On The Road Again … With Man’s Best Friend! We Chime In On Pet Restraints And Safety For You And Them.
Remember the old days when you’d see a mother holding her newborn baby on her lap as the family went off on a day trip? Thankfully those days are long gone.
While most of us – either by choice or by the threat of a fine – wear our seatbelts at all times. But what about our dogs (or cats)? Most people don’t even think about restraining their dogs when they’re in the car.
If you’re a dog-lover I know you take Fido everywhere you go – I take my dog with me every chance I get, to introduce him to new places and keep his mind stimulated. But if you’re going to take your dog along on long or even short trips around town, doing so safely is very important. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that these outings can spell danger for their four-legged friends. Maybe you’ve never even thought about it before now.
Pet travel restraint isn’t just about protecting your pets in the event of an accident – it protects them from a variety of other injuries as well. Consider also that proper pet travel restraints also protect you, your passengers, and everybody else on the road.
Regardless of your opinion about restraining your pet while travelling, please just give this article a read and hopefully I will point out something you haven’t considered, or ever been exposed to before.
If you think about it, the furry members of our family going without a restraint poses dangers to dogs and drivers alike. In the event of a sudden stop or crash, a dog can become a flying projectile that can injure you, crash through a windshield, or slam with a bone-breaking crunch into the dashboard (or seat back depending on what area of the car your pet rides)! You wouldn’t let your kids stand up on the back seat would you? Then why is it okay for your 36 kg Labrador? Or even your 1kg Chihuahua!
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve just been in an accident, and your pet is with you. Assuming your terrified and battered dog has survived the crash, what happens if a door flew open during or as a result of the crash? It may leap or be thrown into oncoming traffic, or run away and become lost in unfamiliar surroundings. People do the strangest things after an automobile accident – your dog could be just as unpredictable. Or what if you are injured and your beloved protector stands over you snapping as the emergency crew try to come to your aid?
Even worse, what if your kids – all nicely bucked in – watch in horror as Rover takes a swan-dive through the front window? Or slams into the back of your seat, or worse – hits a passenger in the car? Not only could they be scarred for life, but your now flying dog could become the flying object that seriously or fatally injures a human member of your family.
When I’m driving in the car or truck and my dog sees a dog or a squirrel on the road, his breathing gets heavier and he starts pacing around and generally acting like an idiot.
Just like a human, your dog should be restrained while traveling in a vehicle. We’ve all seen those moron’s that drive around with a Pomeranian or a Bichon Frisé sitting on their lap, between the steering wheel and the driver, or hanging out the side window while impairing the driver’s ability to drive or even see for that matter!
Besides that – don’t even get me started about the dangers to dogs while hanging out the window! They could slip and fall out into traffic, or they could get hit in the face or eye by a bug! Have you seen the impact at which bugs hit the windshield? Your dog could be blinded! Sure, they like the wind in their hair … but if your kids like hanging out the window would you let them? You have to think for your dog – so show some common sense!
Hopefully you’re now convinced of the importance of pet travel restraint, but what do you use? What’s best for your pet as well as you yourself – after all, if it’s a pain to use, you’ll stop using it if it’s too inconvenient won’t you? So what should you do? What are your options?
There are lots of great products out there, and sadly plenty of products that aren’t very good. It’s important that you get a proper pet travel restraint. As highlighted above, pet travel restraint isn’t just about preventing your pets from becoming projectiles in the event of a crash or sudden stop.
CRATE. To understand the best method of transporting our furry friends, we should look to the Police with their K9 units – they use crates. This is the best form of protection for the dog, passengers and in the event of an accident – the emergency crew. Simply throwing a crate in the car is not good enough though, be sure that your pet crate is securely strapped into the vehicle, or better yet – bolted down to keep it from shifting. It is important that the crate is properly tethered to the seat or cargo area. Bungee cords are better than nothing, but you should use ratchet-type strapping to really snug it down. The bigger the crate, the bigger and heavier the dog, the farther it will travel in a crash/sudden stop – no bungee cord will hold that.
Maybe one day manufacturers of pet crates will see fit to build features into their product to make transportation in vehicles safe and easy – for now, you have to use your imagination a bit to get your kennel strapped in well.
If you have a pickup truck or an SUV, a crate is a great option, but if you’ve got a small car and a big dog the crate will likely be too big for the back seat – in that case, a dog seat belt is your only alternative. My dog hates his crate, but he loves to lean up against the window with his seatbelt on, watching the world go by. Another instance that may prohibit you from using your dog crate in the car is if you have a wire/metal cage – again, a doggie seat belt would be a better option for owners of those types of crates. As for those with pickup trucks who won’t let their dog ride up front – it should be law that anyone putting a dog in the bed of a pickup truck MUST have it in crate – for the safety of the dog and everyone involved.
SEATBELT / HARNESS. Dogs, like children – should ride in the back seat whenever possible – well away from airbags. With many new cars offering front seat mounted air bags, remember they can maim or kill a dog. If your dog must ride in front, switch off the airbag, and make sure that his restraint doesn’t allow him to clamber into your lap.
Travel-specific Harnesses are designed specifically with auto-restraint in mind. Do not use a ‘general purpose’ harnesses designed for long walks or other uses. Always look for one that has been crash tested or tested to the forces that it claims to withstand.
There are a huge variety of different designs of dog restraint devices on the market today – from the most basic for the average size dog to booster seat versions for our tiny fur-kids. Thankfully most pet stores allow you to take your dog into the store where your dog can try the restraints on for function and size before you make the purchase – because fit is very important!
