Last updated on February 10, 2015
Every so often I see a dog riding in the car with its head out a back window or even worse, being held so it doesn’t jump out the front window. Knowing how dangerous these things are, I’ve been meaning to write an article about car safety for some time now. But after learning of two incidents this week involving people I know I now feel it’s my responsibility. Each of these situations resulted in the dogs being hit by cars. One only suffered from a case of shock, but sadly the other wasn’t so lucky. Car safety for your dog is so important.
It’s not only important but our responsibility that we make every effort to be sure our dogs are always safe. Of course, accidents do happen and though it is an overused cliché that’s why we call them accidents. In the event that your dog does get away from you and is in danger the worst thing you can do is panic. If you are frantic and give chase your dog will also become upset and be more likely to run away from you. You need to stay calm and inviting. This will give you the best chance of having the dog come back to you.
The best thing you can do is take some treats and follow the dog SLOWLY. See where it’s going and try to give it an exaggerated “sit” hand signal.
Approach the dog calmly, talk nicely and happily praise it while giving it a treat as you leash it before it runs away. Remember not to act even slightly disappointed or punish your dog. Its coming to you is good no matter what.
Although I don’t recommend having a leash on your dog while driving, especially on a collar of any type, I do suggest you have your dog on leash while getting in and out of the car and keep it on until the door is safely closed. The first, and maybe most important part of car safety, should include some lessons on teaching the dog to wait in the back or passenger seat before getting in and out of the car. The dog should never be allowed on the driver’s seat, which is also the side that is typically closest to traffic, so only allow it to enter from the passenger side or better yet, the rear door.
It’s also critical that the dog always wait before getting out of the car. This is something that needs to be taught and should be practiced over and over inside your garage or a fenced area if one is available. Practice in a safe area, when the car isn’t moving, and then park in different areas to condition the dog to different stimuli and situations.
Dogs should never be allowed to roam free in the car and certainly shouldn’t be anywhere close to the driver’s compartment. Even the smallest of dogs can put sudden pressure on your arms or legs and cause you to inadvertently brake, accelerate or steer into traffic. The dog should also never be attached to a collar as it could break its neck or be choked during an accident or panic stop if the leash became entangled in the gears, levers or even the seat rests. Also, keep the dog away from a seat with an active airbag. When activated, air bags can literally propel a dog through a window and will break the neck of all but the largest of breeds.
The safest way for the dog to ride is in a crate. The next best solution is using a specially designed car harness like the SASHA harness. These, and other brands, are available in most pet stores and work by attaching to the car’s safety belt so the dog is secure in its seat. Not only will your dog be safer in the event of an accident but also a crate or pet seat belt will keep the dog from interfering or distracting you while driving. A crate or proper restraint will also keep a protective dog from preventing emergency personnel from getting you out of your car after an accident.
We all know how much most dogs love putting their head out the window when we’re driving. But to keep your dog safe the window should not be open more than an inch or two. Not only does this prevent them from jumping out but also prevent flying rocks, bugs and dust that are a huge irritation to the dog’s eyes and respiratory system.
Dogs cannot be left in a car in a remotely warm climate, even for a few minutes with the windows open. A dog’s cooling system is very different than a human’s. While dogs do sweat from the pads on their feet, panting is their primary method of cooling and it’s impossible for dogs to cool themselves in warm air. Car temperatures rise dramatically when the car is parked – even in the shade with the windows open.
The temperature in a car will rise about 20 degrees in almost no time so the maximum temperature you should even consider leaving your dog in the car is about 70 degrees in the shade. The damage done by heat stroke is far reaching and can be significant long after the signs of panting and an over heated dog are gone. The bottom line is don’t leave your dog in the car in a warm environment. Parking garages aren’t good solutions either given the proliferation of exhaust fumes.
It’s great to bring your dog with you on the right trip and to the right places but it’s not a good idea if you don’t plan ahead. It only takes a moment for a fun outing with your dog to turn in to a tragic situation. But with a little forethought and training the car can be a fun and safe place for both you and your dog. So like the line from the old TV show goes, “Let’s be careful out there.”
Expert trainer and behaviorist Jonathan Klein is the owner of the award-winning, Los Angeles-based boarding and training facility “I Said Sit!” School for Dogs. A pioneer in the causative approach to training, in which behavioral problems are solved by removing the cause rather than punishing the dog for the symptoms, Klein also offers up training tips on his website The Dog Behavior Expert.