I was in Dawsonville last Tuesday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his one-year-old Labrador Retriever named Johnnie. Like most Labs, Johnnie was full of energy, always wanting to jump and play, and wanted to explore every chance he could get.  These characteristics often mitigate themselves into unwanted behaviors and the likelihood of having an embarrassing and often annoying dog.  We simply had to educate Johnnie regarding my client’s rules so that he understood it was far better to be good than to be bad.  All dogs want to “fit into the group” and obey the rules. This assures their membership and keeps them safe.  I taught my client “how to explain his rules” to Johnnie and he quickly responded. 

What is the best way to safely travel with your dog in the car

My client was very happy with the results and what he had learned.  He was amazed at the simplicity of the process and how fast Johnnie learned the rules.  As we were finishing up, he had one more question.  He liked to take Johnnie almost everywhere he went in the car.  Up until now, he just let him jump in and “hope for the best”.  He wondered if this was the best way to transport Johnnie or should he do something different…

The first thing I told my client was that he should no longer allow Johnnie to be in the car when he was not constrained in one way or another.  There have been car seat belt laws for people for many decades.  In fact, most drivers today weren’t even born when most seat belt laws were enacted.  An interesting fact that many people don’t know is that the initial seat belt laws only required that you word lap belts.  It wasn’t until several years later that the law was expanded to both lap belts and shoulder restraints.  All this was done to protect “the living beings” in the car in the event of an extreme, sudden movement or crash.  Dogs are living beings too.  So, when they are in the car, even though there is currently no law requiring it, they should be restrained for their safety as well.

Here are some general guidelines and suggestions that Robin and I provide our clients:

  • Never have your dog in the front passenger seat, even if he is restrained. The air bag for the front passenger seat is engineered for the human torso and average body mass.  Most dogs do not fit this description. In the event of a front passenger seat air bag deployment, the air bag assumes that it must stop a far larger body mass. The energy that the air bag releases into the dog in the front passenger seat will often cause bodily harm or even death to your dog. This is true even if the dog is “properly restrained”.
  • As alluded to above, never have your dog unrestrained in the car. If you have to slam on the breaks or quickly swerve, the dog often becomes airborne and is thrown around the car. This can cause bodily harm or kill the dog. If your dog is directly behind you in the back seat when you slam on the breaks, he could come flying into you with disastrous results. Even if everything is fine, your “curious or affectionate” dog could jump in your lap while you are driving and cause an accident.
  • Even if your dog is somewhat restrained, never allow him to hang out the window or fully extend his head and neck outside the window when you are traveling over fifty miles per hour. The strong wind blowing past the window could take your dog by surprise, causing him to fall out the window or cause his head to quickly snap back and hit the side of the window.

We suggest two methods for transporting your dog in your car:

  • CRATE.
    This is always the best solution if your dog can fit in a crate that can fit in your car.  Make sure that the crate is secure so that he can’t move around when you are driving.  We suggest the wire crates. These are the ones that look like “wire cages” and are the ones you commonly find in pet stores.  We don’t like the travel crates (made of a heavy plastic with small windows) because the lack of vision often makes dogs anxious, adrenalated, and fearful.

Place your dog in the crate and make sure that there are some of his favorite toys, chew bones, etc. available for him in the crate.  Never leave his leash on when in the crate. The leash may tangle and hurt him while you are driving or he may chew it up.  If your dog can easily get his collar in his mouth, we suggest that you remove that also. Make sure that your body is completely blocking the crate door as you are opening or closing the door.  This is the time that most dogs “make a run for it”. Be prepared.

Do not open the crate door to let him out before you are fully prepared to reattach his collar and leash. If you need to place both the collar and leash on him, have the leash already hooked to the collar, have the collar handle around your wrist, and hold the collar in a manner where you can use one hand to slip it over his head. Do not open the door if he is overly adrenalated. Once he is calm, slowly open the door just wide enough so that you can grab him with both hands, Once you have him, continue to hold him with one hand while you use your hand holding the collar to quickly slip it over his head.

Once he has his collar on and the leash is attached, have the hand that you were using to hold him grab the leash right below the collar. Let the crate door open completely as you guide him out. As he gets to the ground, give the leash a firm tug so that he calmly looks back to you. Once you see that he is calm and focused on you, you can continue on your way.

    This is a “seat belt for your dog”.  I love these things because they are simple to install, give your dog a lot of freedom while being contained, and allow you complete safety in having your dog exit the car.  They look like a short leash except that one end has the “seat belt clicker” that clicks into your seat.  The other end of the leash has the device that attaches to your dog’s collar or leash.

The first thing you do is to adjust the length of the tether. Make it long enough to allow your dog to do what you want him to safely do while in the back seat. Make it long enough so he can sit up. If possible, make it a little longer so that he can lie down on the back floor. Whatever you do, do not make it so long that he could reach his head beyond the back seat. This would encourage him to jump into the front and you don’t want that. Click it into the seatbelt latch.

Bring your dog into the back seat and attach the tether to his collar or harness.  We suggest that you use a harness that allows the leash to attach to the dog’s chest.  Since he will be lying down, the chest is the most logical attachment point for the tether.  It will also help avoid neck injury in the event you have to slam on the breaks. Once your dog is attached to the tether, you can remove the regular leash, if you want.

Once you arrive at your destination, you can calmly open the back door.  Since your dog is securely attached to the seat via the tether, there is no possibility that he could bolt out the door. Reattach the leash and grab the leash handle. If possible, put the leash handle through your wrist. Look around to make sure that there are no distractions that are going to cause your dog to get excited once he is leaving or outside the car.

Unhook the tether from his collar or harness. Have him remain still for a moment and then invite him to leave the car. As soon as he jumps to the ground, give the leash a slight tug so that he looks back to you. Make sure he is calm and focused on you.

The information I have presented so far focuses on transporting your dog in a car, SUV, or Crew Cab Truck. When in these vehicles, your dog will be inside.  If you need to transport your dog in the load bed of a truck, I suggest that you use the Seat Belt Tether method that I described above.  Instead of the seat belt tether device, create a tether that has a “leash snap” on both ends. One end will be for your dog’s harness and the other end will be for a latch on the floor of your truck’s load bed. I strongly suggest that you use a harness that attaches to your dog’s chest.

The leash should be just long enough to allow your dog to “peek over the edge of the truck”. Make sure that the load bed is clean and not hot while transporting your dog. Remove him as quickly as possible when you stop.

If your dog is afraid of traveling in a car, you will have to socialize him for car rides before you will be successful in “safely” transporting him.  That will be a subject for another blog.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.