Dog Car Safety -- 
What to Do to Have a Great Trip

Dog car safety is not rocket science. Here are some basic, simple data:

1. Dogs should always crated in a car; they will become a deadly missile in the event of an accident. Further, no dog should ever ride loose in a front seat. If the air bag deploys, even at very low speed,  it may be surprising to you but it will be a killer to your dog.

In recent years, "doggy car seats" have become popular. Recent dog car safety tests have revealed that none of these prevent catastrophic injury in case of an accident. Take home message? Ditch the car seats or harnesses. Use a plastic or aluminium crates only. (Wire crates are also a no-go; they can become a death trap in an accident.)

2. On a longer trip, prepare to stop and exercise your dog every 2 to 4 hours.

3. Some dogs get car sick -- this can create at minimum a mess and good dog car safety dictates that it be addressed and taken care of.

One solution is motion sickness tablets made with neclazine, which can be bought for at most drug stores. Give it to your dog the night before, then again before your start the trip.

You can also ask your vet for a prescription for CERENIA (maropitant citrate). It works best when given two hours prior to travel.

Please note -- this just refers to car travel. When traveling by plane, especially if your dog will go in cargo, you won't have easy access to him in case he has a poor reaction to the medication. Better, in that case, to let him drool.

Ginger may help some dogs and it's worth a try. Even a couple of ginger snaps several hours before a trip can help.

Lavender has also been known to alleviate canine motion sickness.

4. Once the crate is in the car, leave your dog alone to calmly snooze his day away. The more you check on him and talk to him, the more he will worry that something is wrong; dog car safety will suffer.

Equipment is important but not complicated for good dog car safety. But poor dog car behavior can be quite dangerous.

What Do You Do If Your Dog Hates the Car?

Some friends of mine had this problem. This is what I recommended:

Dear Sandy,

You sure captured both Tally and Cosmo in the comic strip. We love it!!!

Hope all is well.

Cosmo has developed a "new" neurosis during car travel. If you drive on a highway and go over 30 mph he starts vibrating, shaking and panting. I try to calm him down but to no avail. Sometimes he wants to sit on my lap and shake and other times he goes in the back and pants.

In the crate, there is no improvement and he bangs on the gate to get out. We took him to the vet and he said its an "anxiety attack" caused by car travel and he suggested an herbal stress reliever. He is now on this 2x a day and it is supposed to build up in his system and it may take a month to work if it works at all. The next step would be a low dose Prozac.

Obviously we are not comfortable with that but we need to be able to travel with Cosmo. This issue started in mid-May while we were driving to New Jersey and another car cut us off, nearly causing an accident and Joel lost his temper and yelled at the driver. From that day on Cosmo's symptoms began and got progressively worse. Any suggestions?

Otherwise he's so loveable, charming, comical and a thug with other dogs. He likes people, children and loves Tally (although he's a tad jealous at times) and he adores us. Also he definitely has a temper but Tally is tolerant and does not take him seriously. She's a born hunter (2 garter snakes this summer) and he tries to copy her. Rabbits are his prey of choice!

MT and JT

Dear MT and JT,

It sounds to me like Cosmo had a bad experience in the car, leading him to a new behavior of being afraid. This is slightly different than a dog that starts out scared. But it definitely gets in the way of dog car safety!

First of all I strongly do not recommend behavior-altering drugs at any time. I find they stick a feather pillow of cover-up over the problem, dulling the overall joi-de-vivre of your dog.

Also, once started, it can be dangerous to stop them. Stopped cold turkey they can turn a mild mannered sweetie into Kujo. If you are interested in more information on this, contact the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights.
Rescue Remedy can help calm down a nervous dog; also I have heard that ginger – even ginger snaps – and the scent of lavender can help. But be aware that the scent of lavender can make humans drowsy! Melatonin can be helpful as well.

Basically Cosmo needs to find out that despite his one bad experience, cars can be a fine place to hang out. Try this:

1. Put him in a quality travel crate ( See Vari Kennels and Sky Kennels)in the car for 5 to 10 minutes with the car parked, with the yummiest goodie you can think of, like a big bone with peanut butter in the middle. Something that takes a while to eat. (If being in his crate is still too much, hold him on your lap in the parked car for 5 to 10 minutes.) Do not “soothe” him with aimless chatter. Act calm and upbeat and he will become confident too. Do this several days in a row.

2. When he has relaxed, take him in his crate for a ride around the block. Strap the crate in with the seat belt to keep it secure. Do this every day, getting longer and longer each time. Then on trips that go 40 mph, then 50 and so on. Don’t forget the yummy bone!

In time, Cosmo will be sure that car rides are simply delivery devices for fun times and yummy goodies. Tally will be jealous! Please keep me posted, but I'm glad that otherwise both dogs are doing so well.

Best, Sandy

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