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Many dog owners take their dogs with them wherever they can—whether it’s a day at the park or a week at the beach. No matter how long or short the drive is, though, it’s important to keep your dog safe in your car, just as you would any other passenger—and, of course, yourself.
Unsafe Seats for Dogs
Does your small dog sit or stand on your lap while you drive? This can be very distracting, not only to you but to other drivers on the road. Your dog could block your view of the road, as well as your view of other drivers around you, if he’s leaning out the window. In fact, Hawaii has a law banning pets from riding in the driver’s lap, although many other states may cover dogs and other pets under their distracted driving laws.
If your dog sits in the front passenger seat, he is at risk of being injured by an airbag, which is meant to protect adults. If the car does not have passenger-side airbags, and if your dog must ride in the front passenger seat, he can sit next to you as long as he is properly restrained. Dog seat belts, which are usually safety harnesses that have a loop for seat belts to click through, are one way to properly restrain your dog. However, they are not all created equal—some of them can cause your dog to fly off the seat, as was found in a study conducted by the Center for Pet Safety®. Be sure to look for safety harnesses that have thick, padded straps to distribute the impact force as widely as possible. Tethers should be short and secure at the dog’s back, not the neck. Your dog should be able to comfortably sit upright or lie down while restrained.
Safer Seats for Your Dog
A safer way for your dog to travel in a car is in a dog crate, preferably made from a strong material such as aluminum. Some crates even have padding for added impact protection. No matter which kind you choose, be sure that the crate is big enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably, and has proper ventilation. Always bring enough water and a toy or two to keep him comfortable and happy. Being in a crate may also reduce motion sickness in dogs. Place crates on the floor of the back seat or in the open storage/trunk area, not on the back seat. Crates can also be strapped down, so they do not move about as much.
No matter which way you travel with your dog, he should always wear a collar with an ID tag containing your contact information, in case he escapes during an accident.
If you still insist on keeping your dog unrestrained in the car:
- Lock your windows and child-lock your doors. Your dog could figure out how to, or could accidentally, press a button that could cause injury, especially if he sees another animal or dog outside. Additionally, he could be choked if he accidentally rolls the window up while he’s enjoying the breeze.
- Never let your dog ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Not only could your dog be injured in a rear collision, but he also could jump out. Dogs who ride here are also at risk of being hit by passing objects, such as road debris and tree branches.
- Restrained or not, never, ever leave your dog unattended in the car, especially in hot weather. Even if your dog has water in the car, the temperature inside a closed car will rise instantly, especially in the summer, causing heat stroke or death.