Cars, trucks, mini-vans, basically any automobile are often as much a part of our pets’ lives as they are ours. It’s how we brought them home the first time and how we transport them to all types of activities. We have all known someone who has a dog that the mere mention of “car ride” has the dog leaping in ecstasy. However, some dogs are or become terrified of riding in a moving vehicle. Some cats enjoy car rides, but many find the crate and car a predictor of getting sick or a trip to the vet.
Automobile Safety for Pets
We are responsible for the safety of our pets. Pets need to be secured in a vehicle when it is in motion for their safety and our own. A loose pet can become a distraction to the driver. A pet in the car’s front seat is unlikely to survive if the airbag discharges in an accident. An unsecured pet riding is more likely to become seriously injured. It also has great potential to hurt passengers if they become a fast-moving projectile due to a sudden stop. Even if a pet is uninjured in an accident, it is possible that they will be so terrified they will frantically try to escape, which itself can result in injury or death. Dogs have even been known to deter emergency personnel from rescuing injured people.
An article about car safety harnesses in the Whole Dog Journal, [Car Safety Harness Recommendation, updated 3/21/19], discusses a Boxer named Ruby that was riding in a car unrestrained when the vehicle was in an accident. Ruby survived but “…suffered a spinal-cord injury and mild brain injury.” Ruby also required months of intensive rehab, costing over $9000.
One option for securing a pet in a vehicle is a hard-sided crate of the type used for air transport. The crate should be just big enough for your pet to stand up and lie down. A separate crate should be used for each pet. It would be best if you secure the crate to the vehicle chassis in a manner such that it cannot break loose in the event of an accident. An unsecured crate can become a dangerous projectile.
For a crate to effectively keep your pet safe and secure in your vehicle, your pet must be comfortable in their crate. Unfortunately, some pets find a crate stressful, in which case you will need to patiently help them learn that the crate is a safe place. The following two articles can help with the process; Dogs – Crate Habituation to Reduce Anxiety –and Cats – Make Your Life Easier – Get Your Cat to Love Their Carrier.
A gate or barrier is another option for securing a pet in a vehicle. However, for these to provide the safety necessary in the event of an accident, they must be attached to the vehicle chassis so they cannot break free. While this would probably keep passengers safe, it is no guarantee the pet will survive the crash.
Many people confine their dogs to the backseat of their car with a special harness or seatbelt made especially for dogs. Unfortunately, many of these products may not protect your dog in a crash, giving you a false sense of security. Only three such harnesses have passed the rigorous crash test standards of the Center for Pet Safety (CPS). You can find a list of harnesses, carriers, and crates that are CPS Certified at https://www.centerforpetsafety.org/cps-certified/.
While a CPS Certified harness can be an excellent option, recognize that your dog may not automatically enjoy being harnessed in the car. A reward-based dog trainer can help you slowly acclimate your dog to wearing a seat belt.
Does Your Pet Need to Go with You?
Most of us rarely take our cats for a ride because of most cats’ inherent dislike of travel. On the other hand, many of us love our dogs’ company, and the dog often loves the adventure of a ride. However, if you will need to leave your dog alone in the vehicle at any time, I encourage you to ask yourself if having the dog with you is necessary.
Unless the trip is specifically for the dog, a visit to daycare or the dog park, a hiking adventure appropriate for the dog, a trip to the veterinarian, or something else where the dog’s presence is required, I encourage you to consider leaving the dog at home. When we leave a dog alone in a vehicle, we need to worry about them; overheating, getting too cold, becoming anxious and frantically trying to escape, being stolen, or being teased by uncaring people. More than one person has told me how they caught a person taunting their dog while the dog was left in the car. After this, the dog behaved aggressively anytime anyone approached the vehicle. Another person told me they left their dog alone in the car for only a brief moment. However, it was enough time for a child to be bitten when they stuck their little hand in through the open window. I love having Muppy with me, but if there is a possibility I might need to leave her alone in the car, she stays home.
Next month I will discuss how to help those pets that find rides in an automobile stressful.
About the Author
Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Industry Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.