Over the July 4th weekend I was running errands and preparing for my hip replacement surgery. I can’t tell you how many things I saw that were scary for dogs because their owners were ignorant. I’ve addressed these issues in the past, but I guess it can never be stressed enough given the number of people who seem oblivious. Most of them surround traveling with your dog. My biggest pet peeve about pet travel is how few people think of travel with their pets as important enough to do a few simple things to help try to make it safer for them.
I’ve addressed safe traveling with your dog before so most of you who follow regularly know my feelings about the topic. I’ll summarize the key points:
- · Letting your dog sit in your lap while you drive may seem cute, but it’s not. It’s dangerous, especially if your dog is one that likes to stand up with his front feet on the steering wheel, your arms, or generally bounces around. One wrong move and your dog in your lap can cause you to have an accident. I saw a woman nearly wreck over the holiday weekend because her dog jumped on her singular arm on the steering wheel, and caused her to veer sideways, almost careening into a car beside her on the highway-mine! Your dog has no business in the front seats, but especially not in the drivers’ seat! It’s not cute, it’s scary!
- · If you don’t have a vehicle in which to carry your dogs in crates that can be tied down within your vehicle, then your dog should be tethered in your vehicle and not just confined by a divider that keeps your dog within a defined space. If you’re involved in an accident, tethering the dog will at least keep your dog from making a daring and potentially deadly exit out an opened/broken door or window and escaping or being hit by surrounding traffic. Tethering your dog also ensures that the dog is limited within the vehicle following an accident in which emergency responders may need to extract you/your passengers. The dog being secured is the first step in enabling first responders to provide assistance without concerns regarding the dog attacking or escaping. Tethering your dog isn’t necessarily about being the safest thing for your dog in event of an accident, but it is about being the safest thing for everyone if the worst should happen. Smart people always PLAN/EXPECT the worst and hope for the best.
- · Don’t leave windows down or leave your pet in an open truck bed. Many dogs sustain eye, ear, nose, and mouth injuries because they travel with the wind blowing in their faces. While that may seem to make dogs happy, it’s totally unsafe because objects can be easily blown into their faces; and without helmets and face shields, the dog can be pelted by bugs and debris that cause injuries. Another issue with open windows is that if the open window enables a dog to stick his head out, then he can actually get his body through it too-this is NOT a wives’ tale. You may think your dog is completely safe and will never be motivated to exit your vehicle-especially via a window-but that’s not always true and it’s also not the only problem. If your dog can stick his nose/face out of the window, that means nasty people can also stick their hands IN your vehicle; and that means nasty individuals may do harm to or even steal your dog in your absence, while you just “run into the store for a minute.” Likewise, leaving dogs in the back of pick-up trucks is dangerous for the same reasons as leaving windows down, with the added danger that in your absence, your dog may become territorial and aggressive toward anyone coming near the truck. If someone innocently walks too close to your vehicle and your dog becomes aggressive enough to bite, your dog may be picked up by police/the dog warden and taken to the local pound as a “dangerous dog” and may be legally mandated to be euthanized. You would be responsible for any injuries your dog caused to someone.
- · When traveling with your dog in warmer weather, I strongly urge that you always carry bottled water and a small bowl or cup for your dog. You may be planning a quick trip to the store and back, but even on a 75 degree day, if you break down or are away longer than you anticipated, your dog could get quite warm in the car. If you always carry a couple bottles of water in the car and replenish them as needed, your dog should never lack the ability to have a drink when he gets too hot or you’re gone too long. I’ve had break-downs on the road and been quite grateful to have some bottled water in the car for myself and my dogs while I waited in the heat for roadside assistance-which can often be for several hours.
- · Once it’s 75 degrees or more outside, decide whether your dog really needs to go to the store with you or not. 75 degrees in the sun can mean over 95 degrees inside a car in under 20 minutes. Your dog doesn’t need to go for a car ride to the store to sit in a hot car. If you’re taking him to a dog park, pet store, or somewhere truly fun for the dog, that’s different, but just taking the dog to go to the store in a hot vehicle is not fun or safe for your dog. You may enjoy taking the dog and think it's nice that you do it, but your dog doesn't want a car ride to the store to sit alone in the car and be hot while you shop.
- · During a holiday such as July 4th (in the U.S.) or other holidays, avoid taking your dog to parades and public events, especially if fireworks and loud noises will be prevalent. Many people take their dogs to a picnic or parade and lose their dog because he suddenly got scared or was otherwise motivated to run away. Holiday events are for humans and not dogs. If you leave your dog home during a holiday when they will be able to hear/see fireworks around them, please be sure they’re secured IN your home or garage with no open doors or windows through which they can escape. More dogs are lost during such holidays than any other time of year because people take their dogs to events and lose them; or they left the dog outside at home and the dog got scared and escaped their yard or home via an open window.
- · Check your dog collars and leashes regularly-at least weekly. If you’re required to have dog tags on your dog at all times (in most cities of the U.S.), you need to be sure the proper tags are intact and the information is still readable. You need to also be sure the collar itself is in good condition; and not too tight or loose for your dog. Leashes need to be durable when your dog is excited so checking leash condition is a good idea. Many people use the extendable dog leashes (which I do not advocate using-ever), so be sure that the leash retracting mechanism works appropriately; and the leash is kept clean so it doesn’t gum up the retractor and keep it from working properly.
- · The biggest danger of all: people who think and say, “My dog would NEVER do ____” and, “My dog ALWAYS behaves.” Any dog can be motivated to do things you never dreamed of when you're not around. It’s all about timing and opportunity coming together to create a situation you never thought your perfect pooch would engage in. Your best option is to always plan for the very worst and hope for the very best-the key being, “plan.”
I don’t pretend to be an expert or have all the answers for things, but some things really are just common sense. Dogs rely on us to keep them safe. If you really love your dog, be proactive by planning ahead and thinking about things that COULD happen so you can try to avoid them. It's no different than thinking about what goes in the diaper bag for a baby; being sure to secure a child in a car seat or appropriate seat belt; and being aware that what the dog may like isn't any better than some things children may also like. You wouldn't let your child travel with his/her head hanging out the window; and you wouldn't leave your child in the car alone-especially in the heat. If you wouldn't do it with a child, then odds are good you shouldn't do it with a dog.
I surely hope you will be mindful of your special dog friends as you travel and share life with them.