Driving with dogs: Laws and Legal Requirements in Ireland

We take a look at what dog owners need to do to keep their pets safe in the car.

For dog-lovers, there are few happier sights than seeing a dog gleefully bounding along the beach or snuffling around excitedly in the woods. Unless you live within walking distance of a quiet beach or a patch of woodland though, chances are, if you want to take your dog exploring, they’re going to have to come with you in the car, and that presents its own set of challenges.

Ahead of International Dog Day (August 26), we’re taking a look at what the law says in Ireland about carrying dogs in a car and the best ways to keep your furry friends safe on board.

What does the law say?

Having reached out to the Road Safety Authority for clarification on the rules surrounding the carrying of pets in cars, they confirmed that there aren’t any specific laws pertaining to the subject in Ireland and that, provided you’re not otherwise driving dangerously as a result of a loose animal in the car, it’s not illegal for a dog to be unrestrained. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s a good idea — it’s really not — and the RSA did lay out some hints and pointers on how to keep both you and your dog safe while travelling in a car.

How to keep your dog safe in the car

A dog who is either excited or distressed by travelling in a car can be very distracting to a driver, which poses obvious risks from a safety perspective, especially if they are loose in the cabin. In the event of an accident at 50km/h, a 25kg Labrador - roughly the same weight as an average six-year-old child - could be thrown forward with a force equivalent to more than 600kg, highlighting the very real need to keep animals restrained.

For bigger dogs, a safety harness is a good and inexpensive bet. A correctly sized harness will fit around the dog’s chest and back and attach to a seatbelt or even fit into a seatbelt slot. This will allow the dog some limited freedom to move, but won’t allow them to reach the driver and will prevent them from being thrown forward in a crash.

Smaller dogs such as chihuahuas, terriers and the like are best kept in an appropriately sized pet carrier in which they’re not too cramped. It’s important though to ensure that the pet carrier itself is secured (by a seatbelt) so that it doesn’t move around in transit or fly forward in the event of an accident. It’s also unwise to ever put an occupied pet carrier in the boot of a saloon car as it can cause the animal to suffocate.

For those with estate cars or bigger SUVs, a metal grille separating the boot from the rest of the cabin can be a good option as it may give the dog more space to move around as well as providing protection for the human occupants in the event of a crash. It’s still important, however, to keep the dog suitably restrained with a harness so that under sudden braking or in a crash, they don’t get thrown in such a way as to cause injury.

Not to be a killjoy, but letting your dog travel in the car with their head out the window is a bad idea as they can get dust, dirt and other irritants in their eyes and nose as well as potentially being killed or injured by oncoming traffic, roadside objects or falling out. It’s still a good idea to give a dog plenty of ventilation through an open window, but just make sure that they’re sufficiently restrained that they can’t fully stick their head out.

In a similar vein, it’s never a good idea to leave a dog alone in a car. In warm weather, they can potentially die from the heat and, even in less extreme circumstances, can easily become dehydrated. Dogs who are left alone in a car can also become anxious and stressed, which, while unpleasant for them, can also be unpleasant for an owner who comes back to find that the dog has made a mess or begun biting or scratching at the interior of the car.

If you’re travelling longer distances with a dog in the car, be sure to bring a bowl and an adequate supply of water and take regular breaks from driving to allow the dog to get out, move around, have a drink and go to the toilet.