Do you restrain your dog in the car? It’s estimated nearly half of Americans own dogs, and half of those routinely take their dogs with them in the car. That’s a lot of dogs on the road—many millions a year. But the overwhelming majority of dog owners in a recent survey admitted they never restrain their dogs in the car, for reasons running the gamut from a strong desire to hold their beloved pet during transit to insisting it’s too much trouble, to outright denial that the dog needs it to begin with.
Here are a few compelling reasons to restrain your dog:
You’d never think of letting your child go anywhere without being properly restrained in the car; your dog deserves the same protection.
All dog restraint systems for the car are not created equal, nor is there any official oversight of safety standards or testing of these and other dog products in the United States. But some are made better than others, and some systems seem to work better than others.
The two best dog restraint systems—the dog car harness (seat belt) and the dog crate—continually vie for the top spot in safety and effectiveness. The car barrier is better than nothing at all, but only serves to separate a dog from the car’s passenger compartment; it does not actually restrain the dog.
Whichever system you choose for your dog, never place him in the front seat of your car. The best place is the car’s back seat or cargo area of your SUV, keeping in mind this is the crumple zone in many vehicles.
The dog harness car restraint works in tandem with your car’s seat belt system to tether the dog to the seat; it is an effective way to contain your dog after an accident. Most dog harness systems have two parts: the harness itself, and the tether that connects the harness to the seat belt. Any harness system should inhibit a dog’s ability to move around within the car. Important things to consider when buying:
Dog harness car restraints are recommended for small-to-medium sized dogs, but can also work well for larger breeds. Get your dog accustomed to his harness on short trips first, and be vigilant: a harness system may not be appropriate for a problem chewer—use it only under close supervision, and never in the front seat of your car.
A crate or kennel can be an excellent way to restrain a dog in the car; it significantly reduces driver distractions by an agitated dog, and effectively contains a dog after an accident. But its safety and effectiveness depend on more than the crate alone; important things to consider when buying:
The crate should rest lengthwise in the back seat of the car if it will fit there. Secure it with the seatbelt and additional wide, heavy-duty luggage straps. Consider asking your mechanic to install anchors for these. Then remove your dog’s collar before he climbs into his crate to keep him from strangling on entangled tags.
Keeping a crate set up in your car makes routine travel with your dog much more convenient. Print out relevant information—including medical details and emergency contacts—and attach it to the front of your dog’s crate in case of an accident.
The car barrier is more about separation than restraint— it provides limited or no protection to your dog in an accident, nor will it contain your dog after an accident unless it stays in place and the cargo area and windows remain intact. But it is an effective tool to limit your dog to the cargo area of your car or SUV during transit, thus minimizing driver distraction. Important things to consider when buying:
If your dog travels loose in the cargo area, his collar may become a strangulation hazard if his tags get caught in the car barrier; remove his collar after you place him in the cargo area if you don’t plan to restrain him.
The imagery of the unrestrained dog with his head poked joyously out the car’s window, hair and ears flapping in the wind—it’s all good until something goes wrong. You know in your heart of hearts it’s unsafe to allow your dog to ride loose in the car. Without using some kind of restraint system, you place him in harm’s way, as well as yourself and potentially others.
The next time you invite him along for the ride, do the loving thing and fasten him in before you go. He may not love being restrained, but he’ll be one lucky dog.
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