Dog Pause
By Marilyn Wilson

Do you take your dog out for car rides? So many dog parents do. I just came back from a 20 minute trip into town to pick up mail and a few supplies and decided to count the number of cars that had dog passengers.

Surprisingly, more than 2/3 of the cars I happened to see had dogs in them. There may very well have been more – smaller dogs, or dogs lying down – that I may not have spotted. Admittedly this was not a scientific study of any sort – just interesting.

Quite a few of the passenger dogs I noticed were in parked cars. It was pretty warm out and all of the parked cars, with dogs in them, had the windows open – some well trained dogs live in my little town. The pooches I saw were either sitting patiently in the front seat – some behind the wheel – or hanging their heads out windows staring intently in the directions dog parents went. Some dogs were loose in the beds of pick-up trucks – a definite no-no for oh so many reasons.

All of the dogs I saw were unrestrained – loose in the car.

My friend Nancy always drove around with her dogs loose in her Jeep. One day Nancy was involved in a little fender bender – not much damage to her car but her sweet, white, pit bull Neeko, who was sitting in the front seat, smashed her head into the windshield shattering it. Neeko had a big lump on her evidently hard head as she seemed none the worst for wear. 

Nancy must have a hard head too because she continued to drive around with unrestrained dogs. As a passenger I constantly pushed this dog or that dog off my neck, shoulder, or lap as they forced their way up into the front seat. “Nancy,” I said, “Why don’t you get some crates and put these dogs up before we all die on the highway?”

Nancy always had a reason not crate K9 passengers. “They really like to look out the windows.” “I like them right next to me. I can pet them and talk to them.” “They’re really well behaved and don’t usually jump around.” 

Nancy now crates her dogs. I bet you think I’m going to tell you a tale of some driving tragedy that befell Nancy and her dogs that changed her mind about unrestrained dog passengers.  Nope!

One day, I met Nancy at a state park to conduct some search and rescue training. My dog was in her crate, in my vehicle, awaiting her turn in the woods. Nancy had Jazz, her veteran SAR K9 and Chief, a big, young German shepherd dog, who was a SAR K9-in-training. 

Jazz was first up for a mock search. As Jazz exited the Jeep, Chief expressed his displeasure at being left behind. He began biting frantically on the edges of the partially rolled down windows, howling, jumping all around the inside of the rocking Jeep. “He’ll settle down when we get out of sight,” the ever optimistic Nancy assured me.

We were gone on the mock search for about an hour. Jazz found her ‘victim’, brought us to him, and a big dog congratulation party was had by all. Time to go back to the parking lot and get Chief.

As we neared the Jeep we could see Chief looking out the side window, wagging away and ever so glad to realize we hadn’t deserted him for eternity. I was glad to see that he hadn’t eaten the windows.

Nancy opened the Jeep door and Chief tumbled out along with shards of cloth, stuffing, plastic, leather, carpeting, rubber and what looked like part of a seatbelt. The Jeep was destroyed. 

The next time I saw Nancy I noticed that most of the interior of her Jeep was refurbished with silver duct tape and Chief was in a nice big crate strapped down securely in the rear of the vehicle. I didn’t say a word.

Did you know that even in an accident of only 30 mph, a 15-pound dog can cause an impact of more than 675 pounds? A 60-pound dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, a windshield, or another passenger.

While most of us, spurred by safety concerns and government regulations, wear seat belts as a matter of course, we don’t always think about restraining our dogs when they’re our passengers. But going without a restraint poses dangers to dogs and drivers alike. In the event of a sudden stop or accident, a dog can become a flying projectile that can injure you, your passengers or be thrown through the windshield and seriously injured. Accidents do happen – everyday. 

Unrestrained dogs can also distract the driver, and cause an accident. Even dog that are normally well behaved can be frightened by something unusual and dive for the driver’s feet or lap. Following a car accident, an unrestrained dog could escape and be hit by another vehicle, become lost or cause another collision. A frightened or injured dog may attack strangers who are trying to help.

There are many ways to provide a car safe environment for your dog. I like crates. My dogs often get muddied up on hikes, and they can be a tad protective of the vehicle. The crate keeps them from mucking up the car and quells their desire to keep the bad guys away from the vehicle. Crate accessories include – crate beds, cooling mats, crate fans, straps to secure crates and sheets to cover them. My dogs feel very safe and comfortable in their crates and usually curl up and go to sleep in anticipation of a nice hike or outing.

But crates are my choice for my particular situation. I like the back seat Hammock too. It keeps the car upholstery clean and teamed up with a quality car seat dog harness, it’s a nice system – providing safety, cleanliness, while allowing your dog to look around. This works fine if your dog is well behaved and not anxious about the outside world.

Small dog passenger safety solutions include seats with harness restraints. These look almost like baby car seats. You can fit these seats right next to you and enjoy your dog’s company while keeping him safe.

Watch the roads, stay safe.