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Traveling with Puppies in a Car: All you need to know [2021]

You’ve introduced a brand new puppy into your family and can’t wait to show them the world. We know the feeling! Not only is it all exciting for you, and your puppy, it’s important to get your puppy out into the world as soon as possible. This is especially important if your puppy is between 8 and 12 weeks old, known as the key socialisation period. This is when traveling with puppies is highly recommended. We will discuss this in detail below. 

Traveling with puppies in a car an be quite a nerve wrecking experience, for many reasons. Firstly, a car can be a scary place for a new puppy, depending on your pup’s personality and confidence levels. The new environment, the sounds of the engine, and being in a moving vehicle can all be quite a lot for a puppy, so you want to prepare to ensure your puppy adapts well. On another note, traveling with puppies in a car can be a stressful experience for you or the driver! An energetic puppy in a moving vehicle can be quite dangerous. 

Do not worry, in this article, we will talk you through the things you can do to ensure your puppy adapts well to rides in the car, as well as tips for a safe journey. 


Traveling with puppies during socialisation period (8-12 weeks)

Between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks, your puppy will be in it’s socialisation stage. Your puppy’s experiences during this critical period of learning and development can influence and shape their behaviour well into adulthood. 

A well socialised puppy will find it easier to navigate life. You’ll be able to take them confidently along with you, knowing that they can cope with situations.

What is socialisation and why is it so important?

Puppies are brand new in the world, they haven’t yet learnt which situations are safe and which ones could be risky for them. From about the first three weeks to three months of life, they go through what’s known as the ‘socialisation period’. During this period they learn that everyday sights and sounds are a part of normal life and are not a threat to them. Introducing them to everyday scenarios, places, sights and sounds while they are young will help them feel relaxed into adult life. 

Additionally, they need to learn when they could be in potential danger and what to do about it. At around 8 to 12 weeks old and again at around 6 months, puppies have short periods of what is called neophobia. This means, ‘fear of new things’ and it plays a big part in how puppies and dogs keep themselves safe. Negative experiences during this key period can have a big impact on how a puppy views the world and his sense of security. 

Traveling with puppies when they are young is recommended, to provide a wide range of positive experiences for your them. During the key socialisation period you will want to introduce your puppy to as many every day things as possible. This includes car rides, busy train stations and train journeys, buses, busy roads among many more environments and situations. If your puppy is introduced to these things early on in life, they are far more likely to be confident with them throughout their lifetimes. 

Of course, you and your dog may come across situations that you could never have practiced during their early months, however if you have a well travelled puppy, they’re more likely to accept and be confident in new experiences too.


Traveling with puppies in a car

How to teach your puppy to ride in the car

The key to traveling with puppies in a car is to make them feel comfortable and confident. The more comfortable and confident they are, the less stressed they’ll be. As mentioned above, the sooner you travel with your puppy in a car, the better. Ideally, you want your puppy to get used to your car as soon as you bring them home.

1. Introduce your puppy gradually to the car

Start by introducing your puppy to a stationary car. Allow your puppy to explore their pen or area they will be traveling in. The key is taking baby steps – you want your pup to feel confident and calm in the car, before starting the engine. You can even give them a couple treats so they have positive associations to the car. Once your puppy seems content, move on to the next step.

2. Make sure they have a firm footing under their paws, and a form of restraint

Ensure your puppy is safe in the car before you set off on your first ride. In some countries, there are actually laws in place that require puppies and dogs to be restrained in moving vehicles, with the use of dog seat belts or dog car harnesses. Even if it isn’t law in your country, using a dog seat belt or dog car harness when traveling with puppies in a car is safer for both you and your puppy. Of course, your puppy will be secured in place if you have to take a sharp turn or make a sudden stop. However, it’s also much safer for the driver, and everyone else on the road, as a free-roaming puppy can be rather distracting!

3. Take your puppy on a short, slow trip in the car
 
Start of with short journeys – take your puppy for a drive around the block. Make sure you use lots of praise and treats at the end of the journey for riding quietly in the car.

4. Slowly increase the length of your trips

As your puppy gains more confidence and seems happy in the car, you can increase the length and frequency of your trips. Be patient, use lots of praise and treats, and you should see progress pretty quickly. 

Remember to be patient and aim for gradual progress. It shouldn’t be long before your puppy is familiar with the car and knows what to expect when they jump in and hear the engine starting. 


Motion sickness when traveling with puppies in a car

Car sickness in puppies is very common although most dogs do grow out of it. The key to preventing and overcoming car sickness in puppies is patience and gradual progress. Follow the steps mentioned above, and introduce your puppy to the car gradually. The more comfortable and confident they are in the car, the less likely they are to experience motion sickness. 

If your new puppy does seem to get queasy in cars, it’s a good idea to put some waterproof sheeting down where they tend to sit or lie. Just in case they are sick, it is handy to carry lots of paper towels.

