We're getting our first dog and are wondering how to safely transport a pet in the car. Does it need a seat belt or some other kind of restraint? – Richard and Carol in Oakville, Ont.
You're wise to do some planning when adopting your first dog. As with having a child, when your new addition arrives, you'll likely be overwhelmed with care and feeding basics.
Like babies and young children, dogs typically enjoy riding in the car. Properly securing canines in a motor vehicle is important to prevent driver distraction, or injury to the animal and any other occupants.
"We cringe when we see dogs loose in the back of vehicles, particularly in a pickup truck, but even worse is a dog perched up on the window sill of the car while sitting in the lap of the driver," says Steve Kaye, president of the Canadian Police Canine Association.
"It really does hamper one's ability to operate a car, but I think a lot of people also lose sight of what an airbag does in a collision – it explodes with unbelievable force. A dog in your lap will be forced into your chest or face with a force roughly equivalent to that of a 12-gauge shotgun shell blast. The airbag hits the dog, the dog becomes a projectile at a really high rate of speed and can cause significant injuries."
As with most provinces, there is no Ontario law stating that animals riding inside a vehicle must be secured. "If the animal is not secured in the back of a pickup truck, however, drivers can be charged under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. And if something happens to the animal, the owner could be charged under the OSPCA Act or Criminal Code for permitting distress on an animal," says Brad Dewar with the Ontario SPCA.
Some motorists travel with their pets in a caged-off area, which is usually at the back of an SUV, wagon or minivan. This can be effective in keeping a dog out of the passenger compartment area, but Kaye, who works with the Saskatoon Police Service, stresses that the barrier or gate must be correctly installed and able to withstand significant force in the event of a collision. "I've seen a number of those in vehicles which are not very sturdy, and a dog really pushing hard against it can knock them over."
"Our recommendation to anybody transporting a dog is that they put the dog in some sort of kennel which is secured to the floor of a vehicle. That prevents the dog from becoming a projectile if the vehicle is in a collision, and prevents them from coming up to the front driver's compartment area and impacting the operation of the vehicle," says Kaye.
You can find plenty of images of contented-looking canines secured with seat belts or customized harnesses, sitting much like human passengers in the back seat of a vehicle. However, is a doggie seatbelt a realistic option to secure your precious cargo?
"If your dog is the kind that would sit with a seat belt on, you can certainly give it a try. I wouldn't have a prayer of that with any of the dogs I work. In some of the work we've done, we found that when you restrain a dog they become more active and fight to get out of the restraint. They're not comfortable with it, especially for a long period of time. It's like having someone hanging on to you; for a short time it's not a big deal but after a while you'll start to fight to get loose because it gets annoying, and a dog's really no different," says Kaye.
A kennel works very well, says Kaye, because the dog is contained, but not restrained. "He's not tied down to something where he's going to fight to get loose. He is loose, but in a very very small area. Dogs tend to relax very well when they're in a kennel as well."
You'll want a kennel or crate, secured in the vehicle, which is large enough for your dog to comfortably sit and lie down in. Not only is this a safe method of transport, but with your pet contained it will be much easier to keep the vehicle clean.
Send your automotive questions to Joanne Will at firstname.lastname@example.org