Let's face it: Seeing a dog with his head outside the window of a car is kind of adorable (those ears and gums flapping in the breeze!). But cuteness aside, this practice is far from safe. And while you want your dog to be happy, it's also important to learn the safest way to travel with a dog in the car.
Sure, safety may seem boring, but it's actually the law in many parts of the country. Before you hop into your car for a fun ride with your pup, be aware of the various restrictions related to riding with a dog in your lap or pets being unsecured in an open truck bed. Allowing a dog to ride wild and free is considered cruel and inhumane in some states, which means you need a harness or dog carrier, such as a crate or pet bag.
Here's more about why proper restraints are important, how to transport a dog in a car, and easy ways to get your pup used to the idea of traveling on the open road while secured.
Dogs are a distraction
Your dog may seem happiest when he or she is free to move about your vehicle during trips, but this is far from the safest way for a dog to ride in a car. Not only could an unrestrained dog be injured during a crash, but letting your pooch have full rein in the car is a huge distraction to you, the driver.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 26,000 people died from 2012 to 2019 in car crashes involving distracted drivers. And while texting, fiddling with the radio dials, eating, and drinking are the main sources of this distraction, having a dog sit in your lap, lick your face, or prance back and forth between the front and back seats can also be dangerous. The driver could swerve, slam on the brakes, and possibly have an accident.
How to transport a dog
The market is flooded with options for dog restraints, which makes it hard to know how effective one buckle or harness system is when compared with others — or with crates, bags, and carriers. You can always speak with your veterinarian about the safest way to travel with a dog in the car, though experts agree that having no restraint at all isn't an option.
When looking into how to transport your dog, take his height and weight into consideration as well as your vehicle's dimensions. Car safety for small dogs may consist of a travel-safe dog bed, a crate, or a soft duffel that's well-ventilated and that can be secured so it doesn't slide or shift during transit.
There are also pet products made for harnessing in the car — and these are great because they can help your dog stay put by buckling or tying them to the seat. This gives your dog a little bit of freedom, but not enough to cause distracted driving. Larger pets are especially good candidates for in-car harnesses that attach to your vehicle's seat belts.
Unfortunately, there aren't many regulations that manufacturers of pet restraint systems must follow, which means there's a wide variety of quality in crate materials and overall crash performance. Sadly, in a very serious accident, belts may not hold your pet completely and carriers could become projectiles. Still, the good news is that the Center for Pet Safety continues to investigate different safety and transportation options for dogs and it lists their results online for free.
Ease your dog into his crate
Some pups curl up in their carriers or harnesses and promptly fall asleep, while other pets simply hate riding in cars. To help your animal adjust to his car confinement, try the following:
- Practice at home. Give your dog a chance to wear his harness or sit in his travel crate to become used to the smell and feel. Next, take short car trips and work up to longer ones.
- Add toys. A favorite squeaky frog or soft blanket from home can ease your pup's frayed nerves when he's riding inside his travel bag.
- Stop along the way. Make time for your pet to pee and grab some water every couple of hours.
- Don't eat en route. It's best not to offer kibble while your pet is riding in the car (wait until you're at a rest area to feed your dog).
- Consider a special collar. A collar that contains pheromone spray may help ease the fear and anxiety your pet feels when traveling in a car.