How to drive safely with dogs on board
They’re some of our most treasured family companions, but are you taking unnecessary safety risks when transporting your dogs in your car? Do you know the dos and don’ts of putting your pooch in your vehicle? Here’s our rundown on the key facts…
- Restrain them properly
If they’re in the boot of a large estate car or an SUV, it’s best to put a dog guard up between the back seats and the cargo area. This is normally a net device and a lot of cars actually feature them as integrated parts of the luggage cover that affix into the roof-lining of the vehicle, but you can buy aftermarket guards if needs be. There are also cages that you can put in the boot of the car to safely house dogs in, which might seem cruel, but these further protect the dog if you have to brake suddenly or (heaven forbid) you’re involved in an accident. However, if they are going in the boot without a cage, try and pad out the cargo area for them with blankets, towels and maybe their own beds (if they are soft beds) so that they’re nice and comfortable in there.
If the dog is travelling in the main passenger compartment of the car, they must have a harness on. This fits around their front legs and torso and has a loop in it through which a three-point seatbelt can be hooked and then secured. These harnesses come in all sizes, to suit all types of dog. Without a harness, it’s not just the poor dog that might be injured in the event of sudden braking or an accident; imagine being hit in the back of the head by 45kg of flying Dobermann…
- Make sure your car’s big enough
For reasons we still can’t fathom, Ireland does not like the estate car, but you are not going to comfortably fit two large Labradoodles into the boot of a Volkswagen Golf hatchback. Ideally, either an estate or a crossover/SUV of a large-ish size will be needed if you have a big dog or multiple big dogs; smaller pooches can perhaps go in smaller cars, but only if you follow tip number one above.
- Take lots of water with you
Dogs get hot in cars. Therefore, make sure you have some sort of drinking receptacle for them (their own drinking dish, or a cheap bowl or plastic tub as a substitute) and some large bottles of cool, clean water. Let them have a drink on regular occasions on long journeys, stopping regularly at the side of the road in a safe manner (i.e., in a lay-by or pull-in or similar) in order to do so. Best not to let the dogs drink while you’re on the move, though…
- Open the windows
Even if it’s cold. Sorry, but dogs are covered in thick, insulating fur (in the main) and they can’t sweat like us, so the only way they can cool down is to pant. You’ll prevent them doing this if you crack the windows a bit, especially in the back of five-door machines (we’re assuming you’ve not crammed your dog into the pitch-black boot of a four-door saloon, otherwise you really shouldn’t be reading this), but only open the windows narrowly. The airflow of the car moving will be enough to funnel cooling air to the dog(s) in the back, keeping them much happier. Top tip: stop that awful helicoptering, thudding noise you get when you open just the back two windows in a five-door vehicle by cracking one of the front windows too.
- Use sun blinds
Those transportable sun blinds you can buy from stores, with the rubber suckers on them? Mainly designed for kids? They’ll work for dogs too. Unless your wagon, hatch or SUV has heavily tinted rear windows (which’ll be illegal if it’s the rear windscreen you’ve tinted), then on hot days sunlight is going to stream into the car through the glass and that will heat the poor hounds up quicker than you’d imagine. Stick a couple of sun blinds on the side-rear windows of the load area (but not the rear windscreen, please) and they’ll be fine.
- Never, ever leave your dog in a hot, parked car
Goes without saying, this one, if you’re a conscientious dog owner, but it’s just plain cruelty to park the car up in even warm weather, seal all the windows and leave your poor dog in the back of it while you toddle off to have some fun elsewhere for an hour or two. The dog will, at the least, suffer from heatstroke and at worst will die.
- Stop regularly on long journeys
Let the dog(s) out of the boot or the back seat, so they can stretch their legs and go to the toilet. Beyond whining and whimpering a bit more than normal, they aren’t capable of telling you when they need to go number one or number two, like children are, so it’s up to you to take responsibility and let your dog out regularly for comfort breaks.
- Be aware of motion sickness
Younger dogs suffer from this more than older ones, but it can affect all dogs. Unless you’re a sadist, don’t drive fast with your dogs in the car. Be smooth when accelerating, cornering and braking, and not only will they not get thrown about the luggage compartment as a result, they are also less likely to yack up all over your car’s boot carpet. Once they’re in the car, give ‘em a good fuss to show them you love them, then try and get them to lie down – they’ll be more relaxed and they’ll also be less likely to be thrown about by the gravitational forces exerted on the car during driving.
- Don’t let your dog hang its head out of the window
Would you let your child do this? Into a stream of oncoming traffic, which might have a wide-load lorry or vehicle with wide door mirrors on it? No? Right, so why let the dog do it? Yes, the dogs themselves clearly love this activity but plenty of vets have had to treat dogs who have had their heads hanging out of windows of cars and been hit by vehicles travelling in the opposite direction. And if the results aren’t fatal for the dog, they will certainly not be pretty. Avoid it.
- Switch off airbags
If you’re putting your dog(s) into a harness(es) and then you’re making them sit on the front seat of the car, move the seat right back and deactivate the passenger airbag. Most cars that have a passenger airbag will have a key-slot somewhere to deactivate it. An airbag is, in the event of an accident that triggers it, designed to cushion a person, which (even when considering the biggest dogs) is larger and heavier than a canine. To that end, the force of the airbag deploying will most likely harm a dog more than it protects it, so if you’re going to get your pet to sit near one, it’s best to have it switched off.