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Car Safety for Your Dog

Dhicon_thumb By DogHeirs Team | February 26, 2012 | Comments (1)

dog sticking head out of car window

Many dogs enjoy poking their heads out of a car windows to feel the wind. It sure is cute, but leaving a pet loose in your car can be both a danger to you and your pet.

Just as with small children, dogs need to be safely restrained in a vehicle to avoid distractions to the driver and minimize possible injury to the dog and other passengers in the car.

If a dog becomes a projectile in a crash, he/she can be seriously injured and can injure and kill other occupants in the vehicle.

By securely buckling up your dog you:  
  • Minimize injury and possible death to your dog and other passengers
  • Prevent distractions. A dog that crawls onto the driver's lap, sticks his/her head out of the window, rummages in grocery bags, etc., distracts you and breaks your concentration from driving
  • Keep a dog from bolting through an open window, open door, or from the back of a truck. No matter how well trained, accidents and exceptions happen all the time.
  • Prevent him/her running away or getting hurt after an accident. Often a dog will flee the scene or run into oncoming traffic, endangering lives.
  • Prevent injury to emergency crews that arrive on scene of an accident. Frightened or injured dogs tend to bite, and upset dogs may try to protect you. In doing so they delay rescuers getting to you to administer care.

Restraining Your Pet Properly

There are a few basic safety tips when securing your dog in your car:

  • Dogs should not be seated near airbags. Place a dog in the back seat, away from airbags. If this is not possible, make sure to disable the airbag where your dog is seated
  • Dogs should not be placed on people's laps, even for short distances
  • Never attach a tether/seatbelt to a dog's collar
  • If dog is placed in back of a truck bed, be sure to have a pet-safe kennel or proper tether in the truck bed.

Most products used to secure your dog in a car will be adequate in keeping your pet from moving around, but they are unlikely to keep your pet safe during an accident. The overwhelming fact is that the majority of tethering and restraining methods for pets in vehicles are not built to withstand the forces of an accident, and do not meet with the road safety standards set for humans. This has been backed by scientific research.

A dog thrown in an accident can exert a force of up to 20 times their own bodyweight if propelled in an accident. That means in a 30 miles per hour collision, a 60 pound dog who is thrown in a crash, exerts 1200 pounds of weight! (Metrically, in a 48 kmph collision a 27 kilo dog who is thrown in a crash, exerts 544 kilos of weight.)

What happens to a plastic crate in a crash
Crash test with standard crate, shows "dummy dog" thrown into back of front seat

The video below, clearly demonstrates what happens to during an accident to a dog secured by many of the standard methods used today. (Note, the video is in German.)

So, if most restraining methods are unsafe, what should you use? Firstly, there will be trade-offs between convenience and safety. Research which products will be most appropriate for the type of vehicle you own and for the size of your dog. Also, where you decide to seat your dog in the vehicle will help determine to what product is best for you to use.

Tethering Options

Harnesses/Tethers /Seat-belt Systems

Car harness for dogMany standard dog harnesses have a seat-belt loop to attach to a car seatbelt. Although convenient, the majority of these harnesses are not designed to withstand the forces of impact during a car crash, and will likely fail. For example, harnesses made with nylon / plastic buckles  will simply break under enough pressure.

When selecting a harness to attach to your car's seatbelt look for one that is:

  • goes around your dog's chest, back and shoulders and can be attached to the car seat belt
  • comes in the appropriate size for your dog
  • has been crash tested, reviewed or approved to determine strength and safety by official automotive authorities such as a veterinary school or road safety experts such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
  • is made of strong webbing material. Seatbelts for humans are made of a webbing material that has a breaking strength of 5000 pounds minimum (as outlined by the SAE standards)
  • distributes load/force evenly across a dog's torso (to avoid internal injuries)
  • does not rely on nylon/plastic buckles to carry the load

Although dog auto harnesses have failed to meet crashworthiness standards for human safety, and therefore have no guarantees to keep your dog completely safe in crash situations, it is still safer to have a dog tethered than not. Quality varies a great deal when it comes to auto harnesses so do your research. A few harnesses that appear to be higher quality than average include: Ruff Riders Roadie, CHAMPION Canine Seat Belt System, and Bergan Dog Auto Harness.


Crates / Cages / Carriers

crates in back of carOne common method of securing dogs in a car is by placing them in a crate and then securing the crate to the car's seat belt. This will secure your dog, but keep in mind that your dog is still loose in the crate.

Most crates are made from cheap plastics that are simply meant to help you carry your dog around. Such crates can explode in an accident due to the force of a loose dog hitting from the inside of the crate. (Soft crates will not explode.)

Crates are best if placed in the rear of a vehicle (in a SUV, or hatchback, never in a trunk). When considering a crate or cage, look for on that:

  • has been crash tested by an official automotive authority to determine its strength and safety
  • is made from materials that can withstand crash impacts
  • has means to secure it in the rear part of your vehicle through straps or bolts
  • has been reviewed or approved by authorities such as a veterinary school or road safety experts such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

Gates / Barriers / Dog Guards

Car barrier for dogGates / barriers are used to divide a pet in the rear part of an SUV or hatchback from the front of the car. The gate usually fastens to the floor and ceiling of the car. A gate will keep your pet away from the driver but it will not protect the dog in a crash. If a dog is placed in the rear of a vehicle he/she should still be tethered or caged to avoid him/her getting thrown forward or escaping from the vehicle post-accident.


In the Event of an Accident

In the event of an accident, emergency responders must call Animal Services to retrieve pets from accident scenes. It benefits everyone if your pet is quickly and easily retrieved, managed and identified. To this end, be sure to have your pet's identification and care instructions included in your car's glove compartment.

If your pet requires hospitalization, the shelter will make decisions on your pet's care, unless a family member/owner can be contacted right away. In emergency cases, vets do need permission to treat your pet. If they cannot reach you or another emergency contact, your pet may not be treated at all.

For your dog's identification:

  • Have an ID tag with a current phone number.
  • Have your city registration tag up-to-date
  • Microchip your pet and be sure your data on file with microchip company is current.

For your care instructions, include your pet's name and important medical information. This can include your pet's medical insurance information, emergency contact details, veterinarian's contact information, local emergency pet ER locations and telephone numbers.

Have any suggestions for road safety you would like to share? Feel free to comment below.

Copyright 2015 DogHeirs. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments on this Article

Great article but you've missed a few really important points. I see a picture of soft crates being used to transport dogs. This is a big no-no! Yes, soft crates wont explode the way plastic airline crates will (another thing you should never do) but anyone who has ever used a soft crate knows that even when the dog is not being transported, and is just hanging around in his soft crate, he can get out of it. Most people who use soft crates resort to clipping zippers together and reinforcing the mesh in order to prevent canine escapes. Now, imagine what can happen when a dog is rammed at 20+ gs of force into the fabric mesh of a soft crate? The zipper cannot withstand the force and the dog will be ejected from the crate (and then the crate will collapse on itself). So while the fabric crate will not throw plastic shards around the cabin the way the plastic crate will, it's not much better for safety. I'd highly recommend removing that picture before someone gets the wrong idea. There are presently only two truly safe means of transporting a dog based on recent testing. The Center for Pet Safety ("CPS") has tested and endorsed the Sleepypod Clickit harness. None of the safety harnesses you listed - the Bergan or the Ruff Rider passed. The only dog crate on the market currently available that has been tested independently and passed is the variocage. There's just not a lot of safe options out there!
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