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Car Safety Tips for Your Dog

by Irene Hislop

01 August 2019

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Even dogs who love a long, long walk sometimes need to go somewhere in the car. Whether you are driving your dog to the vet, to a holiday destination that welcomes our best friends, or to your favourite hiking trail, it is crucial that you know how to travel with a dog in the car safely. Dogs are the best companions, but they are not such great co-pilots. And even in the back seat, a dog can face and create some dangers that aren’t at all obvious.

An American politician once outraged dog lovers by transporting his own pet pooch in a dog carrier strapped to the top of the car. Do not try this. This is not how to travel with a dog in a car. No matter what size your dog is and what type of car you drive, you have better options to keep your dog and yourself safe on the road.

The goal of any car safety equipment for dogs should be to limit the dog’s movement. If a dog is not secured in the car, he can bump into the driver or inadvertently use the car’s controls. A small dog can get on the floor and put weight on the pedals, while any size dog can step on the button to open a window or knock into another control. A dog loose in a car poses another danger that is less obvious but extremely serious. In the event of a collision, a loose dog will be sent flying. He will be hurt by the impact, and he could hit a person in the car causing them serious injury. A loose dog could crash through a windshield in a serious collision.

Dog Car Safety Essentials

Taking your dog for outings is great fun, but keeping her safe in the car is serious business. Here are some items that are essential to travel safely in the car with your dog.

  • Dog Seat Belt – With so many options available, it is hard to know which is best. The main thing to consider is how well a dog harness seat belt would protect your beloved pet in a crash. If it gives him the freedom to move around much, it is not going to prevent him from colliding with the back of the front seat and being injured. Excessively long leads can also tangle around a dog’s legs. Padding can absorb some of the impact of a crash.
  • Dog Crate for Travel – The safest option for a small dog is a travel crate secured by a seat belt. This is not always a realistic option for large dogs, however. The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand and turn around inside it.
  • Car Barrier for Dogs – A barrier between the front and back seats is many people’s idea of how to travel with a dog in a car. But on its own, the barrier will only keep your dog confined to the back seat. It won’t protect her in an accident. If your dog is very large and is able to interfere with your driving even with a dog seat belt, this type of barrier is a great way to keep him out of your way.

One more essential tip – if your car windows have a mechanism to lock them so the passenger cannot open them, use it. Dogs have been known to stand on the button to open the window, and if your dog does this and sees something, he could be injured trying to get out the window of the moving car. The chaos in the back seat is also a distraction for the driver.

Know the Rules of the Road

In Ireland, driving with an unrestrained dog is not specifically outlawed (yet!). But if a driver were in an accident or observed by a gardai while the dog was creating a distraction, other charges could apply. “Driving without reasonable consideration” could be a broad enough offense to include zipping along with your dog in your lap.

In the UK, the rules are more specific about how to travel with a dog in a car. The Highway Code stipulates that drivers must ensure that dogs are “suitably restrained” in vehicles. The code lists “A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard” as appropriate options for restraining your dog.

Staying Safe on the Road

The iconic image of a dog enjoying a car ride is with him holding his heat out the window, ears and tongue flapping in the wind. But while he might enjoy this, it simply is not safe. The risk of a passing vehicle getting too close and hitting the dog is too great. Your dog can enjoy the breeze if you open his window just a little bit, but not enough for his to stick his head out.

If you are travelling with your dog, it’s best not to feed him right before the journey. Dogs can get motion sick too. If you’re doing more than a short hop to the vet or groomer, remember to bring him some water. You can find many different water bottles and dog bowls designed to carry easily when you are out and about.

Of course, never leave him unattended in the car. He can still encounter thieves or people just teasing him on a cold day. Dogs love to go out, and they need regular exercise, but they don’t need to go to the shops.

Irene Hislop

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