Karen B. London
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Canine Car Safety
How to protect your dog while driving

I recently saw a dog tossed around the back of a vehicle when the driver had to stop suddenly to avoid an accident. Luckily the dog was okay, but many dogs who are not so fortunate are injured in car accidents. The saddest thing to me is that it can be avoided.

The best ways to protect dogs while they are in cars is with the use of crates, seat belts, or barriers that keep the dogs in the rear part of the vehicle. Even without these specific safety features, keeping dogs in the back seat rather than the front seat and not having them ride around in the back of trucks are ways to protect them from harm.
How do you travel in the car with your dogs? Have you had the misfortune to find out if they are safe in the event of a crash?



Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.


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Submitted by Carolyn | May 24 2010 |

When we first got our 11 lbs. dog, we let her ride in the back seat. We were only going about 15 mph when we hit a pothole -- she came sailing forward and hit the gearshift. Luckily she appeared unhurt but we were appalled. We invested in a soft-sided duffel-style pet carrier that has seat belt loops in back. So now she's belted in the back seat and doesn't seem to mind it a bit. She's not thrown around and there is no worry about her jumping out of the car when we open the door. Very good investment.

Submitted by Wendy | May 24 2010 |

My girls always ride in crates. Just last week I saw a dog jump out of a moving pick-up truck to chase a rabbit or gopher. My heart almost stopped just watching it. He was OK, but could have easily been hit by a car or injured himself jumping out.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 24 2010 |

Let me share my horror story with you. I still have nightmare about it. So, I won’t go in to details. But it may still be too traumatic to some. Please use your discretion before reading. Also, please pardon my poor writing skill as English is my second language.

I was on our way to off leash park with my hyper, then 60 lb Sheppard mix puppy. She was and is far from good rider. I somehow had her in back seat with windows down half way. Few blocks before a freeway entrance, I looked to see my dog is away from one of the rear window. She was on the other side. So, I rolled up the power window.

Immediately, I hear the voiceless commotions from the rear. Then I saw the worst possible site in my life. My dog's entire body was in the air because her neck was jammed in the window at the highest point. I was able to quickly lower the window despite my panic. I pulled over to the side and checked to see if she was alright. She was OK. Thank God, she is still with us 13 years after the incident.

I hear many children get killed the same way all the time. Please crate your dogs when driving. I bet my dog doesn’t remember the incident but I do.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 29 2010 |

Thank you for sharing this story. It is something all dog lovers should be aware of (as well as all parents).

Submitted by Angie | May 25 2010 |

Our SUVs have the barrier that prevents the dog from flying forward. She can still have free roam in the back seat, but she will be stopped from becoming a projectile with the barrier in place.

We tried a crate, but she panicked, and we had to take her out of it within 5 minutes of leaving out house. We tried the seatbelt thing, but again, she panicked. We are thinking that something may have happened to her while being restrained in a car prior to us adopting her (adopted her 7 months ago). So, we bought the barrier and she sits very politely behind the drivers seat and looks out the window.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 29 2010 |

We have a canine camper for our cairn. Best thing we ever bought. Have used it for years.

Submitted by Leslie | May 31 2010 |

I put my dog in a kennel in the back seat and then push the front seat back far enough to provide a really strong hold on the kennel. It's wedged in at that point and difficult to move. I started using the kennel because my current dog is hyper and often distracted me. My first few dogs (years ago) would sit in my lap or on the passenger seat (before air bags).....we traveled that way for years. I feel very lucky I never had an accident.

Submitted by rebecca collins | May 31 2010 |

We once had to save an older beagle mix that fell out of an open car window when her owner took off when the light turned green in a busy intersection. The pup must have lost her footing and she tumbled out of the window while her Boston terrier pal sat next to her. My husband got out of our car and picked the stunned pup up, fortunately the woman realized she was one dog light and stopped her car a few yards away. All was ok, but we are lucky she did not bolt away in traffic.

Submitted by Lisa | June 10 2010 |

I once had a very bad experience with my Golden unrestrained in the car, and once was more than enough. I was going just around the corner to my parents' house, and had to stop short due to someone pulling out directly in front of me. Even though I was going slow (neighborhood setting) and had slowed down to make a turn, my dog was still thrown up onto the dash of the car right in front of me, and managed to tear the leather seat in his attempt to hold on. Needless to say I felt horrible that I had put him in that situation. If we wear our seatbelts, why wouldn't an animal also need one when riding in the car?