Be sure to educate yourself on the options – some restraints can be attached to your car’s seat belt, while some are simple straps that allow you to clip your dog’s harness to the seat belt. Some only limit a dog’s mobility in the car – preventing him from being thrown out or escaping after an accident, while others are designed to hold dogs securely in an accident.
Make sure you select a restraint that attaches to a harness, not your dog’s regular collar – otherwise you run the risk of serious injury your dog’s neck. With a harness and restraint, the dog can be attached to the rear cargo tie hooks in SUV’s, trucks and station wagons if a spare seat is not available.
An added bonus to strapping your dog is that it may actually calm him down while in the car. Our dog becomes very relaxed and enjoys the ride (and so do we) when he is strapped in.
NOTE: Some doggie seat belts severely restrict the dog’s movement in a car, and can sometimes become uncomfortable for the dog – so always check on your pet regularly during your trip to make sure it is not becoming stressed or tangled.
We went with a doggie seatbelt that is a harness – it has a wide, thickly padded strap that runs up and down from the lower neck to the mid belly, and wide straps around the body to spread the force across the chest and not across the armpits in the event of an accident or heavy braking. There’s a D ring for attaching the harness to a seatbelt using a strap purchased separately (or you can use this to attach your leash to when walking from the car to the house and so forth), or you can use the looped built-in seat-belt material strap to put the seat belt through and lock it in place. Once the vehicle’s seatbelt is connected through the dog seatbelt and fastened, he can move about comfortably. He can lie down or sit up with ease. (NOTE: Some doggie seat belts severely restrict the dog’s movement in a car, and can sometimes become uncomfortable for the dog – so always check on your pet regularly during your trip to make sure it is not becoming stressed or tangled.)
Always be sure to attach your pet’s ID and emergency information on a tag attached to your pet’s harness (Gail took this a bit farther than the regular ID tag – she assumed the worst and included information in case we were injured in a car accident and couldn’t speak for ourselves. She included an emergency contact name and numbers for family so that he could be taken home, and she included the name and number of his vet and our emergency vet. Beyond that, anytime we travel with our dog on vacation, we always made sure that we had a list of nearby veterinarians and emergency vet clinics with us – just in case – there are lots of options out there these days – tubes and pouches – something that will allow you to fold or roll up a piece of paper with current contact details – even information like the hotel or camp ground you’re staying at!).
Puppies and young dogs that might be tempted to chew on the seat belt or harness straps can be discouraged by applying a sour-tasting product such as Bitter Apple to the straps. This works for some dogs – but not all. If all else fails you may need to have your pet travel in a crate, and if your car is too small you may need to give in and buy a bigger vehicle! Another very important point to remember about puppies and young dogs is that they’re still growing and their bones are softer – your little ones are still much safer to ride in a crate rather than using a harness.
IMPORTANT NOTE: We’ve recently heard that seatbelts/harnesses aren’t a very good option. Our dog trainer told us that one of her clients actually had the dog go through the front window in a crash after the harness broke. Most recently we’ve learned that there is testing being done on harnesses, and they’re failing dismally!
Please be sure to check out this article and news clip
We’re currently re-thinking the seatbelt/harness option and will probably go with the crate in the very near future.
CARGO AREA BARRIERS.
These barriers can keep your dog out of the front seats but there are two big weaknesses;
1) Barriers that aren’t actually attached to the roof AND the floor of the car are very likely to pop off in the event of a crash, allowing your dog and the barrier to come flying into the back of your head, and
2) These barriers do not keep your dog inside the vehicle after a crash, or prevent your dog from escaping when you open the back door. (In Europe wagons and SUV’s MUST have the barrier attached to the roof and floor and in many countries the dog MUST travel in the rear compartment.)
Barriers are not as safe as crates or seat belts, and are designed to be used in station wagons, mini-vans, and SUV’s. The metal barriers are pressure mounted, and tend to be sturdier than the mesh ones that attach with straps. While they MAY protect human passengers from a flying dog in an accident, they don’t protect the dog from getting bounced around in the back of the vehicle. We would personally never use this method.
I shudder every time I see a dog walking about loose in the back of a pickup truck. There are really only two safe and effective means of restraining dogs riding in the open bed of a pickup truck;
1) an immobilized crate [with said dog inside it] or
2) a proper tethering system attached to a harness (attachment to a collar is neither safe or effective as dogs have been hung when they jump or are thrown from the back of the truck).
The best option is always INSIDE the truck. I have a pickup truck and built a shelf that straddles the rear seats so my dog has a place to sit/lay down. He’s safely inside the truck and he’s strapped in using a safety harness. I open the rear window for him to stick his head out and he’s a happy as a pig in mud.
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Dogs are safest in the car when they are in a sturdy crate that is securely fastened in place, or wearing a harness and a seatbelt in the back seat of the car. Owners should ALWAYS carry water and a leash, and make sure their best friends are wearing ID tags. And NEVER ever leave your dog in a parked car when it’s warm out … but that’s another article.
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We hope we’ve given you something to think about when travelling with your pet(s).
As always, be sure to do your own research and decide what you’re comfortable with for you and your family … because remember … this is about more than our four legged friends.
Iain Shankland & Gail Shankland started blogging in order to inspire and motivate people to travel the world from their perspective – specializing in having the most fun while using the least amount of money, travelling on the cheap without sacrificing comfort.
Copyright © 2013 Iain & Gail Shankland / TravelBloggers.ca (at) Gmail.com
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