Sunday, September 1, 2013

Road trip with a dog

Parenting a dog has opened my mind to so many aspects of life, which might not have been possible otherwise. There are so many beautiful aspects associated to owning a pet and so many of them otherwise that remind you of the fact that this country is not for pets and pet owners as well. 

One such aspect was leaving your pet behind when you go for a vacation. 

Firstly, in India it’s impossible to find a dog-sitter. Forget a dog-sitter, even a baby-sitter concept is non prevalent. I don’t want to get into the reasons why such a pitiful state exists. If I start listing there would be innumerable reasons for not finding even one dog-sitter or dog-walker. Apparently, you are left with no other choice than leaving the pet in a kennel for 7-10 days of your vacation. That again has its own horrific implications. 

Being a nuclear family and a DINK couple, every time we left our dog behind in a kennel, it was more of remorse than an enjoyable vacation at the end. Not so long, until this year May when one of our friends told us that they saw some guests brought their dog along inside the hotel in Pondicherry. It was the Dune Eco Village and Spa. We immediately enquired and planned our next vacation for Pondicherry and this time our vacation will not be a torture for our dog. It will be equally enjoyable for him as well. 

Logically, the next question follows. Since all our vacations are associated with a road trip, will our dog be able to enjoy the 900+ km of road trip in a car? To state the facts, dogs are better adaptive to conditions than humans. They are more resilient and can fit along with their family unless of course it’s too troublesome. 

Since his puppy days I have taken him along in many drives including some really long ones but never to a distance as long as 900 km in one day. He had once been to Srisailam from Hyderabad and back on the same day which is 500+ kms in a single day and a one-way trip of 250+ km. He also went to Kuntala waterfalls and pochera waterfalls just a year back and again it was 500+ km in one day with a one way trip of 250+ km. In all the above trips there were 3 human companions alongwith him, hence he got a good share of the back seat.  But while going to Pondicherry, we will be 4 human companions and he is now a full grown boxer breed. Ideally he would now need the entire back seat at his disposal but during this trip he will have to manage with only 1/3rd of the seat, since there will be 2 more people sitting with him. So this time before we hit the road for Pondicherry, we decided to go on a trial run. We decided to visit Kunatal waterfalls again and this time with the same companions who he will travel with while going to Pondicherry

This was more of a trial run for us than for him. I was pretty sure he will manage it, was not that sure about 4 of us. Hence we decided for 500+ km of drive in a single day till Kuntala Waterfalls and back, to check on the feasibility. Initially, we thought we would make him sit in the front seat and 3 people will sit in the back seat. I will obviously be driving through the distance. So we prepared his comfortable bed in the front seat levelling the foot space below so that he gets enough space and doesn’t trip down in case of sudden braking. We started off for the destination but unfortunately our dog was too scared to sit in the front, he was not at all comfortable and his muscles were stiff and he was not able to relax. Even with the AC on he was not lying down which he usually does. Then we realised that he actually never travelled in the front seat and hence was not comfortable there. We stopped after about 10 km and removed all cushioning from the front seat and shifted him to the back seat again levelling the floor so that he could lie down comfortably. And within minutes he got his comfort back and he was all set for this drive. 

Lesson 1: For a long drive the 1st choice of seat goes to the dog. Remaining people will have to adjust accordingly. So, 2 people along with dog at the back, me driving and one passenger in the front seat. That’s the way to go for us during the trip to Pondicherry. 

For the benefit of the dog owners I’m listing down a check-list which might help you when you take your pet along on a long drive. 

Checklist for long drive with a dog: 

  1. Give him the seat where he sits most comfortably in a car 
  2. Ideally back seat is good since front seat also increases chances of accidents as they won’t be wearing seat belts 
  3. Best seat would be the middle seating position in the back seat. That way he will get immediate air blow form the AC vents. (don’t forget they have a lot of fur and they need the AC more than we do) This position will cool them down well and they will be comfortably sleeping. Unless of course you have a high-end SUV with rear AC vent. 
  4. Always level the floor below with proper cushioning, this gives a idea of space to the dog specially if it’s a big size breed and restricting any chances of tripping down in case of braking 
  5. Make him relieve well before the start of the trip, definitely take him for a walk before the trip so that he finishes his business and his stomach is light while travelling. This will also avoid unnecessary flatulence which is a common problem with big size breeds, a very usual problem with breeds like boxer 
  6. Before the start of the trip give him very light food, some boiled chicken without any carbohydrate base will do fine. He will be getting the nutrition from the chicken protein and yet his stomach won’t feel empty in the lack of usual food. However a word of caution, never give your dog something to eat which he is not used to. So if he eats rice and vegetables then just give him 1/4th the quantity of what he has every day. The purpose is to keep his stomach light yet hydrated. 
  7. Take enough breaks – ideally after every 1.5 hours of continuous drive, take a break and let him get down from the car so that he could stretch his legs and walk a little bit 
  8. Never ever let him off-leash. This is very important because you will be stopping beside the highway and if something fascinates him he might just run on the road, putting his life in danger and also the life of many other people travelling high speed on the highway. 
  9. Have your AC properly tuned – your pet would need it more than you do. Open windows will result in dust settling in their eyes, hence driving with closed windows is recommended 
  10. Every time you take a break give him some water to drink and let him relieve if he does so 
  11. Don’t feed him anything while on the road except if he eats banana or cucumber both of which is light and cool for the stomach 
  12. Carry some of his favourite toys and chew bones or chew toys to keep him engaged 
  13. Avoid putting on the leash and collar inside the car, since it will be a long journey he should be free from all hassles and tangles, only put the collar and leash when you plan to take him out of the car 
  14. In case of flatulence switch-off the air recirculation mechanism in your car for a few minutes. Don’t open the windows at high speed, it might be dangerous. 
  15. Tip for the drivers – try to concentrate on the road, there are other people to see what’s going on with your pet. Many a times I felt a desire to turn back and see what’s he doing, very dangerous when on highway. Even if he makes unusual sounds which he might do, don’t turn back immediately rather watch the road and be cautious. 
  16. Ensure your pet does not smell foul, give him a shower one week before you go for the trip. In a closed car the smell might just multiply creating problems for co-passengers 
  17. Don’t play loud music in your car stereo – pets are more susceptible to noise than humans are. Play very soft music which is soothing to their ears and at a very low decibel 
  18. Ensure you put an anti-tick collar immediately when he reaches the new destination, this will avoid any infection if he plays in the gardens and lawns in a new place 
  19. And lastly, talk to him during the trip like you do in your home – this will help him settle down and forget the hardships of the journey 

So we ended our trial run successfully with a lot of learning and hopefully our coming road trip to Pondicherry will be a successful one.