Field dogs do their part on a road trip by being good listeners, taking the blame for occasional foul odors in the cab and being eager for any hiking, hunting, fishing or camping situation we drive them to regardless of the weather or time of day.
Our job as owners of active dogs is to take care of them.
A little preparation can make a big difference in the pleasure of the trip. It can also help assure that your favorite traveling companion returns home with you if something goes wrong.
Get off on the right foot with your phone number engraved on the dog’s properly fitted collar –and with the dog in a travel crate.
“Dog boxes save dogs,” said Dan Hoke, a professional bird dog trainer who travels with dogs virtually every day.
Pointing to Interstate 90 from his Dunfur Kennel near the Four Lakes exit, he said, “Twice in last five years there have been accidents out there where the dogs got away and ran off because they’d been loose in the front seat. One dog was found a week later but it was a mental wreck. The other was never found.”
Dr. Joseph Harari, veterinary orthopedic surgeon in Spokane, said he commonly treats dogs with injuries related to being in vehicles.
“Dogs launching or jumping out an open window while the vehicle is moving is not uncommon, especially with Labs and terriers, it seems,” he said.
“I used to say dogs being thrown out of the back of pickups was common, but that’s been overshadowed by hunting and working dogs flying off ATVs and side-by-sides. Those injuries have increased dramatically over the past seven years.”
In a State Farm Insurance commercial, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is featured driving down the highway with his blue heeler. The dog happily has its head out the open window, tongue flapping in the breeze. While that practice subjects a dog to eye injury from flying insects or road grit, Harari noticed one good thing.
“If you look closely, you’ll see for a split second that the dog is wearing a harness,” he said. “More and more people are using them in their vehicles.”
Hoke said a dog crate, especially one that’s strapped down or secured, can prevent injuries a dog might sustain from being slammed against the dashboard even in a simple hard-braking incident. A crate also protects a dog from hurling objects or a deployed air bag.
Some dog owners frown on crating as a form of imprisonment they wouldn’t wish on their best friend, yet they dutifully strap their kids into car seats.
In my case, a dog crate has allowed me to focus on safe driving and kept our vehicles from being totaled in one way or another.
For example, if there’s a mud bog within a half mile of the pickup just as we end a hike or hunt, my dog will be in it.
Over the years, the Landers canines have occasionally succumbed to the wild hair of rolling in a ripe carp carcass or anointing themselves in green cow pies. This crap happens.
I’ve had to bring home dogs that have been skunked. Dozens of times I’ve beelined back to town with a dog that’s cut and bleeding after tangling with barbed wire or invading the comfort zone of a porcupine.
The dog crate saved the day, and the interior.
“If a hunter has a situation where he can hunt only one of his two dogs at a time, he could have a torn up interior when he gets back if he left one dog loose in the rig while walking off with the other,” Hoke said.
And a dog in a crate can’t press the power door lock while the driver is out of the car noticing that he’d left the key in the ignition.
My pickup is always equipped with an extra leash and a “cone of shame” – the plastic Elizabethan collar vets provide to prevent a dog from reaching back and licking a cut or stitches on its body.
When my Brittany had his first learning experience with a porcupine this spring, I removed some of the quills that I could safely pull out intact with my multitool – another staple item on any road trip. Then I attached the cone of shame and slid Ranger into the crate butt-first.
Wearing the collar in the crate, Ranger was virtually immobilized, preventing him from biting at the quills and prompting him to lie down and cause no further injury. Meanwhile, I drove back to town with both eyes and both hands on the wheel en route to the Pet Emergency Clinic.
A phone number engraved on a collar can bring a quicker end to the search for a dog that sprints off after being freaked out by lightning, a collision or the farmer’s crazy bull that’s usually in its pen but somehow got out.
“But the collar must remain on the dog to be useful in getting a call back,” Hoke said.
“A lot of time people have hold of the collar when something scares a dog but it wiggles out and runs off because the collar had been too loose, hanging on its neck like a bracelet.”
Other considerations for driving with your dog include loading and unloading. Jumping up into a rig is generally OK for a dog, but allowing a dog to jump out is needless exposure to joint, ligament or tendon damage and the potential of padding Dr. Harari’s savings account. Since listening to the doctor’s review of cases years ago when my dog needed treatment, I always give my dogs an assist from the vehicle to the ground. Some people with large dogs employ slide-out ramps.
A dog that’s been aired out before the road trip can go for hours in a crate before it needs to get out, although there are exceptions. If the dog drinks a big bowl of water before being loaded into the rig, it may need a pit stop an hour or two down the road.
And poop bags should be on everybody’s doggie road trip gear list. Even hunters who run their dogs in open fields sometimes have to answer the whining with a quick walk in a parking lot or rest stop.
Hoke feeds his dogs less than normal and avoids giving them treats, especially new treats, when traveling. He learned that the hard way, he said.
“With cover on a crate, dogs can be comfortable in pretty cold weather even if they’re outside of the cab,” he said. “But they always need ventilation, and you can never leave them in a vehicle when the temperature is hot or even warm and sunny.”
In addition to water, bowl, food, burr brush, a few towels and spare bedding, Hoke carries a full first-aid kit for his dogs. “The main thing is to have gauze and bandaging to keep blood from going everywhere until you can get an injured dog to a vet,” he said.
He also carries Quik Clot bandages in case of extreme bleeding.
Most road trips for hunting or hiking end with everyone happy and fulfilled and the dog happily exhausted and ready for food and hours of snoozing.
“Dog’s are great to travel with,” Hoke said.
Indeed, dogs can be icebreakers in meeting other people and more tolerant than friends or even spouses of really bad travel decisions, such as being too stubborn to get a weather report or ask directions.
“A dog with its own credit card and a willingness to use it would be the best travel companion ever,” Hoke said.