Did you know it is a legal requirement to ensure your pet dog is suitably restrained whilst you are driving?
Many of us travel in a car with our dogs, some frequently and others more rarely. Just like we ensure all human passengers are strapped in safely for every journey we need to make sure the same is true for our dogs.
A much-loved part of the family, we need to be confident that we are protecting our dogs as much as possible and, furthermore, by securing our dog safely in the car, we are also ensuring that they do not become a flying object that might cause harm to other passengers in the event of a crash.
A good device will also secure your dog so that they are not able to climb and clamber around your car whilst you drive, which can be distracting and, in the worst-case scenario, can cause you to crash your car and endanger everyone.
Dog travelling tips
Acclimatise your dog to your vehicle
First things first, ensure your dog is confident and happy travelling in your car. Whether you ask your dog to jump into the car, pick them up or even use a ramp, ensure that you build up to this slowly and reward your dog for completing the action calmly. Remember, travelling in a car is not ‘natural’ for a dog and so we must teach them slowly that it is nothing to be fearful of. Once your dog has mastered getting into the car, practice securing them safely in or with your chosen device (more on how to do this shortly), turning the engine on and then perhaps also the radio. Calming music on the radio can be useful at this stage.
Practice this in stages and allow your dog to get used to each part of the routine before introducing the next. Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can then commence taking short journeys, building up to longer journeys over time. Some dogs will take to travelling in a car quickly whilst others may need more time to build their confidence. Remember to work at your dog’s pace and reward the progress they make with a tasty treat.
The safest way for your dog to ride in your car
To begin, it is important to consider where you will position your dog in the car. In most cases the back seat or boot of your car is the safest place for your dog to be positioned, however, it is important to consider your individual car, the needs of other passengers, and of course your dog’s needs.
If possible, it is best to seat children and dogs away from each other and to have your dog in a position where they are not likely to distract you from driving. It is also best to position your dog somewhere that they cannot stick their head out of an open window. Although this might look like fun for your dog, debris can easily fly into their eyes and cause a nasty injury or infection. In the event of an accident, there is also no barrier between your dog and the outside world and the things that might be hurtling towards them!
Once you have chosen which seat or section of the car your dog should sit in, next you need to consider how best to secure your dog in this chosen position.
Dog car safety harness
How does a dog car safety harness work?
Dog car safety harnesses items work much like a seat belt for a human. Dogs do not have the same body shape as us of course and so they are designed to fit securely around your dog’s chest and legs to strap them safely and comfortably into the car.
What should I look for in a dog safety harness?
A good harness will ensure that in the event of an accident the harness will stop the dog from travelling forwards or across the vehicle and will distribute the weight of the dog evenly across the straps so that they do not 'cut into’ your dog.
How can I make sure the dog car safety harness fits?
It is important to ensure that the harness you choose is suitable for the breed and size of your dog and fits correctly. You do not want your dog to be able to wriggle out of the harness as you drive but you of course do not want it so tight that it is uncomfortable for your dog to wear. Always follow the manufacturer’s advice and refer to your own car manual if necessary. To use a dog car safety harness your dog must be positioned on one of the seats of your car rather than in the boot.
How to introduce a dog car safety harness to your pooch
It is important to note that a dog car safety harness may be better suited to a calmer dog who is used to travelling. As with all tools that you use, it is important to positively introduce the harness slowly and with positive reinforcement of calm and accepting behaviour. You want to make the wearing of the harness a positive experience, not one to be feared.
You could start by simply letting your dog interact and sniff the harness, progressing onto laying it gently on their back so they get used to the weight and feel of it, before building up to your dog wearing the harness unclipped. The final step of your introduction would then be to clip the harness securely around your dog but don’t rush this process. It is much better to take your training and the introduction slower than is necessary than have to try and rehabilitate a dog who is worried because they didn’t feel ready.
You may also want to teach your dog to step into the harness. Again, use tasty treats to reward calm, accepting and confident behaviour as this will help your dog to associate the harness with good things and form a positive association. This process is best carried out away from your car initially in a setting that your dog feels comfortable in. Once you are confident that your dog is happy wearing the harness you can then progress to using it in the car on short trips before then building up to longer trips.
