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Professional dog trainer Laura Nativo with her dogs in front of her customized van. Nativo recommends acclimating your pet to crash-protection tools before a long road trip.Handout

If you’re hitting the open road this summer with your four-legged friends, we have some advice from the experts to make it an easy and stress-free drive. Here are five tips to get Fido and Fluffy road-ready for any summer adventure.

1. Safety first: Restrain or contain your pets

Use Center for Pet Safety-certified products that have been crash-tested by the organization and proven to reduce the risk of injury to pets and humans in the event of a crash. Larger dogs can be restrained with a CPS-approved harness or crate in the cargo area of an SUV. Cats and small dogs should use CPS-approved carriers or containment devices, recommends Lindsey Wolko, founder of the non-profit and advocacy organization in Reston, Va. Some CPS-approved products include Sleepypod Clickit Sport harnesses and the Gunner Kennel G1 small crate. She suggests lining the bottom of the carrier with potty-training pads in case of an accident.

2. Acclimate your pet to crash-protection tools before driving

When using crash-protection tools, such as crates and harnesses, acclimation training before your trip is critical for a good user experience says Laura Nativo, a certified professional dog trainer and founder of the Preston’s Planet Foundation, a non-profit that rescues and trains companion animals.

“I would not start with a long road trip. I would start with acclimating your dog [to the safety harness or crate] – not even in the vehicle. I would acclimate them to whatever safety equipment they’re going to be using in the house first,” she says.

Learn your pet’s body language to determine whether they’re comfortable or stressed by the equipment. For some dogs and cats, it’s no big deal, but rescue pets might be hypersensitive to anything new or not used to wearing equipment. Pay attention to your pet’s body language. In the case of dogs, for instance, if its tail is wagging and ears are relaxed, it’s comfortable; if its ears are pressed back and the dog shrinks and try to run away, it’s stressed. To desensitize them to wearing a harness, for example, use high-value treats when fastening a buckle near their paw or head. Then, walk and play with them while they’re wearing the equipment. Next, move to the car. First, sit inside the vehicle for 30 minutes when it’s not moving to make sure the pet is comfortable. Then, proceed to a short, five-minute drives. When your pet is relaxed and ready, take longer trips.

3. Plan frequent stops on the road

Before hitting the road, exercise your pet with a walk or playtime to tucker them out so they’re a better passenger, Wolko says. Don’t use chew toys in the car when driving, either; they can be a choking hazard.

“Big bones and rawhide chews can become projectiles in a sudden stop or crash. They can break through the glass. They can injure a person because they are so heavy. It’s crazy how dangerous those little things are. We don’t recommend using them when driving,” she says.

Instead, give your pets toys, food and water when stopped at a rest area. Stop frequently, too, so your pets can relieve themselves and stretch their legs. Stop every three hours for smaller dogs in a carrier and two hours for larger dogs.

Nativo also travels with gadgets such as a laser temperature gun. “Many people stop for gas and walk the dog to go potty on the grass, but they don’t think about the asphalt – it could be so hot it might burn the dog’s paws. If I’m going somewhere really hot, I might hit [the temperature gun] at the ground to see what the temperature is. If it’s too hot on the ground, I’ll carry my dog or drive over to the grass so it’s easier for them.”

4. Keep a first aid kit along with pertinent documents in the vehicle

Travel with a first aid kit for your pets. You can buy them ready-made or build one yourself. Wolko adds paint sticks from the local hardware store to her kit – they can act as splints in a pinch. She also recommends bringing copies of ownership documents, medical records, and pictures of you with your pet, in case they get away from you.

Before you travel, ensure your pet is microchipped, and alert the microchip provider to your travel plans, so you can be notified if your pet is found. And be sure to locate emergency veterinary clinics on the road and at your final destination in case your pet needs emergency medical assistance.

5. The don’ts

Some final reminders from the experts: “Never let your pet hang their head out the window when driving; it looks cute with their ears flapping in the wind, but it’s so incredibly dangerous,” says Wolko, who says flying debris such as gravel can be incredibly dangerous. Just think of a rock striking and cracking your windshield. “It will sometimes shatter the glass – that’s the speed debris is flying. If it hits your dog or their eyes, they are extremely painful injuries and the treatments are very, very expensive.”

Finally, whatever you do, never leave your dog in a hot vehicle. “Hot cars kill. If you leave your pet or child in a hot car, the temperature climbs in a vehicle at such a rapid speed, most of the time the temperatures are not survivable,” warns Wolko.

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