I just want to preface this mini-series with a disclaimer:
First of all, this is obviously based on my experience with my dog. For those of you that don’t know much about Rufus, he is usually a super chill and mellow dude. While he does have his behavioral issues, he’s usually a pretty happy camper as long as he’s with his people and is allowed to get a good romp/sniff session in a few times a day. However, almost all 10 of my previous fosters were more on the nervous side, so hopefully these tips will help those anxious dogs out there enjoy the road a little more as well…
Moving on. I wanted to start off by explaining a few pre-road trip exercises you can do with your pet if you know you have the time before a big excursion.
1) So….let’s make sure your dog is ok (or at least tolerable) in the car. I know this seems like common sense, but many people don’t have the opportunity to take their dogs on tons car rides. Some dogs may get car sick, some may get nervous, and many may just be total WEIRDOS when you put them in a moving contraption.
Rufus falls in the “weirdo” category, but only for the first 15-20 minutes he’s in the car. He associates the car with super awesome things: trips to the park, mom’s bringing him to work!!, visits with his favorite doggy friends, etc. Therefore, he squeals and hyperventilates and throws in a few other non Rufus-like mannerisms. However, I know this madness will pass, because I have taken him on longer trips and he always settles down nicely. I would suggest taking your dog on every little trip you can: to the bank, to the park, or just drive around for awhile. Every time you can expose them to your car, you are starting to desensitize them a little bit more to the whole experience. (sidenote: start putting his bed, a special toy, or anything else you are going to use for the big trip in the car for these random car rides as well so he becomes acclimated with this cozy new space in its entirety).
*Of course if your dog is the type that gets carsick, you may want to talk to your vet about some preventative medications.
2) Start conditioning your dog to associate certain items with comfort and normalcy.
This step is especially important when prepping anxious dogs or dogs that rely heavily on a routine/schedule. Here are just a few suggestions that can help your dog learn to relax in the car before you even leave the house:
If your dog doesn’t already have a special bed or blanket they use regularly, try to integrate one into his life before the trip. If they do, great! Reinforce the crap out of this special place. You may want to feed him treats on the blanket while he’s relaxed, give him his nightly kong once he’s settled down onto his bed for the night, or trying giving him a relaxing massage while praising him the whole time for being calm and mellow. This simple exercise will teach him that his bed/blanket is a special place, and once you place it in your vehicle, it could help him stay more relaxed and comforted while in this possibly stressful situation. If you are planning on using a crate in addition to the bed/blanket, you can do all of this while he’s relaxing in the crate as well.
The most helpful exercise I used with Rufus before we left was to break up his routine. Dogs are creatures of habit (much like us humans), and disrupting their everyday routine can put them on edge and cause them to stress out. To help Rufus with this, I started changing out his breakfast/dinner dish and feeding him his meals in a travel bowl. This may not be an issue for you if you’re planning a day trip, but we were often driving for hours and I didn’t want Rufus to miss a meal. Because of this, travel bowls were a big help. He can be weird about new devices (he still won’t go anywhere near a Kong Wobbler), so I made sure he got used to the bowl before we left. And he did. Problem solved. If your dog doesn’t take to the new dishes right away, try putting something extra special in there: wet food, peanut butter, etc. to coax them a little more.
I also started to feed him meals in different rooms, on the porch, and outside. I knew he would need to be comfortable eating in various places, so I thought it would help if he got used to the change of scenery asap. Working at a boarding facility, I often saw how freaked out dogs were by eating in our feeding area simply because it wasn’t “home”, so I tried to avoid this with Ru. Again, this worked out really well. Rufus happily gobbled up his dinner in a gas station parking lot (pictured above), random hotel rooms, and even in a moving car. Way to go, buddy!
Whew…this is getting a little long-winded, so I’ll just sum up this first post with a list of the gear we used. If you would like me to elaborate on any of it, feel free to leave a comment and I will do so! However, I figure most of the people that read this are pretty dog-savvy, so I’ll keep it basic for now:
3) Dog gear is your friend. How much do we love gear? I know I’m crazy about it, and spend just about all of my expendable income on Rufus and his wardrobe/fancy eating habits (and my own as well…). I know, it’s a problem. All of this gear also helps to keep your dog safe and comfortable, so make sure you know what you need to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
-A durable collar. I got this one (the green REI brand, but in brown) free at REI with the purchase of his backpack, and it’s a nice and strong collar for this purpose.
-A very versatile leash. I bought this one a few months ago, and love it! It was so easy to tether him to a tree while we ate outside, somewhere in the car when the windows were down (no a.c. for us! we’re hardcore), etc. Not to mention I could clip his travel bowl, our keys and poop bags on the random hooks for longer hikes/walks.
-Extra security! When we would stop at rests stops or to walk him for bathroom breaks, I would hook him up to his leash as well as his easy walk harness and use a carabiner for double reinforcement on one or both of the latches. The last thing you want to do is risk losing your pup out in the middle of nowhere!
-A durable and comfortable bed. We love Molly Mutt, and used the square version of this print. The duvet is high quality, and comes off easily so you can throw it in the wash with no hassle.
-Seat covers. Getting in and out of the car and going on random excursions, the guy was bound to get filthy. We’ve been using this one, and we even scored it while it was on sale.
-Long-lasting treats to keep him occupied: frozen peanut butter kongs (bring a cooler or throw it in the freezer the night before in the hotel if possible), dental chews (love these!), bully sticks, etc. Puzzle toys and various toys they love would also work.
-Poop bags. Self-explanatory.
Next up: Staying in strange, new places and how to help acclimate your dog to glamorous hotel life.