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Travels with Charley (or Spot, or Lucky...)

On the road again? Keep safety in mind when taking Fido for a ride.


How often do you see a car drive by with a dog in it? Yeah, pretty often. After all, cruisin' with your pooch is one of the big perks of pet ownership. But where in the vehicle do you see the dog? Not usually in a safe place, I'll bet. Many people don't even realize the danger in where and how they let their pets ride. Let me go over the common situations.

Pickup trucks - please DON'T make you pet ride in the back! In many places it is illegal for a dog to ride loose in an uncovered truck bed. And under no circumstances is it safe. Whether tied, crated, or loose, dogs in an uncovered bed are at risk of injury from flying debris, and are exposed to the harsh elements. If they ride loose they are easily thrown from the vehicle on turns, or they can simply jump out. But don't think it's safe if the bed is covered. With no insulation, it is actually hotter in summer and colder in winter under that cap. The dog is still tossed about on turns and stops, and that metal sure ain't soft.
If the dog can't ride in the cab with you, he should be left home. Period.

In the car with head out the window. Boy, how many times do you see that? Maybe you let your own dog do it? Well, stop it! It's dangerous for the same reasons as riding in the truck bed. Perhaps more so when it comes to flying debris, as the dog is facing forward. So keep his head inside from now on.

Most often though, the dog is simply hanging out somewhere in the vehicle, unrestrained. Humans are all buckled in - it's the law in many states - but the dog rides loose. Now does that make sense? No way!
Why do you buckle up? To hold your body still on turns and such, making it easier to drive, and keeping your tummy less woozy. And of course to protect yourself during sudden stops or in an accident. Well the same applies to your pet. He'll also feel more secure if restrained, and he won't go flying through the windshield if you crash.
Another great concern is that an unrestrained dog can get in the driver's way, thus causing an accident, often a serious one. Check the news - it happens much more than it should.

Just a little prevention can go such distance in keeping everyone safe. Here are the best ways to go about doing that.


This is the most recommended and widely used method of transport. All that is required is an appropriately sized crate secured in the vehicle so it won't slide when you turn corners or stop. The proper size is such that the dog has just enough room to turn around and lie down, no more. Wire crates are preferred in vehicles to ensure proper ventilation.

The up side -
Crates are the easiest way to transport your pet, especially if you have more than one dog and/or you go for alot of rides. All you have to do is open and close the door.
Some dogs who are prone to motion sickness feel better in a crate. Likewise, nervous riders may be more comfortable in their den.
Crates limit the view of passing cars, pedestrians, and so on, thereby often preventing barking, which is very hard on the ears.

The down side -
Crates are very bulky. If you have a small vehicle, you'll be forced to remove the crates any time you need the space for groceries, passengers, or whatever. If you have a compact car or single cab truck and any breed bigger than a cocker spaniel, you can probably forget the idea of crates altogether. Either that or buy a van!
If you put the crate on the seat, I imagine it would eventually leave creases in the upholstery, as child car seats do. Or if it's roughly handled, it may rip the seat. It's no safety concern, but it will effect the car's resale value and aesthetics.


Canine seatbelts are steadily gaining in popularity. These are harness systems designed to work with the vehicle's existing seatbelt. Many different models are made, ranging in styles and quality. Some have a loop which you slide the car's belt though, others are secured directly to the buckle. One model has been tested to exceed human safety standards for seatbelts, however it is somewhat complicated to use, not to mention pricey. On the other hand, you should not necessarily go for the cheapest restraint you can find. When looking for a quality seatbelt harness, check the stitching and hardware for apparent strength. Does it look and feel like something that would protect your pet in an accident? And of course, look for something that will be comfortable for the dog to wear.

The up side -
Seatbelts take up no more space in the vehicle than the dog does.
Some dogs who are prone to motion sickness feel better sitting up high and watching out the window.
If you have a large dog, the seatbelt can double as a short leash. Okay, no biggie, but I think that's cool. Usually, you can also attach a regular leash to one of any size for use as a walking harness.

The down side -
It takes a small effort to use a seatbelt. How much depends on how cooperative the dog is. Of course, just a bit of training makes it all easy. But you still have to put the harness on the dog, buckle them in and out, and remove the harness when not in use.
Certain seatbelt models used with lap belts can tangle a dog up. Dog lays down, lap belt tightens, and tightens, but doesn't loosen, dog can no longer rise and ends up in a rather uncomfortable position with seatbelt twisted. Same goes for a fidgety dog who turns around. Use of a shoulder belt may help, or a seatbelt model that attaches to the underside of the harness. But I think they all take a little getting used to.
The dog must sit on the seat, so if you are adamantly opposed to this, even with a seat cover or blanket, you're better off with a crate. Good point to consider also when going swimming! Wet dog on unprotected seat = car damage.

Barriers, the final option

Not much of one, though, in my opinion. These are wire "walls" that keep the dog in the back end of a vehicle. They tend to reduce the driver's visibility out the rear window a bit, and surely are not attractive. The only benefit I see is that they prevent the dog from getting in the way of the driver. However you must pick a good model and install it properly; lower quality models have been known to fall over for no apparent reason. Not a good thing when the dog is in the car! Besides, some escape artists manage to dislodge the barrier or squeeze by it, and a small dog can simply crawl under the seat. They also do little to protect the dog in an accident. Sure, a barrier will prevent the dog from flying into the driver's head or through the windshield. But he'll still be tossed around, ramming into the walls, against the windows, perhaps even through a rear window.
Accidents aside, a nervous dog has plenty of space to pace in and upset itself. A noisy dog has windows to look out and bark at every passing car/person/tree. A destructive dog can chew on or dig at the seat. And even on easy corners and gentle stops, or going over potholes, a dog can bump his nose or head on something hard back there, or at least lose footing and fall over. Most importantly, the dog is not prevented from jumping out of the vehicle leashless when you open the hatch.
Still, if it is the difference between this and a dog riding loose in a vehicle, a barrier is better than nothing. But a crate or seatbelt is safer for everyone.

TL, 2002

Drive safely.