Dog Car Safety

seat belts for dogs

After carefully choosing the perfect boarding kennel for your dog, take some time to make sure you reach it safely. Buckling up your seatbelt before starting a journey is part of the routine for most car owners; however, four legged passengers are often over looked.

In a crash, having your dog properly restrained could prevent serious injury to your pet and the other occupants of the car. In an accident, an unrestrained dog could be hurled through the car not only at the heads of those in the front, but also straight through the windscreen. In both of these cases it is unlikely the dog would survive the impact.

"At 30 mph, for example, a 50lb (22.5 kg) border collie would be thrown forward with a force equivalent to almost nine 12 stone men" (source: ROSPA).

Unrestrained dogs are not just at risk in an accident; they can also cause them. An unrestrained dog is a potential distraction to the driver. Even a normally well behaved dog may be startled and jump towards its owner for reassurance.

How do you keep Your Dog Safe in the Car

There are various ways that you can restrain your dog safely and comfortably. The High Way Code recommends:

"When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars."

When choosing the method of restraint, you should take into account the type of car that you have and your dog's size and behaviour. Make sure the equipment you use is designed for use in a car; cages and restraints that are suitable for everyday use might not stand up to the forces involved in a car crash.

Dog Crates/Pet Carrier

A car crate is a large cage designed to contain your dog. You'll need to select one based on the size of your pet, so that your dog has enough space to turn around easily, sit up, stand and lie down naturally. Most dogs prefer to be able to see out and this can help prevent car sickness. Some bedding in the base of the cage will make your pet more comfortable and help stop you dog sliding around during a normal journey.

Tips on choosing a dog car cage/crate:

  • Measure your car carefully, including the door size, to ensure the crate will fit in your car.
  • Think about whether you want a crate that can be removed or one secured to your car - if you want to remove the crate how much does it weigh and how easy is it to lift out?
  • Solid or mesh crate - some dogs feel more secure not being able to see out, where as mesh crates allow more air circulation (the later can be fitted with covers so are more versatile).
  • Various companies produce custom made crates tailored fit your car and dogs requirements.
  • Check the cage/crate is designed for use in the car and tested to check how well it copes with crashes.

Pet carriers can be a good option for small dogs, cat and other pets - as with the crates you need to ensure there is enough space for your animal. These need to be secured either by being wedged firmly in the foot well or secured with a seatbelt. You should not place these in an enclosed boot space as there will not be sufficient airflow which could result in suffocation.

Dog Guard

Dog car guards provide a metal grill between the boot space and the passenger seating, preventing your dog from distracting the driver by moving around the car. In an accident they also prevent your dog being thrown forward through the car and hitting occupants or the windscreen. They are particularly suited to estate cars and large dogs as they allow use of the full boot space.

Keep in mind:

  • You'll need a dog guard specific to the make/style of your car, common models are often available off the shelf but you can also have them custom made/fitted.
  • Low cost universal car guards can be flimsy and fit poorly as they don't take into account the shape and size of your car.
  • The most secure option is a dog guard that bolts to the floor and roof of your car, so it cannot be knocked out of position.

In addition to a dog guard that stops your dog moving forward in the vehicle, you could also consider adding a tail-gate guard. These fit flush with the boot door, creating a secondary mesh door behind the boot so you can open it without your dog jumping out.

Dog Car Safety Harness

A dog car harness is a specially padded harness that fits around the dog's chest, back and shoulders and then is attached to the normal car seatbelt or a fixed bolt in your car.

When buying, keep in mind:

  • You must measure your dog correctly and buy a harness the right size to ensure their safety and comfort.
  • Your dog should be seated in the back of the vehicle and not on the front seat where they could distract the driver and cause an accident.
  • You must turn off airbags in the seat your dog is using, as these could cause your dog injury - this is another reason your dog should not sit in the front of the car.
  • Harnesses must be designed for use in the car, not a walking harness. Car harnesses have extra padding and fittings that are designed to cope with the force of a car accident, not just a dog pulling on the lead!
  • Do not use a collar to tether your dog in the car, in an accident the force will be transferred to your dog's neck.

Training Your Dog

Dogs need to learn to be comfortable with travelling, ideally when they are young and being socialised. You can help your dog to become used to the environment of the vehicle just by sitting in it stationary for short periods of time, before taking a shop trip, then gradually extending how long they spend in the car. Most dogs will become acclimatized after a few short journeys. A local dog trainer, behaviourist or your vet can help give advice on training both puppies and older dogs.

When getting your dog in and out of a vehicle it is important to think about your surroundings like you would for a child. For example, if you are parked on a road, use the pavement side of the vehicle to get your dog in and out. Attach the lead before your dog gets out of the car, so you have your dog under control and other motorists can see this. The last thing you want is for the cat down the road to walk past and the dog chases them across the road in front of traffic.

Getting into this routine is also particularly important in the case of a breakdown, as they always happen somewhere very awkward such as on the motorway. If you have practised getting your dog in and out of the vehicle safely then they will know what to expect, whereas if your dog is used to jumping out of the car as soon as you open that car door, and does it at the wrong moment, it could have tragic consequence for not only your dog but motorists who may have to take avoiding action.

Identification

Your dog should always have some form of identification, a microchip is excellent as it can't be lost or removed, but adding a tag is a good idea too as it can make it easier for a member of the public finding your dog to get in touch quickly.

If your dog can be traced even by the simplest thing as having a collar with a telephone number or a implanted microchip it greatly improves the chances of you having him returned. As police, rescue centres and dog wardens routinely scan for such chips.

Ensuring that your dog is identifiable this is good for everyday life encase they decide to go on an adventure one day, but also if you regularly take longer journeys or take them on holiday as even the most well trained dog could become frightened by a loud noise or a strange environment . If you are in an accident and your dog manages to escape the car in the confusion, they may run or hide and having identification will help get them returned safely to you.

Heat Stroke

No article about dogs travelling in cars would be complete without mentioning heat stroke. The temperature in a car can rise very quickly, even on a relatively mild day if it's parked in the sunshine. Make sure you stop regularly on your journey to allow your dog to drink, and never leave your dog unattended in a parked car, even with the window cracked (this does not make a significant difference). Heat stroke can kill in a very short space of time.

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