Driving Safely with your Pooch
Your dog lives for car rides, his head sticking out the window and getting blown by the whoosh of the air as you drive around the city. And while doting dog parents will go to great lengths for their pooches (some have even cloned their four-legged best friend after they’ve gone to puppy heaven) many also have an extremely lax attitude when it comes to their pet’s well-being in a car. So, what exactly is the safest way to travel with your canine pal?
Move Marley back
To start, dogs need to be in the backseat of the car. Sure, your puppy may love sitting in the passenger seat or on your lap as you drive (who doesn’t love a bit of snuggle time), but this is also one of the most dangerous spots to have your dog, said Maggi Burtt, a trainer who owns Tailspin Petworx in Toronto. Think of those crash test dummy videos you’ve seen. In a high impact crash “your dog becomes a projectile if you’re holding them like a baby,” said Burtt, who has more than 20 years of experience working with pets and has gone on many long road trips with her shepherd mix, Shebang.
Adding to the danger is your vehicle’s passenger-side airbag, which could be fatal to your four-legged friend if you’re involved in a car accident. Similar to how an airbag deploying can injure or kill young children in the front seat, “If the dog is heavy enough to trigger the airbag if your car is hit, that airbag can kill the dog,” said Burtt. Got an extra stubborn dog who insists on being up front? Disable the airbag if they will not move from the passenger seat. But be aware, this is still not an ideal spot for your dog to travel with you. Disarming the airbag will also not help protect any human passengers sitting in that spot if you do get in an accident.
Belt them up
One of the safest ways for your dog to travel on the road is in a travel crate. “One that is heavy enough to withstand a crash,” said Burtt. Since many people don’t have enough room in the car for one, the next safest spot for Fido, advised Burtt, is in the backseat of the car secured with a dog seatbelt—which is a double-reinforced harness that features a connection that clicks into the car’s seatbelt buckle. If you have an SUV, you can also use a dog gate as a barrier, but this is a less effective option for keeping your pet safe in case of an accident; they’ll help primarily to keep your dog in the trunk area of the vehicle as you navigate the roads.
If you choose not to use a dog seat belt, consider clipping in your pet in to prevent it from darting out of the vehicle when you open the door. One way that Burtt recommends for safely clipping in your pooch is a method she used when she had her own dog walking company for 15 years: with the leash secured to your dog’s harness add a large carabiner, those metal clips with safety closures commonly used in rock climbing, to your vehicle door’s grab handle. Then, loop the leash handle onto the carabiner. Do not secure the leash to your dog’s collar. “Clipping in with the collar could break your dog’s neck if you’re in an accident,” said Burtt.
Roll up those windows
“I often see people driving around dangerously with their dog half hanging out the window,” said Burtt. You may think your dog isn’t a flight risk, but if they get spooked or are curious about something they see, they can jump out of the car, not to mention debris can get into their eyes as you drive. As a former veterinary office employee, Burtt witnessed more than a few eye injuries sustained this way. Keep the window only open a small crack and, “Get some doggles, that’s goggles for dogs, if they love sticking their head out of the car window” she said.
If you’ve got a smaller pet, though, who loves taking in the world around them, you can help them get the views they want with a dog booster seat, which you secure into place with the car’s existing seat belts. It also features a restraint for your pup to keep them safely and secure while you are on the road.
You should never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle while you run errands. The temperature in parked cars can increase in a short period on time, even with the window down slightly, and pose a serious threat to your pet’s wellness – even leading to death.