If you need to travel in your car with your dog, you may find this article from The Telegraph useful as it explains how to do it safely and legally.
I have a dog. When we discussed getting one, I promised my husband – a man only grudgingly accepting of my dog-ownership aspiration – that we’d get a medium-sized, low-shedding breed, as appropriate for our young daughter and pale carpets.
What we actually did was rehome Ziggy, a giraffe-legged, 31kg “Labradoodle”, who sheds great clouds of fur all year round. She may not, in fact, be a Labradoodle – the previous owner swears she is, but we’re not sure.
Regardless, we adore her in all her over-exuberant, bearded glory, and we’ve been lucky in that she travels well in the car whether she’s in the boot with her bed, or harnessed into the rear seats.
There are, of course, things to do to make your dog safer and more comfortable, so here are the golden rules.
How to keep your dog properly restrained in the car
This hardly needs pointing out, but the first rule of doggie car travel is to restrain them properly. The RSPCA recommends a dog guard, a crate, or a harness that you clip onto the seatbelt or into the seatbelt buckle.
The critical thing is to be sure that your dog can’t move about too much and distract you, get flung about by the car’s movement, and of course isn’t going to be thrown loose if you have an accident.
Dog guards vary dramatically. Lots of car manufacturers offer fully fitted guards and dividers specifically for their own models, some as a dealer-fit option, ranging from around £200 up to more than £700 depending on the brand.
The cheaper option is an aftermarket dog guard, which start from around £20. Be sure to check your car’s boot dimensions before ordering as some might be a struggle to fit into small cars.
Crates are also a safe way of travelling with your pet provided it’s crate-trained, and as the RSPCA recommends: “make sure it is big enough for your dog… bedding inside will stop them slipping and will make them feel more comfortable.”
Harnesses have improved a lot in the last few years, but as the RSPCA points out, the important thing is to “ensure your pet is used to wearing the harness before introducing them to being clipped into the seatbelt.”
There are plenty of sturdy, well-padded harnesses available on the high street with dedicated seatbelt features, and any good pet store will help you to fit the harness properly, or will offer refunds if you get the wrong size initially.
What to do if you have a breakdown with your dog in the car
The Highway Code states that if you break down on the motorway you should leave your pet in the car, unless it is an emergency in which case you must keep them on a short lead on the verge. It is, of course, extremely dangerous to a dog’s health to be left in a hot car, so if the weather is hot then it would be safer to take the dog with you, provided it is kept under very tight control.
Breaking down in your Motability Scheme car
As a Motability Scheme customer, your car is covered for breakdown assistance for the whole of your lease. Cover is provided by RAC Motability Assist, which provides full breakdown support just for Motability Scheme customers. If you break down in your Scheme car, don’t forget to tell the RAC that you have a dog and if it is an assistance dog, as your assistance dog will be permitted to travel with you in the recovery vehicle.
Any recovery service will take your pet in the cab if they can’t fix the car. However, if the recovery truck driver is at all concerned about the dog’s behaviour, or if there is no space to safely carry all passengers and the dog in the cab, then they are within their rights to refuse to take the dog.
The critical thing is to make sure you say that you have a dog with you when you call for recovery, and always have water and a bowl in the car for your dog.
What to do about the hot weather
As we’ve said, and as you’ve undoubtedly heard in countless calls for common sense from animal welfare groups, never leave your dog in a hot car. Even with the windows down in hot weather and with a bowl of water left for them, with no air flow it can still be cruel and dangerous to their health.
As for when you’re on the move with them in a hot car, the RSPCA recommends that “cooling mats can help to keep your pet cool during a journey but it’s also important to ensure air conditioning or open windows are cooling the area your pet is in.”
Think carefully about that ‘the area your pet is in’ comment. Ever sweated away in the back seats while those up front argue that the air-con is at a perfectly agreeable temperature? It’s going to be much worse in the boot, so do consider a cooling mat, and bear in mind that sometimes the air flow from a window will be more comfortable than air-con for your pets, if there are no vents in the back of the car.
On the subject of open windows, cute as it is, don’t let your dog hang its head out of the car. Dogs are just as liable to get stones, flies or dirt in their eyes and mouths as we are with a gale force wind in the face. It won’t be pleasant for the dog, you (or the emergency vet).
Keeping your dog happy as well as safe
So, the dog-in-car safety is out of the way, but having an unhappy dog can be distracting and distressing even if you’ve done all of that.
To help keep your dog happy in the car, the RSPCA recommends that you “feed your dog more than two hours before the journey and give them a chance to go to the toilet before you leave”, as dogs travel better on an empty stomach.
Acclimatise your dog to car travel by starting with short journeys and building up to longer stints, and always keep an eye out of signs of stress, such as barking, fidgeting, vomiting and heavy panting. It goes without saying that you should also stop regularly on long journeys to let your dog exercise and go to the toilet.
Plenty of motorway services offer dedicated areas for just that, or you check out www.drivingwithdogs.co.uk for a useful guide to dog walks and dog-friendly pubs on your route.