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Canine car safety
By Carina Norris

Dogs in cars can be a danger both to themselves and their fellow passengers.

If you make a sudden emergency stop, or are involved in a crash at just 30mph, a dog who is not restrained in the back seat can turn into a potentially lethal missile, warns the AA...

A small dog such as a West Highland Terrier would be hurled from the back shelf at the head of someone sitting in the front of the car like a canine cannonball. And if your dog is a large breed, such as a Labrador, he could be catapulted through the car with the force of a baby elephant, in all likelihood, injuring all in his way. And in both cases it is unlikely that the dog would survive such a violent impact.

It's an ironic fact that people belt up themselves, and insist that children in the back wear seatbelts or sit in a child seat, yet let their dogs travel unrestrained. Some drivers even let small dogs sit unrestrained in the front passenger seat, or on the passenger's knee, which is very dangerous.

Although some dogs sit placidly on the back seat, others jump around, distracting the driver, try to climb through to the front seats (especially if they are alone in the back), or put their heads out of the window. Even a usually placid dog may suddenly become unnerved by something he sees or hears, and panic. And of course, in an emergency stop, a dog would be powerless to help himself. If you get your dog used to travelling when it is young, it will be quite happy to sit in the car as it gets older.

Making a dog wear a special harness is not unkind - most pets will actually feel more secure when they are restrained, either by using a harness, in a travel kennel, or behind a dog guard.  The latter is installed across the back of the car and separates the dog from the driver, but is only really suitable for hatchback models.  If your dog was crate-trained as a puppy, you can use the crate for transporting your dog as well.  Remember, when considering a crate, it needs to be large enough to accomodate your dog when it is fully grown, as well as fitting your car.

If you are involved in an accident, it is safer for all concerned if your dog is restrained in the car. A dog which is loose could run straight into the traffic and be killed, or even cause another accident. Also, and particularly if it is a large breed such as a German Shepherd, a dog will be frightened and probably aggressive, and could make it difficult for rescue services to reach and rescue you.


Unrestrained dogs in a car are a danger to everyone.


Modern pet seatbelts and harnesses are designed for both safety and comfort.

All aboard!

Car travel is not natural for dogs, and they need to be trained to accept this new form of transport - early safety training could prevent disaster.

The AA and the NCDL believe that dogs should be taught from puppyhood how to get in and out of cars safely.

Follow these golden rules:

  • If the car is parked on the road, your dog should always get in from the pavement side.
  • Do not let your dog get into the car alone - keep him on a lead.
  • When you get home, don't encourage your dog to leap out of the boot or open windows - they might do the same in an area busy with cars.
  • If you are getting in or out on a busy road make it obvious to other drivers that your dog is under control.

Other Canine Car Travel Tips

Using a crate that the dog is used to will help your dog to feel secure. If you have to use the back or passenger seat you should also consider the pets safety. There are pet seatbelts and harnesses available, and you can get one to fit your particular dog. Small dogs can be trained to travel in the small plastic travel carriers.  When using crates and carriers make sure that they are placed in the car where they will not move around, especially if you have to brake suddenly.

Before you start out on your journey make sure that you have allowed time to stop frequently. These stops are particularly important if you are travelling for more than 2 hours. The dog should have been exercised before the journey, and have adequate stops throughout for relieving itself and a drink of fresh water.

Some dogs are prone to car sickness and so it is always advisable to watch for signs of distress during the journey. There are a number of products on the market which can help reduce this problem and ease stress for both you and your dog.

Never leave your dog in the car when it is hot outside, even if the car is parked in the shade. Cars can heat up very quickly and the dog inside will cook to death from heat stroke.  In sunny, warm weather the body temperature of your dog may rise very quickly, and heat stroke can happen within minutes. Even leaving the windows open may not be enough, they would have to be open so far that the dog would be able to jump out anyway. Sun shades can be used on the windows, but these only reduce the heat slightly and the car will still become hot inside.

You will find a listing of pet friendly hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses in the unique travel listings page. You can search by county and, best of all, it's absolutely free!  

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