Additionally, puppies with full bellies are more likely to be sick. For this reason, if you are setting off on a long journey, it’s best not to feed your puppy for two to three hours before you set off, as a precaution.

You should always give your puppy a chance to go to the toilet before you set off, so they’re not anxious about having an accident. They’ll be much more relaxed with an empty bladder. 

If your puppy seems to be struggling badly with motion sickness, ask your vet for their advice.


Keeping your puppy safe in the car

Dog car safety isn’t just about about keeping your puppy protected, it’s about taking care of the driver, passengers and other drivers on the road too.

Take time to train your puppy to be calm and quiet in the car, using the steps listed above, so they aren’t a distraction in the car. 

Restrain your puppy

When traveling with puppies in a car, a restrained puppy will be less of a distraction to the driver and other passengers. In fact, in some countries it is actually law that dogs are restrained when in a moving vehicle. 

If your puppy will be sitting in the foot well or boot of the car, it’s best to use a crate or dog barrier to keep them safely contained. This will not only prevent them from jumping around the car being a nuisance, it will protect them from potential injury. Restraining a puppy is safer for them as it prevents them from flying around the vehicle if the driver has to suddenly stop or turn a sharp corner. 

If it isn’t possible to have your puppy in the boot, and your only option is to have your puppy sitting on a car seat, it’s important to use a dog car harness. Harnesses are like dog seat belts; they come in different sizes and attach onto ordinary car safety belts. If your puppy is particularly small and isn’t used to wearing harnesses, take some time to get him or her used to wearing one at home first. You don’t want to give your puppy extra reason to get stressed in the car. Ensure you give your puppy lots of praise and treats for wearing it, before you use it for real on your journey.

Don’t let your puppy travel in the car with the head out the window

Although it looks like great fun, and probably is, it’s not safe for your puppy. The strong flow of air could irritate your puppy’s eyes, or even worse they could get injured by something you drive past. Of course, there’s also the risk that they could slip out of their harness and jump out of the window! I know we’d like to think that our puppies wouldn’t be that silly but when they are young they haven’t yet learnt what is safe and what isn’t.

If you are traveling with puppies on a particularly hot day of course it’s good to let some fresh air in. You can even use a window guard that lets you open the window more without allowing your puppy the chance to jump out.

Include frequent breaks for long car journeys

If you’re traveling with puppies in a car long distance, it’s a good idea to stop at least every couple of hours. Particularly if you are traveling with a very young puppy, as they haven’t yet developed strong bladders. You’ll probably both appreciate a toilet break, a drink of water and the chance to stretch your legs. 


Keeping your puppy cool in the car

It’s important to take some precautions to ensure your puppy stays cool, particularly if you live in a hot country or are traveling with puppies in a car on a particularly hot day. Firstly, there are window shades that attach to the windows to prevent strong sunlight coming in. You also have the option of window guards, which will allow you to open the windows for fresh out without the risk of your puppy jumping out!

Both window guards and the sunshades are great for when you’re moving but even with the windows down and the sunlight protected, cars can heat up very quickly.

You should never leave your puppy in the car on warm days, or even in the winter, as it can be fatal.


Tips for traveling with puppies

Get your puppy used to confined spaces

Using a crate isn’t essential when traveling with puppies in cars, however it’s a good idea to get your puppy used to traveling in crates. It’s also a great way to keep a puppy safe when traveling in a car. They are car less likely to get injured if you need to do an emergency stop or turn a sharp corner.

Once you select the crate or carrier your puppy will be traveling in, it’s important to spend some time working on ensure he or she is comfortable in it. 

As it can take time for puppies to acclimate to their new carriers, it’s best to start this as early as possible. If your puppy is particularly anxious or nervous, you’ll want to allow yourself more time. 

The aim is to get your puppy used to spending time in it’s carrier for long periods of time, before you set off on a long trip.

You’ll want to use lots of treats, and your puppy’s favourite toys and blanket. This is so that your puppy associates the carrier with positive things. 

When introducing your puppy to its new carrier, it’s important to let your puppy explore it on its own. Do not place your puppy in immediately, and definitely do not close the door until they are comfortable sitting or lying down in it with the door open. This will make your puppy fear the carrier, and it will take much longer for them to get used to it. Instead, place your puppy’s treats, toys and blankets inside and let them venture in by themselves. You want it to become a safe place. 

It’s also a good idea to do some short practice runs in your puppy’s carrier. When your puppy is comfortable chilling in the carrier, take him out for a walk around the block, or to the cafe. The more practice runs you do, the less anxious your puppy should when you set off on your real trip. 


Get your puppy used to busy environments.

It’s a good idea to get your puppy used to busy environments as early as possible, particularly between the socialisation period between 8 to 12 weeks. A well traveled puppy, is much more likely to be confident and calm in new environments.

