Recently, a Facebook post went viral when a dog trainer’s Belgian Malinois, Pivot, jumped or was thrown from the car when she was rear-ended on the highway. Pivot had been loose in the car, and the owner didn’t realize her back window had been shattered till she pulled over and discovered her dog was gone. Pivot was injured but ran off, crossing busy highways until searchers eventually found her. This story has raised awareness about safety for dogs in cars.
We humans spend a lot of time in cars. We may be driving, or we may be passengers. Either way, we know to wear our seat belts. We have air bags to protect us. But how should we keep our canine family members safe in the car?
Car Safety Tips for Dogs … and Their People
To keep your dog (and yourself and your family) safe in the car, follow these tips:
- Dogs should not ride in the front seat. Front seats are dangerous for dogs, just like for small children, because if the front-seat airbags deploy, it can cause serious injury (including death).
- Dogs loose in the beds of pickup trucks or riding with an open window are at high risk for serious injury. They can easily be thrown out of the truck or jump through the window — while the car is moving — to chase a wild animal or another dog, for example.
- Dogs should not be able to get under the driver’s feet, on her lap, on the dashboard, etc. This can easily cause a serious accident. In fact, some state officials are trying to make it illegal to drive with a pet in your lap.
- Dogs with reactivity, aggression, or fear issues may be triggered by people, dogs, or other sights around them in the car. If you have put a lot of training into your dog, don’t let it get undone in the car by allowing your dog to practice lunging, barking, or other undesirable behaviors.
The best way to prevent many of the above issues is to CONTAIN YOUR DOG when in the car:
- Keep your dog contained in a crate or carrier, or when this isn’t possible, with a harness secured to a seat belt, to prevent accidents caused by distracting the driver. For dogs who are reactive to sights outside the car, using a crate can also help support training and behavioral goals.
- Keeping your dog contained can also prevent an excited or scared dog from jumping out the window of a moving car — obviously a very dangerous situation.
- In a minor accident, the safest option for a dog in a car is a crate because the crate may keep the dog from being thrown out of the car or into the dashboard, etc. It also protects human passengers from being injured when pets become projectiles. As horrible as it is to consider, people (especially children) can be injured or killed when struck by a pet in a crash. Containing your dog is therefore important for your safety as well as for your dog’s.
- However, for true safety, invest in a crash-tested harness, carrier, or crate. This is because in a high-speed crash or other serious accident, most crates fail. The Center for Pet Safety published reports and crash test videos for smaller pet carriers that are placed on a back seat and larger crates on the floor of a car or truck. Almost all plastic crates break on impact, with the dog hurtling through. Metal crates also break on impact, and they also easily bend, piercing the dog.
Far and away, the top performing carriers and crates by the Center for Pet Safety were these:
- Gunner Kennel (G1 Intermediate with 8 ft. Tie Down Straps) was the only successful crate for large dogs (approximately $500)
- Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock carrier for small dogs and cats (approximately $180)
- Pet Ego Jet Set Forma Frame (only with ISOFIX-Latch Connection) carrier for small dogs (approximately $150)