Families in many areas are currently enjoying the currently-reduced restrictions around COVID 19 and taking trips with their dogs. To keep those trips enjoyable, we need to be aware of and avoid hazards that may put our dogs at risk when we travel with them.
Before you go, make sure that your pet has identification. As someone who does missing pet recovery, I recommend that all pets be microchipped and wear tags. Now is also a good time to check that all your contact information is current and that the tags are legible. In some areas like ours, the vet can tattoo an identification number into the dog’s ear.
Brush up on your pet’s training with some reward training to fine-tune important behaviours such as coming when called (like Oliver is doing in the photo below) and leaving items alone.
Enroll in a pet first-aid course (some are even available online) and purchase a good pet first aid kit and have it handy in your vehicle and at home. Have your local veterinary office’s number readily available. When travelling, have the contact for vets in your destination area easily accessible.
In your vehicle, use either a crash-tested seatbelt harness or a secure crate to keep your dog safe. Unrestrained dogs can be a hazard to themselves and to others. If you are injured in an accident, emergency personnel may be delayed in assisting you if a loose adult dog is guarding you and your vehicle. A frightened dog may bolt from the scene.
If your dog is excitable or uncomfortable riding in the car, ask your veterinarian for help with motion sickness and consult a reward trainer to help with your dog’s issues in the car before you leave. Teach your dog to remain in the vehicle until given a cue word to exit (even once their seatbelt harness is undone).
If you use a crate, attach an information sheet about your pet and include vet and alternate caregiver information in the event you cannot care for your dog. As with the seatbelt harness, teach your dog to remain in the vehicle after exiting the crate until cued to exit the vehicle. .
Dogs should never be transported in the bed of a truck without using a secured crate. Restraining dogs in the back of a truck with a leash can result in dogs being hanged. When in truck beds, they are also exposed to the elements risking hypothermia, heatstroke, eye and ear injury and they have no protection in case of an accident. In many places having a dog loose in the bed of a pickup is illegal and can void insurance coverage.
Prepare your pet for experiences that might be new to them. My dogs sometimes fly in small aircraft. To prepare them for the experience and to make it enjoyable for them, I took them to watch planes from a distance and hear the noise while pairing that with treats they like. I taught them to use a ramp and to readily accept wearing hearing protection. I created a trail of treats up the ramp to the plane and they found more rewards when they entered the aircraft and so on. By the time it came to flying, the dogs were convinced airplanes were a good thing. Sometimes airlines or pilots will require the dogs to be crated, so teach your dog to love their crate and feel safe in it as well as getting them very used to the plane. My dog Amber (shown below) watches take off and landing out the window and sleeps otherwise.
When outdoors with your dog, keep him safely leashed until you know the area is safe for dogs. Be vigilant for unexpected risks like unmarked cliffs. Wildlife can also pose a threat to dogs (and dogs to wildlife) so be prepared to avoid interactions. Familiarize yourself with local risks like certain species of native plants, insects like fire ants,venomous spiders, and parasites so you can ensure your dog avoids them. Standing water can harbor infectious agents. There are many diseases dogs can acquire from standing water and some are transmissible to humans.
Enjoy travelling with your dog and stay safe!
Jane Bowers, BA, CABC, CDPT-KA