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Canine Safety Central: Car Safety for Dogs

Welcome to our series “Canine Safety Central” that’s all about keeping your favorite dog safe. We’ll explore a variety of situations throughout the series and provide tips on how to help keep your dog and everyone around them safe and healthy. In this post, we talk about car safety for your dog.

Some dogs love “life in the fast lane” and go everywhere with their pet parents in the car. But for homebody hounds, a car ride means it’s time for their annual checkup or there’s a grooming “emergency.” Either way, every dog will experience at least a few car rides throughout their life and it’s important that your dog — and you — are kept safe while you’re in the car. We’ve discussed how to prepare your car for your dog, so now we’ll cover how to keep your dog safe in and around cars.

Train Your Dog to Avoid Moving Vehicles

Before we dive into pet safety inside the car, let’s talk about dog safety around cars. The safest way to walk your dog is to keep them on a leash, especially when walking by busy streets. But what if the dog harness breaks or the leash slips out of your hand? Dogs are not born with a fear of moving vehicles, so it’s important that you train your dog to avoid cars in situations like these.

A popular method is to train your dog to sit at the curb and wait for your signal to cross the street. Using a leash, walk your dog to the curb and ask them to sit. Spend a few moments there, even if there are no cars, and then say a release word like “OK” or “Go.” The goal is that with plenty of positive reinforcement, your dog will automatically sit at the curb and wait for their reward. Eventually they should learn to sit without a reward. Then hopefully if they do get loose, they will remember that they’re supposed to sit before going into the street. Training your dog to “come” will also help keep them safe if they go off-leash.

Don’t Let Your Dog Ride Unrestrained

The safest way to travel with a dog in your vehicle is to make sure they’re properly restrained. Having a dog unrestrained in the car can be dangerous for several reasons. First, if you have to brake suddenly or there’s an accident, your dog can become a projectile, potentially causing a serious injury to themselves or other passengers in the car. They could also be thrown out a window or through the windshield in a car crash.

Secondly, it may be cute to have smaller pets sitting on your lap or larger dogs riding in the front seat, but that can be distracting for you as the driver. In some states, you can even be ticketed under distracted driving laws.

A Dog Unrestrained and an Open Window Is a Bad Combination

You’ve probably seen a dog with their head out the window and their tongue flapping in the breeze. While your dog may enjoy the wind in their face, they could be injured by airborne objects. They may also jump out of the window into traffic if they see or smell something outside that really tempts them.

If your dog is restrained in the back seat, make sure you have the child lock activated on the car door and you lock the windows so your dog doesn’t accidentally push any buttons. If it’s hot outside, make sure the air conditioning vents in the back are directed toward them.

A Dog Car Harness or Travel Crate Is Essential

You wear a seat belt to keep you safe, so it makes sense that your dog should be protected, too. Your dog should be restrained in the back seat or the cargo area, not the passenger seat. If you’re in an accident that causes the airbags to deploy, your dog can be seriously injured or worse by the passenger seat airbag.

There are a number of dog car restraints you can choose from to protect your dog. For the back seat, a dog car harness that attaches one of the car seat belts is a popular restraint option because it can be used on dogs of all sizes. You could also use a zipline dog safety harness if you want to give your dog a little more freedom to move.

If you don’t like the idea of dog hair and sharp claws all over your car seats, you could have your dog ride in a travel crate or carrier that is securely attached to the car so it doesn’t slide around. The crate should be large enough that your dog can stand, turn around and lie down comfortably.

If you’re looking for crash-tested crates and harnesses, check out the Center for Pet Safety. They are a nonprofit safety science organization dedicated to consumer and companion animal safety. They have a list of safety harnesses, pet travel carriers and travel crates that have been independently crash-test certified.

Acclimate Your Dog to Car Rides

If you have a pup or dog that isn’t used to car rides, it’s important for them to learn that going for a car ride isn’t the worst thing in the world. Start with short trips around the block. Gradually make the rides longer and make sure the trip ends on a positive note, like going to the pet store to pick out a new toy or visiting the dog park. You want the car to be associated with a positive experience and not always a trip to the veterinary clinic.

If They Can’t Go in the Store, Don’t Take Your Dog on a Car Ride

We hope all pet owners know this, but it doesn’t hurt to remind everyone that you should never leave your dog unattended in the car. Even in warm weather, not just hot weather, the temperature inside the car can increase significantly within minutes, putting your dog at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Cracking the windows will not be enough to keep your dog safe.

Leaving your dog in the car in winter is also not advised as cars can become too cold for your dog, too. Unfortunately, dogs can also be stolen from unattended vehicles. So if your dog can’t come with you on every errand, leave them at home.

Is Your Dog Ready for a Road Trip?

It’s important to make car rides a safe and enjoyable experience for your dog. It will help make visits to the veterinarian less stressful and make traveling with your dog easier. If you’re planning on going on a road trip with your dog, check out these tips on what to consider before traveling with your pet.


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