If you have a dog, there will no doubt be occasions where you need to travel with them in the car, perhaps simply because you're going for a walk further afield, have a dreaded vet visit or even because you're off on holiday together.
Understandably you want to be sure your pooch is as happy as possible while keeping within the law. To explain everything you need to know, we caught up with Dog Behaviourist and Trainer Dogtor Adem Fehmi.
Can I travel with my dog in the car?
Absolutely! Just make sure that you correctly and safely secure your dog in your car. There are a range of products you can buy to assist with making the journey safe for both you and your dog, from dog guards if placing your dog in the boot of your car, to dog safety harnesses that act as a seat belt for your dog if they are placed on a seat. If you would like to learn about some of the different options available, check out Dog car safety harnesses and other ways to travel with your pooch.
What are the dog in car laws?
Rule 57 of The Highway Code states that your dog must be suitably restrained in your vehicle “so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly”. If you fail to restrain your dog, you not only put both them and you at risk, you also put other drivers at risk. Further to this, if a crash occurred as a result of your dog distracting you from driving safely this could be deemed as ‘careless and inconsiderate driving’ or ‘dangerous driving’ and further action could be taken against you including points on your license, a fine or even a disqualification.
Your insurance policy may also be invalid in this instance. For your dog to be restrained, they should be fully secured and not able to travel over the seats of your car or climb up to peer out of a window – even if the window is closed. It is best to consider securing and restraining your dog like you would a small child – it is much better to be safe than sorry!
Can dogs sit in the front seat of a car?
Whilst dogs are permitted by law to travel on the front seat of a car, I would recommend positioning your dog in either the boot or on the back seat of your car.
If you have children sat on the back seat, I would then advise always using the boot or, at minimum, an enclosed car safe pet carrier with sides that do not allow children and dogs to interact. This helps to ensure that you are able to stay focused on driving, that you do not become distracted, and everyone in the vehicle is safely contained and travelling in the safest way possible.
If you have to position your dog on the front seat for a particular reason, ensure they are not able to obstruct your access to your gearbox or other controls. You should also turn the passenger airbag off so that, in the case of an accident, your dog does become injured by the airbag inflating.
When should I not travel with my dog?
If your dog is anxious travelling in a vehicle I would recommend refraining from any non-essential trips with your dog until you have overcome this issue. A qualified Behaviourist will be able to assist with this issue. The more settled your dog is in the car, the less likely they are to move around and become unsafe and, in turn, the less likely you are to spend time worrying about them rather than concentrating on driving.
I would also advise not to travel by car in hot weather unless absolutely necessary. In this instance, I would also try to travel in a car that has adequate aircon and where your dog is able to be shaded from direct sunlight. Heatstroke can be fatal for your dog so remember to always plan ahead when possible and check the weather forecast. You might also want to consider leaving travel at least an hour or more after your dog has eaten, just in case your dog experiences sickness from the motion of the car.
What is the best way to transport my dog in the car?
There are a range of products on the market now for you to purchase. Just like a car seat for a child, choose the device that suits your individual dog as well as your individual car. You should consider not only your dog’s size but also their physical capabilities as a result of their breed or perhaps age. Think about whether this means your dog is most comfortable laying down or sat up and choose a device that works for both them and you.
Can I leave my dog alone in the car?
Although not against the law, it is best not to leave your dog alone in the car. This poses a risk of them being stolen and also poses the risk of them coming to harm should they overheat in warm weather. Should your dog become unwell or die as a result of being left alone in a car you could also face prosecution and be charged with animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Even with the windows partially down, in warm weather, a car can rise to dangerous temperatures in a very short space of time. It is simply not worth the risk!
How can I make travel more comfortable for my dog in the car?
As previously mentioned, consider your dog’s needs and purchase a car safety device to meets these needs. If using a harness type ‘seat belt’ for your dog, ensure it is properly fitted, that it is not too tight, and does not cut or dig uncomfortably into your dog. If you’re using a crate or carry case style device, ensure it is large enough for your dog to reside in. Similarly, if your dog is secured in the boot of your car, ensure that the boot is spacious enough for them – width, depth and height.
With some safety devices, or if your dog is travelling in the boot of your car, you can also add bedding to ensure your dog is able to reside comfortably. A large puffy bed is unlikely to be practical and may not be safe but consider using a dog blanket or travel mat or bed. There are some great designs on the market now that are both practical and stylish! If you’re going on a journey where your dog may get wet, you may want to consider bedding that draws and absorbs the water away from your dog and is easily washable. In this instance, vet bed style bedding can be useful.
Finally, think about the weather and use window shades to keep your dog both cool and out of direct sunlight. These are fairly inexpensive to buy, or you can fashion your own out of a piece of cloth if necessary. You can also use a dog cool mat in the car to provide extra comfort if necessary.
What else should I know?
As with most things in life, preparation is the key when travelling with your dog! Try to always plan ahead. Take water and a suitable bowl with you on journeys, no matter how small - you never know when you might get stuck in a traffic jam or break down! You can get collapsible bowls as well as specially designed ‘dog water bottles’ that allow your dog to drink straight from the bottle. Ensure you offer your chosen bowl or water bottle at home first and that your dog is comfortable drinking from it before attempting to use it when out and about. It might seem overcautious to practice at home first, but you don’t want to be in a situation where your dog is thirsty but doesn’t understand how to drink from the item you are offering.
If you’re going on a longer journey, it is important to schedule regular breaks where your dog can stretch their legs and go to the toilet. Remember that whilst some service stations will have a patch of grass your dog can toilet on, not all will, which may pose a problem if your dog is unwilling to go to the toilet on a path or concrete area. Where possible, do your research and plan the best ‘ dog-friendly stops’ to visit along the way to ensure that your dog remains comfortable on your journey.