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Keeping Your Old Dog Young with Travel and New Experiences

Keeping Your Old Dog Young with Travel and New Experiences

Dogs, like people, need mental stimulation to keep their minds young and their bodies active. The same old walks day in and day out only go so far towards doing this, but making your old dog a travel companion can deliver multiple benefits. Most dogs are ecstatic when it comes to going anywhere by car, and if your dog is anything like mine then just the sound of your touching the car keys is enough to get the excitement going.

But what happens if your dog suffers from car anxiety? Not even the most enjoyable destination can make up for a traumatic car trip filled with stress and fear, and few pet parents want to rely on dog anxiety medication as part of the supplies for a vacation. These tips will help you create positive travel experiences for your dogs and to prepare them for a relaxed, pleasant trip.

Before the Trip

It goes without saying that your dog should be in good health and up to date on all his or her vaccinations. If you have any concerns, a visit to your veterinarian is a good place to start. After that, the following tips can help prepare both of you for the trip.

Introduce your dog to a harness, seatbelt or booster seat

Few things can be as traumatic (and potentially dangerous) for an older pet than being flung through the air when you’re forced to stop suddenly. Rather secure your dog in a way that gives him comfort, safety and reassurance. Your choice of option depends mostly on the size of the dog, with a seatbelt harness being the best choice for large dogs. For smaller pooches, a booster seat not only keeps them safe and confined to one spot but also keeps them interested by allowing them to safely watch the world go by.

Choose the right size device for your dog, and put it on at home so he can get used to the sensation of it. Leave a harness on for a while, letting him walk around with it while providing lots of praise and a treat or two. For booster seat dogs, put the seat on the floor and allow them to investigate it, hop in and out of it, and even scrummage for a treat inside it for a while. The objective is for them to become accustomed to the device, so it’s not a scary object when it’s time for them to ride in it.

Do a dry run in the car

Once the dog appears comfortable with the booster seat or harness, try it out on a short trip around the neighborhood. Get someone else to drive while you sit in the back with the dog, talking to him and making it a fun experience. If your dog is still nervous at this point, it’s a good idea to repeat the experience several times before the trip to build up his confidence.

Train him to relieve himself on command

This is a tactic that’s useful at any time, but in case your dog doesn’t already do it when on the leash, here’s how to teach him:

  • Walk the dog on a leash after a meal, either in your yard or elsewhere on territory he is familiar with.
  • When he squats to go, say a verbal cue such as “do business” or “go potty” AT THE SAME TIME as he does so.
  • Immediately praise and treat him afterwards, so he learns to associate the verbal cue with the action and the reward.

Practice doing this frequently to get him used to the idea, so when you make pit-stops on the trip he will go on command and not need to walk around for hours before doing so.

During the Trip

The whole point of taking your dog with you on a trip is to give him a great experience and keep him happy throughout the journey. Here are some things to consider that apply specifically to older dogs, which might not be obvious at first glance.

Look to your dog for timing

It’s great to begin with a schedule to exercise, feed, water and walk your dog during the trip, but your plan might not work for the dog. One pet owner reported that she had planned to walk her 12-year old Borzoi every two hours, to help prevent her from getting stiff. This didn’t turn out well, because by the time the dog had finally settled down from a stop it was almost time for the next one. It’s important to take your cue from the dog, since only they know what they truly need.

Keep things familiar

Reduce the stress involved in traveling by bringing your dog’s usual bedding, food, bowls, toys and treats for the trip. People who travel regularly with their pets even advocate bringing enough water from home for the entire trip, so the dog doesn’t have to get used to different-tasting water. Given the additional risk of unfamiliar bacteria upsetting Fido’s tummy, this sounds like a good idea to me. If you’re staying over in accommodation, leave the dog in the car until you get all his things in place in the room, and keep the layout as similar as possible from day to day.

Make the trip comfy

Spending a long time in one position can be rough on anyone’s joints, so make sure your dog has a comfortable spot to relax and rest during travel. If he has an orthopedic dog bed it’s a good idea to take it with, or at least get something equally supportive. For dogs that prefer to sleep on the bed with you, consider taking a portable ramp or steps in case you encounter beds that are higher than usual. These help to reduce the stress dogs place on their joints while jumping up and down.

Book pet-friendly accommodation ahead of time

Things change regularly in the hospitality industry. Just because a property is listed as pet-friendly doesn’t mean it can’t have had a change of ownership or management. Book your accommodation in advance and get written confirmation that they will accept your dog. Many places have a policy to only accept certain sizes or types of dogs, and often not more than one per room. It’s worthwhile making sure before you arrive at 10 pm only to discover you can’t stay there with your pet. Try and request rooms that have easy access to the outdoors, to save your dog having to run the gamut of curious onlookers before they even get to go potty in the morning.

Manage the temperature

Even while traveling with the air conditioning running, cars can get uncomfortably warm if the sun is streaming in directly where your dog is sitting. Invest in a couple of portable screens that you can attach to the car windows and move around if necessary. If you’re traveling in cold weather consider bringing a hot water bottle for aging joints, which you can tuck in under a layer of the dog’s blanket to keep him warm even when he’s sleeping. Never, ever leave your dog in a warm vehicle even for five minutes, because the temperature rises incredibly fast in an enclosed metal box.

Another handy tip is to have two keys for the vehicle, so if you absolutely have to run in somewhere without your dog, you can leave the car and the air conditioning running while locking the vehicle from outside. If you do this, be sure to leave a note on the dashboard that says “Air is running” or something similar, or you could find your window smashed and the dog missing when you return thanks to a well-meaning animal lover.

All these suggestions are aimed at keeping your dog as relaxed and happy as possible during the journey, so you can both enjoy the experience as much as possible. MaxWell Pet Calm & Happy is made from top-quality ingredients, which can help eliminate dog car anxiety and improve your pet’s response to travel.

Learn more about the benefits of Dr. Garber’s Canine Calm & Happy

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