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Automobile Safety for Dogs

Read tips on how to keep your dog safe in the car.

Automobile Safety for Dogs

We've all seen dogs hanging their heads out car windows or riding in the backs of pickup trucks. Dogs that travel that way are at risk of serious injury or even death. Dust and other airborne debris traveling at the speed of a moving vehicle can cause serious damage to eyes and ears. Worse, dogs sometimes jump from a window or truck bed. If they luck out and land safely, they still may be struck by another vehicle, or run and become lost. Many dogs are killed or badly injured this way every year. We practice auto safety for our children and ourselves. Our dogs deserve as much.

The safest way for a dog to travel is in a secure crate. If you are involved in an accident, your pup is much safer in a crate than loose or even in a safety harness. The crate, especially a plastic airline crate, will protect your dog from injuries on impact and keep the dog secure in the aftermath. More than one dog has survived a car accident and then been killed on the road when he slips out an open car door. If you are injured in an accident, emergency personnel won't have to worry about getting past your dog to help you if he's crated.


Never let your dog ride in the front seat of a vehicle with air bags. Dogs, like small children, can be killed or injured by deploying air bags.

A doggy seatbelt—a harness arrangement that fastens to the car's seatbelt—is a reasonably good alternative to a crate, although it won't provide as much protection.

Before you decide to take your dog along on a trip, whether it's a 20-minute errand or a 2-week vacation, be sure that he can go with you when you leave the car. In only a few minutes, the temperature in a closed car can rise high enough to kill your dog or cause permanent damage, even with the windows partially open. Try sitting in a closed car with the window just cracked. If you're uncomfortable, your dog will be more so because he isn't as efficient as a human being at cooling himself. Hyperthermia, or overheating, can be fatal. If you won't be able to take your dog out of the car with you, leave him at home.

Chew on This

When the outside temperature is 78°F, a closed car will reach 90°F in 5 minutes, and 110°F in 25 minutes. Even a few minutes in a hot car can kill your dog or cause irreversible damage.

Not all dogs enjoy car rides. Some are so afraid of the car that they drool, shake, or vomit. Sometimes the car itself frightens the dog—the noise, motion, and vibration take some getting used to. Some dogs are afraid of the car because they only ever ride in it to go to the vet! (How would you like the car if you only used it to go to the dentist?) Let's see how you can help your dog get past his fear.

Make the car itself a pleasant place. Sit in the car with your dog for short periods without the car running. Give her a few treats (or feed her a regular meal), pet her, talk to her, and then quit. Don't make a big fuss, pet, or play with her when you get out—you want the car to be nicer than getting away from the car. Do this every day for a few days if necessary. When she seems comfortable with being in the car, repeat the procedure with her in her crate or seat belt. When she's relaxed about that, do the same thing with the car running. Don't go anywhere yet, just let her get used to the noise, vibration, and smell of a running car. Then move on to very short trips—maybe around the block. Once you start driving with her, begin to play with her when you stop so that she learns that the car is a magic carpet to good things. Slowly increase the length of the trips. Take her to fun places—a park for a walk, maybe out for an ice cream cone. Most dogs quickly decide that going in the car is great fun and are disappointed when they can't go.

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