Keeping You and Your Dog Safe While in the Car
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on January 26, 2019
Posted in Parent Help
Our dogs love to join us on trips in the car. The new sights, sounds and smells are delights to a dog’s senses and provide them with mental stimulation they might not get inside the home or on the daily walk around the block.
But although Fido may love the idea of hopping in the back seat and sticking its head out the window to enjoy a fresh breeze, car travel is not always safe for dogs—or for us. Dogs can be unpredictable and cause problems within the car if they are not properly restrained and managed.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your dogs with you in the car. It simply means that you should take steps to ensure the car ride is safe for your pooch, yourself and the other drivers on the road.
There are a lot of potential hazards associated with driving a dog around in a car. First and foremost, the dog can be a major distraction. Some pups will find their way into just about anything, and reprimanding them can distract you. Dogs can also poke their heads or even leap into the front seat or onto your body while you’re driving.
Second, dogs have the potential to be injured if you get into a crash. Air bags can be a major cause of injury, so dogs should never be up front. Dogs can also become a projectile upon impact if they are let loose in the car, hurting them and possibly you.
Top safety tips
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to keep your dog safe while allowing it to enjoy the ride.
- Never let dogs in the front seat: Never let your dog travel with you in the front seat. Always keep it in the back seat or the trunk area so it has no way of distracting you or entering your space and inhibiting your driving.
- Lock the windows: We know dogs love to poke their heads out of windows, but this isn’t safe. Keep windows cracked open to allow some fresh air to circulate, but lock the windows in the back so your dog can’t accidentally roll them up or down.
- Keep it busy: Give your dog a plush toy or Kong to keep it occupied while it relaxes in the back seat. Distracted dogs are often the safest to drive since they are focusing their energy on something other than you.
One of the best ways to keep your dog safe in the car is to restrain it. There are numerous products on the market to help it stay put and not become injured in a crash.
- Harness: Specially designed car harnesses fit like a traditional walking harness but attach to the seat belt to absorb impact in an accident. They are considered the safest ways to travel with pets in the car. Some harnesses keep dogs in one position, forcing them to sit down and stay still, while others give more restless dogs the ability to move around a little while remaining harnessed in.
- Crate: Putting your dog inside a crate or kennel can help prevent it from moving around too much and from being thrown around in the event of a crash. The crate should be secured in place in either the back seat or the cargo area of the vehicle.
- Car seat: Some smaller dogs are best clipped in to a harness inside a doggy car seat. These seats become adhered to the back seat and have harnesses inside to restrain your dog while allowing it to see out the windows.
- Barrier: A car barrier creates a divide between the front and back seats of the vehicle to prevent your dog from jumping into the front. These items are not as safe as a harness or crate because they cannot protect the dog during a crash.
No matter what method you choose, make sure the products you buy have been crash tested and approved by the CPS, or Center for Pet Safety. A product may be unreliable if it hasn’t undergone rigorous tests first.
For dogs afraid of the car
While many dogs will love car rides, others may become restless and frightened. Driving as cared dog can sometimes be more dangerous than driving an excited one, so you want to make sure to take precautions before hitting the road.
First, always crate or harness a scared dog so it feels more safe and secure. A crate may actually help make your dog feel more at home, helping to ease its fears.
Also, try giving your dog a calming supplement before heading out to help calm its nerves and allow it to relax on the drive. Keep the car’s atmosphere relaxed and calm. Don’t blast loud music or drive erratically.
With your pooch safely restrained in the back seat, you and your beloved canine can have a relaxing and enjoyable trip in the car without compromising anyone’s safety. Make sure to bring food and water along if you’re taking a long drive and be sure to stop regularly to let your pup stretch its legs.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan