Road Travel: How to Take Your Pet Dog on Road Trips
Author: Varnica Mathur
India is a gigantic country and its roadway system takes the traveler till the last milestone. The remotest of villages/towns have at-least some kind of road leading to it. It is often the best way to see the true soul of our country, the hidden gems, and ‘social media virgin’ parts of India. Road trips give the much-needed flexibility during your holiday and helps you enjoy it on different levels. Leaving behind your loving pet dog while you do so can be heart-breaking.
Most of our country is pet friendly, the more rural you go – the better it is. Additional to religious places, popular monuments and wildlife reserves/sanctuaries do not allow pets. If that’s your destination then perhaps you should leave them behind with a trusted guardian. Otherwise, road-tripping with your pet dogs can be extremely joyful!
Our beloved pooch enjoys the new experiences, smells, terrains, and most importantly the undivided attention and love they receive from us ‘when (we are) on a break’ from the office chaos. And in return, they make sure that we travel slowly and live each moment, observing and enjoying every nook and scenery in peace during our vacation rather than rushing from ticking one checkbox to another like a regular workday :P.
The more we travel with our beloved four-legged kids, the more we learn about them. Each trip is like a bump in the learning curve and next time it helps in making better decisions.
Pet dogs are like newborn babies and do not understand the concept of a car or whizzing on four wheels. They distrust it and feel nervous getting into the metal box which off-course is not as cozy as their home. It is our responsibility to prepare them for the experience so it becomes an enjoyable event for both humans and the doggo.
Best way to do so is to take them for test runs in the car as much as possible before the ‘the’ road-trip and observe his/her reactions and modify accordingly. As for Jiraiya, we had started from the day he got done with his mandatory vaccinations. The destination for these ‘test’ road trips should almost always be a fun one like a playground or a beach or a favorite relative/friend’s house etc.. so the association remains positive.
Road-trips are a big part of our travel style and it was very important to us that our little darling was okay with it.
Basic obedience training
We had begun Jiraiya’s basic obedience training the week after he came home to us. The minimum required to keep the pooch safe during any time out of the house is ‘Recall’, ‘Sit’ and ’Stay’. Especially if you have any plans to leave the dog off-leash.
Check the map beforehand
Make sure the daily drive time is not more than 8 hours. It can get exhausting for the driver, family and the pet dog.
Always have accommodations pre-booked
A road trip is fun but can get challenging very fast. More so when you are traveling with a pet. It’s best to keep as calm as possible and knowing where you are sleeping for the night helps a lot. Even if the road is bad or you get stuck in traffic or suffer a car break or lose your way, at least a good relaxed sleep is assured.
Word of caution, even though a hotel is listed as ‘pet-friendly’ on online portals, it may not be one. Double-check by calling the hotel/homestay directly to get a complete assurance that they are okay with your pet staying in to avoid last moment hassles.
Update your dog's name tag
Check and update the name tag on the pet dog’s collar/harness. The owner’s phone number should be mentioned very clearly along with the pet’s name.
Your pet's vaccinations and medications
There are a lot of viruses and parasites, up and about. Before going to an unknown destination (even if it is a local park) make sure that the vet agrees with your plan and all required vaccinations/suggested medications are done. The only alternative would be to tow the dog in a basket/bag/arms and not let it come in contact with ground/mud/stray.
A soft copy of registration and vaccinations should always be carried on the mobile phone even if the actual documents might look like extra baggage. Inform the vet of your trip and give a heads up on what kind of terrain/weather you would be traveling to. He/she may have good suggestions for you on how to keep the dog safe or which first aid medicines can be carried after an on-spot general checkup. Keep the vet’s phone number handy and try to get information on veterinary clinics/doctors close to your destination in case of emergencies..
Packing for the road
Additional to the holiday packing, there are some things which are needed to be at hand for the time spent on the road. Below is what we would normally carry in a small bag for Jiraiya and keep it easily accessible during the drive:
- Tissue paper rolls
- Rag cloth/small towel
- Favorite chew toy
- Favorite play toy like a ball/frisbee/tug
- Soft edible chews
- Drinking water bottle
- Portable Water/food bowl
- 20ft leash
- Kibble (Jiraiya does not eat anything while traveling, so we skip this)
- Weather based clothing like a snow jacket or rain cover
- Poop picker set
Preparing the car for the paw travelers
Before the road trip, the car has to be checked by experts and it has to be in first-class condition to avoid any horrid experiences. For the special four-legged travelers some aspects may need some upgrading. For instance,
- Try out different layouts in the car to judge how the pet is comfortable. For example, if the dog is crate trained and the crate fits perfectly in the car, maybe it’s better to let him/her sit in the crate for the trip. Jiraiya has never been crate trained and anyway if he did have a crate, it would have been too big for our car (we drive a mid-size hatchback – Maruti Baleno). He likes turning around multiple times before he settles to sleep and also changes his direction every now and then. So for him, we folded the seat and extended the coverage area. This is off-course possible only because no human can ever fit in this car with him and during most trips, we pack very light with limited luggage. The point is to just make sure that the pet dog is comfortable where ever he/she would sits during the road trip.
