Transporting Dogs in the Car

Many people have developed the habit of letting their dog ride in the passenger seat next to them. This is a mistake, mainly for safety reasons. If you have a fairly large dog, your view can be obstructed. If you encounter an emergency and need to brake suddenly, your dog could get injured by hitting the windshield or by the air bag. If you have to make a sharp turn, your dog could end up bumping into or falling over you.

Your dog is safest in the back seat. Use either a special harness for your dog that hooks on to a seat belt, a doggy car seat that elevates your dog so he or she can watch out the window, or a leash that attaches to the seat belt. All of these items can be found at a pet store or on the Internet. If your car is a station wagon or sport-utility vehicle, the best way to transport your dog is in the far back of the car using a crate or a grill to create a safe, convenient compartment for the dog. This is how Lynn’s dogs ride in the car, and they love going everywhere with the family, no matter how long the trip. They’re so quiet, it’s easy to forget they’re back there. All it takes to get them ready is to ask, “Would you like to go to the movies?” Or, “Should we go to the bakery?” Or, “Anyone want to go to Tahoe?” and both dogs are standing with noses to the door, ready for an adventure.

If you have a pickup truck without a camper shell, you have only two options: in the cab with you with the leash attached either to the door handle or some other device that keeps your dog from reaching you, or a crate in the pickup bed securely fastened with bungee cords or something similar that will prevent it from tipping over or sliding. Unfortunately, it is common practice for some people to keep dogs in the back of a pickup either loose, which is illegal in some communities and a totally unacceptable option for safety reasons, or to use a commercially available device that allows the dog to be secured in the pickup bed without being able to reach the sides. If you have an accident, the device could break and your dog could tumble out of the truck to certain death or severe injury, not to mention the serious hazard to traffic. Also, keeping a dog in the pickup bed can be very damaging to the dog’s eyes with debris flying through the air. In hot weather, unless you have carpeting in your pickup, the metal will heat up to an unacceptable degree and hurt the dog’s feet. It’s an excellent idea to transport a dog in a pickup with a camper shell with adequate flooring (not the metal bed itself) and with windows on the side for ventilation, or a window between the cab and the camper shell, so the dog can feel close to you.

Start training your dogs early if you want them to get used to traveling in a car with you. Use one of our recommended forms of containment or a crate. Leave a bowl of water in the car, along with some type of animal product such as a baited bone or a hoof. And lock your doors; if your dog is well socialized, valuable, and friendly, he could become a dog-napping victim. In hot or even warm weather you must never leave your dog in the car, even in the shade. Even with windows cracked open and in the shade, the temperature inside the car can be fifteen to twenty degrees hotter than outside, and your dog can die of hyperthermia.

If dogs could talk, we think they might say: “Riding in the car is almost as much fun as going for walks with you. Thanks for taking me along and keeping me safe.”

Reprinted from: Pup Parenting: A Guide to Raising a Happy, Well-Trained Dog by Lynn Lott, Jane Nelsen, and Therry Jay © 2006 Rodale Inc. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

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