Driving With Dogs

By Chandra Orr

January 21, 2011 6 min read

Fur on the seats, drool on the windows -- and that smell! Car rides can be a lot of fun for you and your pooch, but tidying up after the trip can be quite a challenge. For quick cleanups, you should give your canine travel companion an assigned seat, invest in a good seat cover, go equipped with the right gear and, above all else, make it fun.

*Buckle Up

Just like people, your pooch faces real danger on the road. A sudden stop, a quick turn or a misplaced paw while climbing over seats can injure your dog -- and distract the driver -- so give your pup an assigned seat, and invest in the proper safety restraints.

"If you have room for a crate in the car, that's a great way to start out," says pet safety advocate Lindsey Wolko, CEO of Canine Commuter, which independently screens pet products and educates consumers on safe pet travel. "If you have a large dog and no room for a crate, then you'll need to find a travel safety harness to fit him -- and a travel harness is not the same as his walking harness."

Like a walking harness, a travel harness fits snugly and features a ring for attaching a leash. It also includes a mechanism for securing the dog in place using the vehicle's seat belt -- and when the dog stays in one place, the fur stays in one place.

"A harness also helps to keep your dog away from windows -- it may look cute for Fido to stick his head out of the window, but it's very dangerous -- and helps eliminate window cleanup later on," Wolko says.

*Cover Up

"The most difficult thing with dogs in the car is the hair," says Gary Ryder, veterinarian and pet expert for JustAnswer. "Really, the best way to cut down on this is to use some form of protection over the seats. Blankets, seat covers, a fitted sheet -- all get the job done. It doesn't completely protect everything, but it's a good start."

Outdoor specialty retailers, pet stores and automotive supply stores offer a wide variety of seat covers made specifically for pets, but Wolko recommends a hammock-style seat cover, which protects the entire back seat and blocks off the passenger foot compartment. Look for one that is waterproof and easily removed for laundering.

"Without the cover, dog odors permeate the fabric and linger -- or, if they get sick or have a toileting accident during travel, you have a mess to clean up," Wolko says. "Purchase one that tethers to not only the headrests but also both ends of the seat around the bottom corners. This tethering provides added stability and keeps the dog's footing more secure."

*Stock Up

The longer stains and odors sit the harder they are to clean, so pack the right supplies for on-the-go touch-ups. Stock the car with a few cloth hand towels for blotting liquids, a roll of paper towels for the big messes and an all-purpose cleanser.

White vinegar is ideal; it's nontoxic, inexpensive and incredibly versatile. From bathroom-related accidents to vomit, white vinegar cuts through just about every pet-related stain and odor -- even cat urine, says Christina Selter, founder of Bark Buckle UP, a pet travel safety advocacy group.

Fill a spray bottle with a 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and water to cut through drool on glass and vinyl. For tougher stains, don't dilute the vinegar. And don't rub and scrub; it will only work the stain deeper into the carpet or upholstery. Instead, remove what you can with a paper or cloth towel, and squirt with vinegar. Wait a few minutes, and then dab and pat to lift the stain.

"Vinegar works great," Selter says. "You can put a small cup in the car at night with the windows up and take it out in the morning, and the smell is gone."

*Chill Out

A calm dog is a cleaner dog. All the things that make for a messy car -- shedding, drooling, nausea and bathroom accidents -- are also common stress responses, so keep things fun and relaxed.

"Car travel with your dog can be an easy and enjoyable experience for both you and your dog. The key is to start training your dog early," Wolko says. "While training your dog, make sure to provide lots of praise. And take your time; it won't happen overnight."

Start the trip with a quick brushing. This calming ritual will put your pooch in the right frame of mind and cut down on the amount of dog hair in the car.

Introduce your dog to car rides slowly to reduce anxiety and eliminate carsickness. Start with 10-minute rides, and work your way up to longer journeys -- and choose a few fun locations. If your dog only gets in the car to go to the vet, buckling up will cause a lot of stress.

For lingering motion sickness, medication, such as Antivert (meclizine), may offer some relief, according to Ryder. "You give 12.5 milligrams to a small dog or 25 milligrams to a medium or large dog 30-60 minutes before a car ride," he says. "This will cut down on the nausea and -- after enough rides, one hopes -- eliminate carsickness."

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