The best dog car safety harnesses to buy
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Dog car safety harness
Crash tested for dogs up to 34 kg, offering you extra peace of mind, this harness has five adjustment points for customisable fit on dogs of all shapes and sizes. It includes a dog tether for the car and a broad, padded chest plate for extra protection.
Available in lots of gorgeous colours and four different sizes, this harness has four adjustable straps around the body to create the perfect fit for your dog. It's both a car harness and a walking harness and has a chest attachment clip to stop your dog from pulling on a walk.
Another dog harness that has been crash tested, passed and certified, the EzyDog is equipped with double stainless steel d-rings to escort your pup to and from your car. The harness can easily be taken on and off too using the Mag-Lok Instant Fit closure system.
This lightweight, versatile harness is great for in-car safety as well as activities outdoors thanks to the leash attachment. Neck and chest adjustments ensure a comfortable and secure fit and the vehicle seat belt tether ensures they stay in one spot.
This dog car harness from Halfords can be quickly secured by attaching it to your cars seat belt. It's completely adjustable to fit comfortably around your pet.
Made from safety-standard seat-belt material, this dog car seat belt is extremely heavy duty and secure. Made with comfortable, padded material, it features a unique 'X-Cross' design for strength and security. Unfortunately, it is not suitable for Volvo or Saab cars.
Other ways to secure your dog
As well as a dog car safety harness, there are plenty of other options you may want to consider too.
Due to their size and shape, these are best situated in the boot of your car. A dog crate can also be a good choice for longer journeys as they allow your dog to be able to stretch out and relax. Some are also crash-tested so it is worth doing your research into the various types available if this is your chosen method of securing your dog in the car.
A dog crate can also be a useful choice if you are travelling via a van or truck and some can be tailor-made and secured directly to your vehicle with a ‘lockable’ front or opening. In this instance, these also prove a great choice if you want to be able to pop your dog away but leave your vehicle open for ventilation.
If your dog is not used to using a crate you may also need to introduce this item slowly and build up their confidence being in this type of space.
Carry case or box
These are often small and feel more enclosed. Due to their design, they often obscure a dog’s view of the outside and provide a shaded environment. As a result can be useful for first trips home with a young puppy or can be useful with more anxious dogs who are smaller in size.
If you are using one of these it is important to consider how you are securing the case or box in the car. As with all options, it is important that it is not able to slide across the seat of your car or move off the seat if you have to hit the brakes for an emergency stop or if your car is involved in a crash. You should look to introduce this type of device in a similar way to how you might introduce a crate. Before using a carry case or box for the first time you could also consider having it in the house for a while as a comfortable bed area for your dog to enjoy so they feel more comfortable travelling in it outside of the home.
These are exactly as they sound – a large ‘hammock’ type device, predominantly made of fabric, that allows your dog to lay down and stretch out across the back seats of your car. A dog hammock creates a secure cavity, much like the boot of your car, but with the added benefit of soft ‘walls’. They also allow you to use your boot for storage still. They are accessed by your dog via the passenger door of your car and so older or less mobile dogs may find it easier to jump in as the access route is often much lower than the boot opening. If you have to lift your dog into the car, this may also be an easier option and easier on your back.
Dog hammocks are fitted via the headrests of the front and back seats of your car, hanging off of the headrests via straps. They typically span the whole width of your car and this means they are often not suitable if you intend to have human passengers in the back of your car also. If choosing this option, make sure you look for a dog hammock that allows your dog to be clipped or strapped in via a harness type device so that your dog is fully secured.
These devices fill the gap between the top of your back seats and the roof of your car, providing a barrier. These allow your dog to relax in your car boot and stop them from being able to climb over the back seats. They also help to prevent your dog from becoming a flying missile and moving through the gap above the back seats in the event of an accident. These devices can be useful if you have a dog that is larger in size that requires the full space of the boot to stretch out in or if you have more than one medium-sized dog travelling at the same time. With this device, it is best to bear in mind that your dog is safe from moving forwards and onto other passengers in the car but they are not fully secured themselves in the cavity of the boot.
Adem Fehmi is a Dog Behaviourist & Trainer.