A dog sitting in the backseat of a car wearing a dog seatbelt harness.

Rescue Me: 5 Ways to Prep Your Car for the Journey Home and Beyond

“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, Editor-in-Chief at Top Dog Tips. She’ll provide personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue. Today, she talks about how to prep your vehicle for your new pup’s journey home.

Adopting a rescue dog and then caring for the animal typically means car trips from the shelter, to the veterinarian and elsewhere. With some curious and/or active dogs, particularly younger ones, when the vehicle is not prepped, these trips can become an unpleasant and, according to studies, a downright dangerous experience.

My rescue dogs and I are big fans of car travels, and over the years I’ve learned how to properly prepare my vehicle (and my dogs) for such trips. Here are a few things you can do to make your pet-accompanied car rides more comfortable and safer for you and your new rescue dog.

1. Cover Your Seats and Floor

Get plastic or cloth seat covers to keep your seats as clean as possible. Of course, with a dog on board, keeping your upholstery perfectly clean at all times is not possible, but even the cheapest dog seat covers can at least catch your dog’s hair and allow you to clean up easily. Plastic seat covers can be removed and cleaned more easily, but they are not as attractive as cloth seat covers.

There are specifically made fitted seat covers for dogs, also known as car hammocks, that are the best solution, but you can also use a felt blanket to keep the hair out of the seats. Just take the blanket out each time your dog goes for a ride with you. You can also use a towel or a sheet.

If you have a vehicle with open trunk space or you have removable back seats, then a cargo cover can help keep your floor clean. This may not be necessary for your dog’s ride home from the rescue group, but it is a smart investment if you plan to take longer trips with your new dog.

2. Restrain Your Pooch

Keeping your dog safely in one place during the ride is important at all times, but especially for that first ride home from the rescue group or shelter before you know how the pooch will behave during car rides. Chances are, your new dog will be nervous, anxious, scared or simply way too happy to be with you. There are a few restraining options you can choose, depending on your vehicle and your dog’s size and temperament:

Seat Belt Harness: Seat belt harnesses for dogs are the most common option for restraining dogs in vehicles because they can be used for dogs of all sizes. Young and overly active dogs will benefit from having a zip line harness attached to the seat belt in place of a regular dog harness, since that gives them more freedom to move around. If your new dog has a tendency to chew things, consider a seat belt made out of steel rope, or go with another restraining option.

Crates/Carriers: Crates and carriers are a good choice for dogs that are already comfortable with having a ride, and they might be the best option for your new rescue dog’s first ride. He or she may not be as comfortable as with just a seatbelt, but it is probably better to have them completely restrained.

Dog crates and carriers should be big enough for your pooch and well-ventilated. The pooch should have enough room to stand, sit or turn around. Special travel dog crates will usually have all the necessary features for securing it in the vehicle. Keep the crate securely fastened in the back seat and cover it with a towel or a blanket to help your dog relax.

Barriers: Barriers are the best choice for bigger dogs and vehicles. They will provide as much space as your dog needs, whether you use them in the back seat or in the cargo area.  Barriers will prevent your dog from getting thrown forward when you use the brakes.

Hammocks: Dog car hammocks are a good option for older or injured dogs that may need to lie down during the ride. Hammocks will keep your dog from falling off the seat and keep him away from the front of the vehicle.

3. Protect Your Windows

Keep your windows clean from nose prints and slobber marks. Cover your side windows with clear plastic wrap or sun transparencies. This won’t have any effect on your vision, and you can easily peel it off and throw it away after the ride.

In addition to keeping your windows clean, you also need to have your dog’s safety in mind. Don’t let them ride with open windows because it could be extremely dangerous. Some dogs will stick their heads out, while others may even jump out of the car. If you have power windows, your dog may accidentally open them, so keep them turned off.

4. Install a Ramp

Small dogs, as well as older dogs with joint problems or arthritis, can have troubles getting in and out of the car. Some dogs can injure themselves if they try to jump into your vehicle and fall. While you may be able to lift your dog, which depends on its size, it may be better to invest in a foldable ramp instead and help your pup into a car without risking your or your pet’s health.

5. Keep Cleaning Supplies in Your Vehicle

Even if you take all preventative measures to prep your vehicle to accommodate a new rescue dog, it’s not possible to keep your car completely clean at all times. Get some basic cleaning supplies and keep them in your vehicle so you can react quickly if any accidents happen.

Keep a supply of lint rollers to get the hair off the car seats and floor, and plenty of air fresheners and other products that can help you eliminate odors. Essential oils can keep your car smelling fresh and even eliminate odors, not just cover them up.

If you are taking a long trip with your pooch, take regular breaks to allow your dog to go to the bathroom and prevent boredom and anxiety. Preventing accidents is always better than cleaning up after them.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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