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Tips for Safe Canine Holiday Travels

November’s cooler temps, falling leaves, and pumpkin-flavored everything give way to December and the holiday season. Are you heading to Grandma’s house for the holidays with Fido in tow? Here are some important tips for a safe and enjoyable holiday for all  when traveling with your pooch.

Identification. It goes without saying that all dogs should wear a collar with ID tags, but many do not for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, now is not the time to go “naked.” A basic buckle or snap collar with a tag engraved with your phone number is the most low-tech — and also most effective — loss prevention means for dogs. Variations include collars embroidered with the phone number or plates that don’t dangle. License, rabies, QR, microchip, and other tags are fine for your dog to wear, but they are not as helpful as the basic phone number as they require additional steps to get in touch with you. 

Microchip. Many dogs are microchipped, but as many as half of these are not currently and correctly registered. Is your dog not microchipped? Call your vet today and get that done. It’s cheap, lifetime insurance for being reunited should s/he go missing. Do you know your chip number? If not, contact the vet or shelter where it was implanted. Keep the number with you while traveling, whether on paper or in electronic records. A quick and easy way is to take a picture of the paperwork with your phone. Is the chip registered? A quick search on PetMicrochipLookUp.org will tell you if it is registered, with which registry — there are more than 20! — and at what time. Contact the appropriate registry to make sure the information is up to date. If you don’t already know this, microchips are not GPS, which leads to …

GPS collars. Recent developments in technology have resulted in some pretty effective GPS collars/devices for dogs. If you have one of these products, great, but be sure you understand how they work and manage them appropriately. First, as we know from our mobile phones, GPS takes a lot of energy to function. Many of these devices must be charged daily. Newer models claim to last much longer, so be sure to check the specs and keep the batteries fully charged. While on the road, you’ll want to disable the perimeter warning, if you have one, or you’ll be pinged constantly. You can set up a new perimeter at your destination. 

Vehicle security. Countless dogs go missing from vehicles, compounding an already difficult situation. These lost canines are in an area they don’t know, possibly in the middle of nowhere with no homes or businesses nearby. The owners don’t live there and are probably unfamiliar with the area. Worse, some dogs have exited the vehicle unnoticed by their human family members, like the recent case of Ollie, the dog who went missing on a drive between Aptos and Calaveras (he was later found alive but injured). Keep windows rolled up far enough so your dog can’t jump out. Crates and doggie seat belts can keep your canine companion safely in the back away from the driver and windows, but they are not a guarantee in an accident or sudden stop. Longer drives will require bathroom breaks, so be sure to pack at least one good leash and walking collar or harness. Never affix the leash to the collar with the tags. It is very easy for a startled dog to slip out of such a collar and now have no visible ID. 

At the holiday home. You’ve safely arrived at Grandma’s house and look forward to several days of feasting, gifts, and other family fun. Where will your canine family member stay? Is s/he friendly with strangers, kids, and other pets? Will s/he be allowed to mingle at festivities or be confined to a back room or porch? There are many hazards to be considered including food, medications, household items, and escape routes. While many people give their dogs “people food” as a treat or as part of their diet, rich holiday foods can be sickening to them and should be kept out of reach. If your relatives don’t have pets, they may leave snacks or medications lying around. With marijuana now more easily available for purchase, vets are seeing more accidental ingestion from pets. While there are safe and beneficial cannabis-based products for dogs, pure buds can make dogs very sick. Many dogs go missing during holiday get-togethers. Young children, folks who have been drinking, or folks who just don’t know how to close doors and gates behind them present serious hazards to visiting dogs. If there are many people coming and going from the house, keep your dog safely locked in another area or on a leash.

Brigid Wasson is a lifelong animal welfare advocate and retired animal shelter director. She is the president of Mission Reunite and CEO of The Path Ahead Animal Welfare Consulting. She lives in Sonoma County with her partner, Maureen, and their animal family. For more information, visit MissionReunite.org, AnimalWelfareSuccess.com. She and Mission Reunite want to wish everyone happy and safe holidays.

Main article photo by: Solovyova / iStock