As a child of the 80’s, strapping your Pup into a car with a seatbelt was never something I considered… until I got a precious Pup of my own. If you know anything about me it’s that I love my dog more than anything. I try to keep him safe wherever he goes, including in the car. During one of Link’s first car rides, I noticed how he would walk across the back seat, from window to window. It drove me nuts! I just wanted him to grasp the seriousness of being in a car, and how dangerous backseat surfing can be! But alas, he is a dog and doesn’t understand this concept. So I decided to help him by getting him properly set up for car rides!
Note- some dogs may not be able to be restrained in a car for a variety of reasons, just do your best and drive safe 🙂
- Seatbelt– There are a few variations of seatbelts. Some have a loop where the seatbelt goes through and then clicks in, like it would for a human. Some have a buckle that clicks directly into the seatbelt of your car. And some are simple tethers that can clip into a harness much like a leash, and then attach to the seatbelt or can be attached to a removable headrest. Make sure you have a durable, padded, fitted, comfortable harness. You want something that would supply even support in the event of a crash. I got a brand new Kurgo harness and seat belt from the Humane Society Thrift for $5. The harness has a chest plate to distribute weight evenly, and he can comfortably wear it outside of the car as well. Personally I don’t like the direct to belt buckle style restraint and I prefer to attach his tether to the headrest. It’s just less likely he will tangle himself if the tether is above his back rather than by his legs.
- Hammock– Car hammocks are a great way to keep your dog from flying into the front seat in the event of a crash. It cradles them, much like a normal outdoor hammock does to a human. The combination of the seatbelt and hammock keep your dog in one place throughout your drive. Hammocks are also great in the event your dog gets car sick… trust me.
- Crate– This is the best way to keep your Pup safe in the car. Crates should be kept in the trunk area when available (not in a closed trunk of a sedan! but in a trunk of a hatchback or suv!) Crates should be strapped down securely to prevent them from moving around too much, and in the event of an accident the car will be secure and not tumbling around the car with your dog tumbling around inside. Impact Dog Crates make awesome crates for your car and truck beds! If you drive a hatchback and have a Malamute, a crate might not work for you.
- No Dogs in Laps– It is so dangerous! Hawaii is the only state that has outlawed this activity, but most states (including Oregon) have laws against distracted driving, which includes your dog riding on your lap. Also, if you’re in an accident, your dog will be smashed between your body and the steering wheel or airbag! Eeek!
- No Dogs in Front Seats– Much like sitting on your lap, your dog could be smashed by the airbag when sitting shotgun. If you don’t have an airbag, your dog could then be slammed into the dash, or even worse, thrown through the window. If they must sit shotgun, make sure they are securely and properly restrained.
- Loose in the Bed of a Truck– Please, please, please restrain your dog when letting them ride in the back of your truck! You don’t even have to get in an accident for your dog to be hurt. If someone cuts you off and you slam on the brakes, what do you think will happen to your dog? If you hit a pothole (all of Oregon is a pothole) your dog could slam into the truck or fall out the back. Crates are the best, and in my opinion the only way to transport a dog in the bed of a truck. But in all honesty I’d rather have you let your German Shepherd ride on your lap than in the back of your truck.
- Head out the Window– Warning, this is a rule I can’t follow. Sticking your head out the window isn’t very safe. Rocks and debris hit your windshield all the time, imagine if something hit you in the face going 60mph. It would have the same effect if it hit your dog in the face. They could get cut and scraped, or worse they could get an eye injury. I can’t follow this rule because I know how fun it is to stick your head out the window! To me it’s the same risk as riding a rollercoaster, and I can’t deprive my dog of that fun, but I do roll windows up when we drive faster than 40mph, or when we’re off-roading.
- No Unattended Dog– I talk about this so often. Don’t leave your Pup in the car. Hot and cold weather drastically effects the temperatures inside a car. All the windows down could result in your dog leaping out a window to chase a squirrel. Just try your best not to do it, and if you must leave your dog in the car, please be safe about it!
I am going to share a story that happened to me recently just to give you an idea of how important car safety is for your dog. Don’t worry, it’s not one of the many horror stories I have from working in vet clinics. No one was hurt during this very lucky event.
Last week Link and I took a road trip to Southern Oregon. We drove 3.5 hours south and all around Southern Oregon without any incidents. We drove the almost 3.5 hours home before exiting the highway at Knott Road. We were driving along Knott, which is single lane both ways, with a double yellow in the middle and a bike lane in both directions. The road curves, but isn’t necessarily windy. There’s high desert landscape on either side. It’s peaceful, and much more enjoyable than the busy main road through town. I was listening to a crime podcast and Link was snoring in the backseat. I drive a 4Runner, and he usually rides in the very back, but I wanted him closer to me, so I could talk to him as I drove. We were going the speed limit, and I was looking ahead of me as we approached a curve in the road. Traffic was coming in the opposite direction, and cars were driving in front and behind me. Suddenly I see a small Honda Civic coming into my lane from the other direction. I assume he’s just an impatient driver trying to zoom around the person in front of him, but then I noticed he wasn’t trying to swerve out of my way. He was coming directly at me, aiming for a head on collision. I slammed on my brakes, saw he wasn’t swerving, and then I swerved at the very last moment. I braced myself for a collision, but it never came. He narrowly missed us. I swerved right off the road, into the bike lane, and down an embankment, praying to Dog the 4Runner didn’t flip (as 4Runners are specifically designed to flip). All I could think about was my dog, my best friend, and how I needed to get the car to safety. Somehow luck was on our side. We didn’t flip. Instead we sank into the soft dirt of the embankment and stopped. I turned and checked Link over. He was shaken up, but his seatbelt and harness kept him safe and in one spot. He didn’t slide across the seat and hit the door. He didn’t slam into the back of my seat. He was locked in. I can’t explain how relieved I was. I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t care about the car being stuck, or how my hands wouldn’t stop shaking, or how incredibly hot and thirsty I had suddenly become. All I cared about was that Link was ok. It turns out the Honda Civic belonged to a young man that had worked very long hours that day and he had fallen asleep at the wheel. He drifted into my lane, passing the woman in front of him and smashing off both her and his own side mirrors. I’m assuming that’s what woke him up in time to swerve out of the way of hitting the driver’s side of my car. I am fairly certain to this day he has no idea how close he was to losing his life. I think the only words I said to him were “Are you ok? You ran us off the road, that’s my car with my dog inside. Don’t worry he’s ok.” I am not by any means a great driver. I try to do my best, but I’m not rally racer. I truly believe if I didn’t have Link in my car my reactions wouldn’t have been that fast. I also believe if he didn’t have his seatbelt on, my life would be very different right now. We were very lucky that day. Always buckle up, no matter what kind of mammal, fish, or bird you are. (THANK YOU SO MUCH TO THOSE 3 PEOPLE WHO STAYED WITH ME UNTIL I GOT MY CAR OUT!)