Dogs and Car Safety

Taking your dog for a car ride? Here's how to keep her as safe as possible.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
May 10, 2010
Episode #061

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Does your dog adore a car ride? Maybe he rides shotgun, or loves to hang his head out the rear window scenting the breeze. Or maybe he just sacks out in the luggage well behind the rear seat and snoozes the trip away. If that describes your dog, honey, you’ve been gonged. I don’t care whether you’re driving I-80 from start to finish or going half a mile to the dog park. Your dog and you are in unnecessary danger the second you turn that ignition key, and this week’s article is your wake-up call.

Dogs and Car Safety

None of us would ever dream of letting  an infant or child ride in a car without appropriate safety restraints, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen friends of mine carefully strap in their kids and then let Zippy the dog ride loose. Let me be blunt, here: If you have a thirty-mile-an-hour collision, your twenty-five-pound dog is going to turn into a projectile just the way your twenty-five-pound toddler would. One woman I know drove into a ditch with her three small dogs loose in the car; two were killed outright. The third ran away and disappeared forever. A friend, a dog trainer yet, got T-boned a few years ago. Her dogs were loose. One was trapped in the crushed car with her, which I guess is a good thing.  The other one escaped out a broken window and was found, injured but alive, after a week.  Am I making my point? Wait, there’s more.

A loose dog in the front passenger seat may be killed by the airbag. An injured or frightened dog who’s loose may interfere with emergency personnel, or even bite them. A scared, disoriented dog may survive the crash only to be hit by a passing car.

Are Barrier Devices Safe for Your Dog?

I mentioned “appropriate restraint,” but what is appropriate restraint? First of all, forget those metal or mesh barriers that you can put up between the front and back seats or between the backseat and the cargo area. They keep your dog from climbing in your lap and spoiling your view of the road, and that’s better than nothing. But Zippy will still turn into a Ping-Pong ball on impact in a crash and can escape through a broken window or smashed-in door. And don’t even start me on those cute plush booster seats that let your Yorkie see out the window but don’t strap him in. Now he can go flying around the passenger compartment from a launchpad a foot higher up than he otherwise would have been. Whoopee.

How Can You Best Protect Your Dog in the Car?

What’s left are crates and harness-style restraints. I’ve always assumed, like most people, that crates are the best choice, but as I researched this article I began to have my doubts. I couldn’t find any online reports of crash testing for travel kennels. I checked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration websites. Nada. I phoned the two agencies. Each referred me to the other. I searched the archives of Consumer Reports. No tests of travel kennels, at least not in the last decade. I called the most famous manufacturer of travel crates; a nice man in the marketing department told me they got lots of thank-you letters from customers. But had they done any formal crash testing? I asked. The nice man took my contact information and said he’d ask the folks in Engineering. I haven’t heard back.