By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
There are an estimated six million car accidents in the United States every year. We all know that our dogs are precious cargo, so we must be mindful of the necessary automobile safety precautions one must consider before putting the pedal to the metal.
Acclimate Your Dog to the Car
If your dog is not accustomed to car rides, you need to introduce him to the experience before it’s time to hit the road. It is a good idea to go through this process with any new dog or puppy. Car anxiety is stressful and messy for everyone involved. It is best to sidestep this problem early in your dog’s life so any time you need to take him in the car he’ll be ready.
Start by getting in the car with your dog and just sitting in the driveway with the engine off. Make it clear that this is not play time, and that sitting still or lying down are the only options. Talk quietly to your dog and maintain a calm, assertive demeanor. If you behave as if being in the car is normal and no big deal, your dog will take the cue and be more relaxed. Do this several times before you even think about turning on the engine.
Once your dog is comfortable sitting in the car, park in a well ventilated spot (absolutely not in the garage) and sit quietly with your dog with the engine running. The noise and vibration might confuse or frighten him at first, but as long as you remain relaxed, he should do fine. Hang out in the car with him several times, until he is completely relaxed and will sit or lay still.
Next, take your dog for several short rides. Just around the block is enough for him to get a feel for the movement of the car. It is a good idea to have someone else in the car for this part of training, just in case your dog gets nervous or feels carsick. After you feel that your dog is accustomed to the movement, try some longer drives. Make sure your destination is someplace fun like the dog park or a friend’s house that your dog is used to. This ensures a positive association with car rides. Allowing your dog to acclimate to the car while taking him to the vet may seem like killing two birds with one stone, but it’s a bad idea.
These trips are a good time to get your dog accustomed to whatever manner of containment you’ve chosen for car rides. The safest place for your dog to be in the car is in a crate. If he is crate trained, this is an excellent option. If not, however, wait till he is completely comfortable in the crate to try to crate him in the car. Introducing too many new things at one time to your puppy or new dog only sets back training. If your dog is not crate trained, your options include car harnesses and barriers. Some harnesses are made to attach to a standard seatbelt. This will make sure your dog stays put and can’t cause an accident, and will restrain him in the event of an accident. You can also purchase the Auto Zip Line, which is easy to install in the backseat of your car and keeps your dog safe and restrained, while still allowing range of motion. There are many barriers on the market that don’t restrain your dog, but keep him in the back so he can’t decide to jump in your lap as you cruise down the road.
The following are precautions that you must consider every time you take your dog in the car. There are really no exceptions to these rules.
Restrain That Dog-
In the event of an accident, your dog will not be safe unless he is properly restrained. The safest place for a dog in a car is a plastic, airline-style carrier. These carriers are made for distance travel for dogs and are your dog’s best bet for survival in an extreme car crash. Furthermore, if you get in an accident and are injured or incapacitated, your dog will have to stay put and won’t be able to run out in the road if he is in a carrier. This will protect your dog and make it easier for emergency personnel to handle him if you cannot. Other methods of restraining your dog include car harnesses and car seats, which will also protect your dog in the event of an accident and will keep him from causing an accident as well, and vehicle barriers, which relegate your dog to the rear, cargo area of the car.
Leash On, then Doors Open-
On a similar note to restraint in the car, you should be prepared to always have your dog restrained before getting out of the car. Clip on your dog’s leash before anyone opens their car door. It is just too easy for a dog to slip out of the car and dart into a busy roadway, don’t take the chance—always leash first.
Always Collar and Tags-
Anywhere you go with your dog, make sure he’s wearing a sturdy collar with an ID tag and rabies tag. If your dog gets lost, you want to know that whoever finds him will be able to contact you. In this age of desperately over-crowded shelters, many shelters will only keep a dog for three days before euthanizing. A collar and an ID tag are a very simple way to say “this dog has a safe and loving home, please contact me so I can have my beloved friend back.”
Never Alone In The Car-
It is never acceptable to leave your dog alone in a car. In pleasant, 78°F weather, a car’s interior can reach 90°F in as little as five minutes. If it is 70°F outside, in 30 minutes your car’s interior temperature can reach 120°F. On a hot day, a car is little more than an oven, and thus a death sentence for your dog. Never leave your dog unattended in a car!
No Head Out the Window-
As much as your dog might enjoy the sensation of hanging his head out the window as you drive down the road, it is not safe. All manner of injuries can occur from flying debris and bugs coming at your dog at highway speeds. Also, never let your dog ride in the back of a pickup truck. The same health hazards apply, and it is an extremely dangerous place for your dog to be in the event of an accident. In the back of a truck your dog is also subject to all the pollutants and carcinogens present in car emissions. If you absolutely must make your dog ride in the back of a truck, be sure he is safely restrained with a Truck Tether or in a travel crate or dog box.
No Front Seat if You Have Air Bags-
Just as with small children, dogs should never ride in the front seat if you have air bags. Air bags are calibrated to protect average-sized adults wearing seat belts and sitting a certain distance from the dash. Dogs and children do not fit these parameters and can be seriously injured or even killed by a deploying air bag.
Even if you are just running out for a quick trip, you should always be prepared for unfortunate circumstances, keep the following items in your car just in case.
-Portable water bowl
-Clean up bags
-First aid kit
One way car anxiety can develop is if your dog is forced to ride for long periods of time without the chance to stretch or go potty. Stopping every two hours for a nice stretch and a potty break will keep your dog comfortable and confident that he won’t be confined in the car forever.