Since then, the dogs are always belted in the car, or are in their crates for long trips. We bought this seatbelt 5 or so years ago, and it has been absolutely wonderful. http://www.canineauto.com/ The construction is very well made, and it's comfortable for the dog. Also, where it hits on their chest is well thought out. I like that you can hook it to the belt, so that in an accident, it would give then restrain, just as it would a person. This is opposed to the belts that "buckle" into the seatbelt latch - which would provide no cushion or "give", only restraint, in the case of an accident.

On a side note, it always amazes me to see people driving with their pets in their lap. How are you supposed to handle a dog AND give 100% focus and attention to the road? I would think the dog could sit by themselves for the duration of a car trip, but that's just me I suppose! People need to think not only about the safety of their pets and themselves, but also the other drivers on the road!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 10 2010 |

I have a harness for my dog that is intended for use either as a walking harness or as a way to secure the my dog in the car. There is a loop in the vest through which you slip the seat belt. Once this is done the dog is secure. She still has some room to move, sit up or lay down, but I always know that if I should ever have to stop quickly or if I am in an accident, she is restrained and won't be hurt. These can be found in almost any pet supply store. It simply called "Vest Harness" by "Canine Friendly Products".

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | June 11 2010 |

Great topic, and timely too with summer travel picking up! Since I compete in agility trials most weekends, there are two permanently installed wire crates in the back of my minivan. On the rare occasion that all five dogs are riding with us (lure coursing!), I use seat belt harnesses for the three dogs on the bench seat.

On agility e-lists, we hear horror stories about dogs being tossed around in car accidents and reminders on how to travel safely with our pups. The one thing I need to get (and keep putting off) are wire cutters. One person was in an accident and couldn't get her dogs out of the crates because she was rear-ended and there was no access to the crate doors.

I often show my students the crate set up in my minivan and that helps change their minds about letting their dogs ride loose. Although one of my students got a wake up call from a policeman! She was driving with her Poodle mix in her lap and was stopped at an intersection. Her dog started barking furiously at the police car. After the light turned green, he pulled her over and ticketed her for having a loose, out-of-control dog in the car. Lesson learned!

Submitted by Lizzi K | April 27 2011 |

One thing to keep in mind is that not every dog seatbelt or car restraint is equal. Many of them are NOT made to hold up in the forces that are present during an accident, they are only made to control your dog during regular car travel. This is important when picking a harness. Be sure it is safety tested, crash tested or strength rated for high forces. The ones I know of which are tested or rated are the Champion Seatbelt System, PetBuckle, Snoozer, and Roadie.

Also keep in mind that not all crates will protect your dog, I have heard of crates breaking open or bending and letting the dog loose, where they end up lost or in danger running on the highway.

My dogs are always buckled up with their Champion seatbelts when we are in the car.

Submitted by Annie M | April 30 2011 |

Although I was dog-less at the time, I was involved in an incident I've never forgotten with my own dogs. It was a warm, sunny, perfect summer day. The guy in front of me was tooling around in his Jeep with the top off,and his Shih-tzu next to him on the passenger seat. The driver rounded a corner quickly, and his dog was launched "overboard." The guy had somehow shortened and tied the dog's leash to the car, so the poor pup was hanging by the neck over the side of the vehicle. The driver didn't notice his dog's plight and continued driving. I was shouting and honking my horn to get the guy's attention, and at last, he pulled over. I jumped out of my car and ran to lift up the dog because the owner STILL hadn't seen what was happening with his dog. The Shih-tzu survived but surely had injuries. The guy survived, too, but only because he was lucky--and a lot bigger than me!

Submitted by LexiJ | April 30 2013 |

Just purchased a mighty mite variocage. It makes me feel so much better to know my dogs are now safe in my car. I had been using a midwest crate but was concerned that the crate would collapse or impale my dogs in an accident. The variocage was very expensive but worth every dollar. I would recommend it to anyone. I have to Labs and I purchased the xlarge double for them

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