On My Soap Box About…Canine Safety in Vehicles

Bear and Bella are safely confined in the van and ready to hit the road!

A friend of mine from my flyball days back in New Brunswick shared this article with me from the Bangor Daily News about a driver who was distracted by his dog and hit a telephone pole. The man veered off the road after witnesses say they saw his dog jump into his lap. Have a look at the photo too see the extent of the damage – it’s terrifying. The condition and whereabouts of the dog are unknown as it had fled the scene by the time first responders arrived.

A man is hurt, a dog is lost and it was all 100% preventable.

And now, I am taking this opportunity to get down on my knees, and beg all of you to properly restrain your dogs in vehicles. Don’t do it for me, do it for your dog!

Our friend Renee from Two Brown Dogs has always said she doesn’t understand why people don’t restrain our dogs when none of those same people would consider driving without seatbelts for adults and proper car seats for children. I don’t understand either, especially when we have so many options for keeping our canine (and human) passengers safe in case of a vehicle collision.

The events in Maine are especially sad because now we have a loose, terrified dog roaming Bangor, Maine (population 31,473) I hope his owners are able to recover him safely.

How to Keep Your Dogs Safe

What can we learn from this incident? I hope we can learn that our dogs are at risk when they travel in vehicles with us and it’s our job to keep them safe!

If your dog gets loose and has identification in the form of a collar and tags, your chances of recovering him may be greater. I like to have an emergency number and the vet’s number on my tags in case, for some reason (like being injured in a vehicle collision) I cannot answer the phone! Many animals are microchipped but, unless your dog is taken to the pound, a humane society or a vet and scanned with a special scanner, no one can know the information contained in that chip.

Keep up to date identification on your dogs at all times when you travel!

Vehicle Restraint
There are many types of harnesses for vehicles. There are harnesses with a short leash that can be threaded through a normal seat belt to a harness with a special attachment that actually clips into a seat belt. When selecting a harness, look for one that uses sturdy fasteners (can you pull the clip apart?) and has reinforced webbing. Inspect this harness regularly for wear. Whatever you do, do not use your no-pull harness (Easy Walk, Sensation, Sporn, Lupi) to tether your dog in the car as a car harness. No-pull harnesses are designed to restrict movement and may hurt your dog should you come to a sudden stop


  • Many safety harnesses can also be used as a walking harness


  • Harnesses do not prevent dogs from scratching or chewing your vehicle

Crates come in all shapes and sizes but for a vehicle, I believe the best choices are wire metal crates and airline style plastic/resin crates as they do not collapse as easily as some fabric crates out there. If you have a smaller dog, ensure that your crate is in the back seat (away from air bags) and secured with a seat belt or by some other means.


  • Plastic crates are ideal for dogs that look out the window and bark at everything they see
  • Ideal for dogs who like to chew on seatbelts or upholstery
  • May provide some comfort for dogs who are anxious in moving vehicles.
  • Plastic crates tend to keep dog hair confined to one area!


  • If you have a large dog, moving crates in and out of your vehicle can take some time and effort

Vehicle Barriers
Rope and/or webbing barriers are not chew proof so if you decide to go with a barrier, fork out the money for a metal one! These barriers are typically set up behind the last row of passenger seats in your vehicle and prevent dogs from roaming.


  • No need to remove the barrier on a daily basis unless of course you need the full length of your vehicle to carry something large


  • The only downside is that you may not be able to find a barrier to fit your vehicle.
  • Some barriers have openings large enough for small dogs to get through make sure your barrier is appropriate to the size of your dog.

Further Reading/Resources

Bark Buckle Up (http://www.barkbuckleup.com/): Recognized as the go-to expert and leading research team on pet travel safety.

AAA Pet Spot (http://petspot.aaa.com): Pet travel information from the American Automobile Association

Wag’n Enterprises (http://www.wagn4u.com/no_tails_left_unbuckled_campaign.html): Wag’N offers pet parents and first responders the necessary gear, supplies and training to effectively mitigate, prepare and respond to emergencies that impact pet health and safety.


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