- Once the seat layout is finalized based on their comfort – the seat cover should be installed to protect the seats from nails/fur/dirt, etc.
- Luggage should be securely stacked/tied so it does not rattle or fall/obstruct the pet.
- If the pet dog is traveling in the boot, make sure it’s cushioned well and the dog is not feeling nervous being so far away from you.
- Keep the handbag with ‘on road’ necessities at an arm’s distance for ease of access.
- Being a German Shepherd, Jiraiya feels very hot during most of our road trips. We make sure that all AC vents are directed towards him. He gets too distracted if windows are open and does not sleep, so unless we are on a highway or pretty countryside and the weather is super-duper, we don’t open windows. In this way, he gets his uninterrupted rest and it reduces his nervousness.
- All access to the drivers/co-driver’s seat is blocked from above as well as below.
The food choices
Closely observe how the pet dog is responding to the short test drives. Is he/she snacking normally? hyperventilating? or restless? Jiraiya for example would puke if fed just before leaving. SO, we started feeding him light breakfast at least 1 hour before we left. He does not want to snack in between and is ready to go foodless for straight 8 hours if the drive is that long.
Hydration is off-course vital. Always have quick access to water along with some quick snacks. Hydrate the pet dog during breaks. Snacking/meals are entirely based on the pet’s preference. A meal-based chew toy, like a kong, etc.. is ideal for keeping the dog busy as well as fed.
Grooming the dog before the trip
For the sake of your car’s cleanliness and spectacular photos, get the pupper groomed before you leave!
Playing and poop trip before the road trip
Exhausting the pet just before the trip starts would encourage him/her to take the long drive as a good opportunity to sleep and re-energize. Just a 10 min game of fetch and a 20 min walk to do their poopy business is more than enough for a relaxed pooch snoozing for most of the day.
During ‘the’ road trip
Safety, is always first
- While in the car their leash should be fastened/tied in a way that they can just about reach the driver’s seat. Some pet dogs like Jiraiya like to check on their dads/moms now and then by putting their muzzles on the shoulder or poking their noses on the back of the neck. And that should be fine. Anything to keep them comfortable and calm. But they should not be able to come/jump on the driving section of the car while in motion nor accidentally fly onto the windscreen due to sudden breaks. While on a trip in the countryside, the herder/hunter instincts in your cutie pooch might kick in looking at the livestock and try to chase after them from a moving car. This might prove to be fatal. Hence, a good leash tie-up or a pet seatbelt is mandatory. The only drawback that we have observed in leashing the pet is that they unintentionally get entangled in it. Especially like Jiraiya who goes in circles a gazillion times every time he wants to sit (feng shui, huh?).
- While taking the breaks during the trip, pets need to be leashed unless you are a hundred percent sure of their safety ie.. only if the area is fenced and has no scattered garbage/long grass, etc.. basically where you can keep an eye on them and they are not in any danger. The best is to use a 20ft leash, they have the freedom to move around in a bigger radius, yet they can be pulled back when needed.
- The location where you stop should be surveyed before the pets are left off the leash so you can plan better. For example, the road or sand should not be too hot and the area should have enough shade. There should be no dead animal or suspicious mushrooms/berries/plants or too much dung/feces etc.. to keep the pet safe.
- Be prepared to tackle motion sickness/altitude sickness. Most of these will come up in the pre-road tip tests. So packing can be done accordingly.
- Always remove dogs from the vehicle on the side away from traffic.
- Firstly, never leave the dog in the car alone. Even if you do for a short time due to unavoidable circumstances – never leave the dog in a hot car. AC should be on at all times to keep the pooch comfy (and alive!). Windows should open a crack to avoid nervousness.
Enjoy the journey as much as the destination
Most important during a road trip with a pet dog are the break times. Depending on the breed and age of the pooch, plan the breaks during the drive time. Utilize these to let them pee/poop and stretch their legs by playing/walking depending on where you stop for the said break. It depends entirely on an individual but can be defined during the test road trip runs.
Tick and parasite checks and general cleanliness
Do a quick check for ticks and other parasites (and leaches!) in the usual folds of the skin every time the pet dog is about to enter back into the car. A quick wipe of the paws using wet wipes or a towel keeps a general check on the interior cleanliness of the car. By the end of the road trip, the car will have all sorts of odd smells, atleast you can reduce the dirt
Stay calm and travel on
Keeping calm as a traveler almost always keeps the pet dog calm. Every travel comes with its challenges. A flat tire, a broken road (or a broken car!) anything and everything can act as a trigger for panic in us humans. Even though the pet might be calm overall, it would not take him/her time to absorb and reflect your panic multiplying the heat of the moment.
To conclude, traveling with a pet dog can be challenging but once you get the hang of it, it is a very fulfilling experience. It forces you to be ‘extra’ present at the moment, enjoy the little things/awesome scenery and reflect on the tiniest aspects of your travel that you would normally miss.
PS – Do yourself a favor, and once the trip ends – get your car interiors cleaned professionally. Your car will thank you for it
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First published on When On A Break