So, you’ve decided what type of dog you want to adopt, where you’re adopting your dog from, asked all the right questions, and it’s now time to bring your new best friend home. Seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately it's not always that easy, and it's not uncommon for dogs to get overwhelmed or even lost in transit to their new home. To prevent this, here are some things to consider to keep everyone safe.
1. Crate or seatbelt
Before you go to pick up your new family member make sure to have a safe way to bring them home in your car. While some people may eventually choose to leave their dog loose in their car (heads up, this isn't the safest option!), starting out it's a much better idea to keep them confined in some way. If you have a larger SUV or mini van you can bring an appropriately sized crate with (make sure there's enough room for your dog to stand up comfortably as well as turn around and stretch out) but if you have a smaller car or a larger dog you may need to stick with a seatbelt. The best crates for car travel are Gunner Kennels which are crash tested and will keep your dog safest, and for harnesses/seatbelts in the car I like Kurgo's line.
This is ESPECIALLY important if you are traveling with another dog; even if your existing dog and the new addition got along well at the shelter, your current dog may consider the car "his" and be more protective of it, the car may be too tight a space for them to be comfortable, and if either dog gets stressed in the car or has reactive tendencies looking out the window you run the risk of a dog fight on the way home. Keep both dogs safely separated in the car until you've had several weeks of them coexisting happily.
2. Equipment that the dog is wearing
It is a sad truth that many dogs get lost on their way to their new homes because of faulty equipment or other logistical issues. When transferring your dog to their new home make sure all pieces of equipment (collars, harnesses, leashes) are in good shape; there should be no tears or bite marks in leashes, and the collar should be fitted snugly (ideally two fingers should fit between your dog's neck and the collar).
Even better, fit your dog with a martingale style collar so that if he does try to back out of it he won't be able to. Consider having two pieces of equipment with separate leashes attached (i.e. one leash attached to the collar, and one attached to the harness) especially if you are transporting an especially strong or nervous dog.
3. Getting in and out of the car
Although usually getting a dog into the car isn't too tricky, your new dog may not be able to get into the car on their own, especially if they are older or don't have experience with cars. Be careful picking up your dog, as some dogs may not enjoy that sensation and can snap or bite as a result. If your dog seems hesitant to get into the car try tossing a REALLY yummy piece of food in the car and seeing if your dog tries to follow; hot dog or stinky fish-based treats will usually serve you well here. If your new dog is particularly large you may even look into borrowing or investing in a pet ramp like the one found here so that you don't throw out your back trying to help Marmaduke into your suburban!
In my experience getting out of the car is a far dicier experience, particularly if you are in a busy area. Be prepared for your dog to try to bolt out of your car door the moment it's open, and be pleasantly surprised if they don't do this. If your dog is belted or crated in you probably won't have this problem.
When opening your car door open it gradually, using your body to block the exit until you have your hands on the dog's equipment, and only then let the dog come out of the car. If you have someone with you to help have them hang onto the dog's leash from inside the car while you open the door for extra safety
4. Potty break safety
If you are traveling any distance chances are you may have to stop for a potty break especially if you are bringing home a young puppy. When choosing where to stop be mindful of safety first; avoid truck stops and gas stations if you have young puppies since this tends to be where lots of different diseases can be found and your puppy will not be fully vaccinated yet. Also keep your eyes peeled for garbage or other things that your dog might be likely to ingest, and obviously avoid them!
5. Keeping your car neat
Alright, this is more for the sake of your car than your dog! Some dogs do great in the car! Others... don't (My Regis does not!). You may be the unlucky adopter of a dog that gets very carsick, and just in case that turns out to be you you want to be prepared! Cover any areas that your newly adopted dog can reach with old blankets and towels. If you have a young puppy who may have an accident or a small dog that you know has a history of being car sick you might even consider putting them in a tub (like a rubbermaid container or something similar) filled with towels so that nothing leaks through the blankets and makes it to your seats. Obviously you don't put the lid on, and sit next to the dog so that they can't jump out of the tub. This is what we did when we brought our dog Maxi home from Michigan when she was in heat after finding her as a stray, and it worked very well.
And there you have it! With a little planning and forethought you can keep your dog AND your car safe!