If it’s possible, take your puppy to a train station, or airport and sit with him or her in the public waiting area. This way, your puppy can get used to the sights, sounds and smells of an airport. 

However, I understand that this may not be possible. If it isn’t, you could always play your puppy an audio of a airplane taking off or train passing, and airport/train station noise.


Try to limit access to food and water before your trip.

A puppy that needs to go to the toilet is more likely to be distressed and anxious when traveling. If possible, try to limit your puppy’s access to food and water leading up to your trip, or time your puppy’s meals to suit your trip.

Not only will it reduce the chances of them needing the toilet while traveling, some puppies may experience motion sickness if they eat just before a trip. 

If you are traveling with puppies in a car, make pit stops every couple hours, at least. Puppy’s bladders aren’t fully developed until they’re around 6 months. If your puppy is very young, you may want to line your car with waterproof material, in case of any accidents. 


Pack supplies the night before.

When planning a long road trip with a puppy, it’s best to get everything organised the night before your trip. This will make the whole journey much less stressful for you, which will in turn make your puppy calmer. From personal experience, I know how much of a handful puppies can be, so rather than rushing the morning of your trip, it’s much better to have it prepared beforehand. 

Supplies are key to a happy, healthy trip. Here’s what we suggest bringing:

  • Your dog’s food
  • Favourite treats
  • Collapsible food and water bowls.
  • An extra leash
  • Plastic bags and hand cleaners in case of accidents.
  • A safe toy or bone for chewing on during the flight
  • A blanket

If you are planning on crossing borders with your puppy, you may also need some documents. The documents required depend on where you are traveling from and to. But generally, you may require any of the following:

  1. Microchip certificate
  2. Rabies vaccination certificate
  3. Animal health certificate 
  4. Import permit
  5. Additional vaccination certificates
  6. Rabies titer test results
  7. Parasite treatment certificate

This is just a guide on what is required, please check the requirements for your specific destination country. 


Familiarise yourself with signs of distress.

Look out for the following signs of distress when traveling with puppies:

  • Crying
  • Shivering
  • Excessive licking
  • Excessive yawning
  • Pacing
  • A glazed over look
  • Continuous shaking as if they are wet

Exhaust your puppy before travel.

Try to tire your puppy a little by having a little play session just before your trip.

A sleepy puppy will be less prone to getting stressed when traveling as they will likely just sleep through it! Puppies need a lot of sleep!


Frequently Asked Questions 

My puppy gets sick in the car, what can I do to help?

Most puppies will experience a little motion sickness when first riding in a car. They usually grow out of it. Take your puppy out for short trips to get them used to the car, before going on longer journeys. Gradual exposure is key. Puppies are also far more likely to experience motion sickness on a full belly, so if you are planning a road trip, hold out on feeding your puppy 2-3 hours before your trip. Ensure you give them a chance to go to the toilet before you set off, as your puppy will be much more relaxed with an empty bladder. If motion sickness persists, you can always as your vet for advice.

Can my puppy sit on my lap in the car?

Although it may seem like the safest place for a puppy, it isn't recommended. Firstly it is actually a legal requirement in many countries that dogs must be restrained when in a moving vehicle, either by a crate, dog seatbelt or travel harness. Furthermore, an unrestrained puppy is not only a danger to itself, as it could fly around the vehicle if the driver was to take a sharp turn or has to stop suddenly. They are also a potential distraction to the driver, and therefore a danger to other passengers and those on the road.

Can I cross borders with my puppy in the car?

You should be able to, with correct paperwork. When exporting and importing animals, there are usually strict requirements. These often include animal health certificates, rabies vaccinations, microchip documentation, parasite treatments and export of import permits. Check the requirements of your departure and destination countries before setting off on your road trip.

My puppy cries in the car. What should I do?

There could be a number of reasons that your puppy is crying in the car. It could be that they are experiencing motion sickness, or they have a negative association with the car. Hold out on taking long car journeys with your puppy, until they are more comfortable with the car. Follow the steps listed above to get your dog confident and comfortable with traveling in a car. It's also important to work on building up a positive association with the car, but using lots of treats and by going to fun destinations such as the park.


Bottom Line

So, traveling with puppies in a car can be a positive experience for the both of you, as long as you take time to prepare beforehand. Traveling should be a key part to your puppy’s socialisation period, as it will result in a confident happy dog who enjoys the experience, if done correctly. 

It’s important to take your time and gradually exposing your puppy to the car. Gradual is key as you don’t want to overwhelm your puppy and make them feel like they have something to fear. You want to take baby steps, listed above, and provide your puppy with plenty of praise and treats when they behave calmly when traveling in the car.

If you are planning on crossing borders with a puppy, then it’s important to check the regulations for exporting and importing pets at your departure and destination countries.

Hope this has been helpful! Happy road trips!

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