Private cars are one of the easiest ways to transport your dog, with no timetables and the flexibility to choose your own route and stop whenever you want to. However, a bit of preparation is required to make sure it’s safe for everyone.
Dogs don’t understand cars. They experience them as a noisy, smelly, shaky box. Acclimatisation is needed for all but the boldest of animals. If your dog is really fearful, start by feeding them near or in the car. Build up lots of positive associations before gradually encouraging them to sit inside, first with the doors and boot open, then closed, then with the engine running ... and finally start taking very short journeys. Take it one step at a time and don’t rush. Take your dogs somewhere wonderful for the first few journeys – lovely walks or meetings with friends. They’ll soon associate the car with exciting things and look forward to trips.
Don't be tempted to let your dog stick their head out of the window - they could get something in their eye and a trip to a vet won't help your holiday stress levels!
There are currently no UK laws about carrying dogs in your car. However, advice in the Highway Code (Rule 57) says: When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars. It is also very sensible to teach your dog ‘wait’, so when you reach your destination it will sit calmly while you put the lead on and not try and jump straight out. Always take plenty of fresh water with you and allow for frequent stops to let your dog drink and exercise. Never leave your dog unattended in a car in direct sunshine or hot weather, as dogs can very quickly over-heat leading to distress and suffering caused by hyperthermia, which can be fatal. Like humans, some dogs suffer from travel sickness – ask your vet for advice.
Things to discuss with your vet
Most dogs cope very well with car journeys, especially if they associate going in the car with fun family activities like days out on the beach or in the countryside. Unfortunately though, some dogs do find travelling stressful because they may feel frightened or become travel-sick. There is an effective drug available that is licensed in the UK for the prevention of vomiting caused by motion-sickness in dogs. Before prescribing it, your vet will need to check that it is suitable for your dog, but it could open up a whole host of possibilities for road trips and new adventures for you and your four-legged friend. If your dog is a very nervous traveller, your vet may prescribe a sedative for long journeys, but be aware that the effectiveness of sedatives can be quite variable. It may be worth considering a long-term behavioural-modification program to help your dog overcome their fear of travelling.