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Safe driving with your dog on board

29/01/2019 - Latest News

What does the law say about dogs in cars and how can you maximise safety when driving with your dog on board?
One of my pet hates is seeing dogs travelling in cars with no safety measures whatsoever. Not only is it against the law, it’s downright dangerous. And in the case of an accident, who is the most likely to be frightened and/or hurt? That’s right, your unrestrained furry faced friend.
What is the law for dogs travelling in cars?
If it’s been a while since you studied the Highway Code, dig it out now and take a look at Rule 57. It states that drivers are responsible for making sure dogs (or other animals) are suitably restrained in a vehicle so they can’t distract or injure you (or themselves) during an emergency stop.
If you are caught with an unrestrained dog in your car, you could be fined up to £5000.  If you are involved in an accident and your dog is loose in the car, your insurance could be void. Dog restraints and training (if needed) are by far the cheapest option.
Why do dogs need to be restrained in cars?
It seems rotten to have your dog travelling in the back when all you really want is a road trip with your furry friend sitting beside you. But in this case, the law makes sense and is there to protect you and others from some dreadful scenarios. \

Canine Cannonball

The laws of physics tell us that when something is travelling at speed it is heavier than when it’s still. If a 32 Kg dog such as a Labrador is thrown forward in a 30mph crash it will weigh the equivalent of 100Kg. It will become a canine cannonball and it won’t have a comfortable landing.

Dogs on the front seat

If you’re one of those lucky few who have never been in a car accident you might not realise how powerful an airbag can be. They’re a fabulous safety feature but my goodness they do go off with a bang. An airbag will save an adult human’s life but have the potential to kill a dog (or baby) sized individual. So the front seat is definitely off limits.

Open car windows may hurt your dog

We’ve all seen pictures and videos of seemingly blissfully happy dogs with their head out of the window and their ears blowing in the wind. It’s all very picturesque until the vehicle slows down and the dog jumps out of the window. And I don’t even want to think what could happen if another vehicle passes too close.
You can buy expandable vents which allow your dog to enjoy the fresh air without sticking his head right out of the window.

Dogs who jump out of open car doors

This is one thing that really worries me. Excited dogs leaping out of the car as soon as you open the door. That’s probably fine on your driveway but not at the side of a busy road.
Every dog needs to be restrained in the car AND trained to stay in the car until he or she is invited to jump out.
Which dog restraints are legal and/or sensible?
In my opinion, the perfect way for your dog to travel is in a crate in the back of an estate car or 4WD. For the dog, the crate is a secure and comfortable place where he can settle down to snooze. You know he can’t leap around. Plus you have much more control over him jumping out when you reach your destination. So if you need to get your wellies out of the boot of the car, Fido can be safe and sound while you get ready for walkies. No leaping around and knocking you over mid shoe-change.
However, not every car is the right size or shape for a crate.  
The law is happy for you to have your dog behind a dog guard. At the very least, a well-fitting harness attached to a doggy seatbelt on the back seat is a must. NEVER attach a seatbelt to a dog’s collar though– can you imagine what might happen to his neck if you stop suddenly?
Dog training to make car journeys easier
Even if your dog is safely restrained, it’s hard not to be distracted if he’s worried or excited. You need your dog to settle quickly so that you can concentrate on the job in hand.
I have several techniques that I can show you to help your dog settle in the car. It all depends on the dog and why he’s not able to sit quietly in the car.
Is he carsick or afraid of travelling? We’ll use desensitising techniques to gradually ease his discomfort.
Does he bark at other dogs, bicycles, people or just everything? We can work on impulse control so that he learns life is easier when he relaxes.
Have you got a dog who leaps out of the vehicle before you are ready for him? Again, we’ll work on impulse control and the “stay” command.
Perhaps your dog is reluctant to jump in or out of the car. Maybe it hurts him? If you think about the height of your dog relative to the height of your car, it makes sense that leaping in and out is hard on his joints. A Staffie jumping out of a 4WD is the equivalent of a person jumping off a 20ft wall. There is a simple solution though. With a little bit of patience, the dog could be trained you use a ramp for getting in and out of the vehicle. 
If you have any questions at all about your dog and the law or about training your dog to be a good passenger, I’m here to help.
Contact me, Sean Pickering on 07710 720207 or email me via my website.
Book a dog training consultation for help with travel related doggy problems
Find out about impulse control and how to calm an excitable dog