, I still see a lot of owners holding their pets in their laps. I presume they only do this for short distances, although this doesn't make it safe. If a dog suddenly gets excited and jumps out or jerks the wheel, you could get in an accident.

2. Keep your pets safe and secure in a well-ventilated crate or carrier, or properly secured with a pet safety seatbelt attached to their harness. A study shows that 98% of dogs that travel aren't properly restrained inside a moving vehicle. Aside from preserving the condition of your upholstery, it will also prevent Tagpi from jumping out onto the road when he sees that absolutely stunning Afghan hound going the other way. As much as I don't mind my dog perching himself on the console box so he can see what's happening down the road and breathe down my neck, he'll have to stay in the back.

3. Prepare him for long trips by taking him on shorter ones first. How long is "long"? The longest drive I've ever taken with a dog was two hours. But before we took off, he had already been used to trips to the vet. I'll also add that every trip was preluded by a 15-minute walk so he could get his business over and done with. Even so, I always make sure I'm armed with baggies and primed for emergency pit stop maneuvers. In fact, one of my bucket-list trips is to go on a trek with nothing but a truck, a rucksack, and my rambunctious buddy. Someday, Magnum.

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4. Never leave your animal alone in a parked vehicle. Unless the dog is a licensed driver, of course. In the heat, a dog will quickly fry. Even if it's cool and the windows are open, a dog's curiosity may get the better of him and who knows what buttons, levers and locks he'll operate while you're gone? Do not use him as an antitheft system.

5. Keep your pet hydrated. Especially in this horrible heat, a dog (in fact, all pets) should always have access to water. A dog can quickly succumb to heat stroke if left unattended as its only means of staying cool is to pant. I have a 500ml water bottle with me whenever we go out so Magnum can have a swig without having to lick from a bowl. The only problem is sometimes I mix up his bottle with mine by mistake. Extra electrolytes.

6. Feed him a light meal three to four hours prior to departure. This prevents him from getting queasy during the ride.

7. Pack his travel bag with a leash, food, water bowls, plastic bags, medication, vaccination records, and a favorite toy or a reminder of home to give him a sense of familiarity. An anxious dog is not much fun to have on a trip. You want him to be relaxed so you can concentrate on keeping the car on the road and not have to keep him from going loco in your car.

8. Don't leave pets unattended in the backseat. Either have someone hold him, use a safety restraint, or both.

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Photo from Ford Philippines

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