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Car safety for dogs: The dos and don’ts

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“Do dogs have to be restrained in cars?” “Should I be using a harness?” “Just how far should I roll down the window?” Get the answers to all of your car safety questions.

Just like any other member of the family, our dogs need protection from potential dangers while in the car. Here are a few guidelines to help keep your pet safe and sound while you’re travelling the open road.

Dog looking over backseat of car

Car safety dos: Keeping your dog safe while traveling


Restrain them with a harness or in a crate

In many Australian states and territories, it’s illegal not to! You can use a harness or a crate to do so – just be sure you’re choosing the right car safety harness. For dogs, they come in two options: ones that prevent distraction and ones that provide actual protection in the case of a crash. If you go the crate route, make sure it’s big enough for your dog to comfortably stand, sit and lie down in, and place it flat in the car (preferably on the floor or in the trunk or boot). If you have a station wagon, consider containing your dog with the protection of a cargo barrier. Utes are particularly dangerous places to travel an unrestrained dog.

Help manage anxiety

To keep your dog from getting nervous in the car – like when you’re en route to the vet – take him on short practice trips so he feels more comfortable with the idea of the car. Elderly dogs may have difficulty jumping in and out of your vehicle, so provide a ramp to assist them.

Take breaks

If your dog is with you on a road trip or just an extended drive, be sure to take a break every few hours. Let your dog out of the car on a leash in a safe, quiet spot, stretch their legs with a short walk or run, and relieve themselves.

Bring your own water

Unknown water sources can contain parasites like giardia. To help keep pets safe, hydrated and protected from digestive issues, bring clean drinking water from home – and pack a dog bowl.

What to avoid when driving with your dog


No “surfing”

While dogs love to feel the wind in their face, letting your dog hang out the window isn’t a good idea. Debris and flying objects could cause injury to your dog, and it’s not worth the risk. Roll the window down a crack, but only for the fresh air. In some Australian states and territories fines apply if the window beside a dog is down too far.

Don’t ignore extreme temperatures

In extreme cold and especially on a hot day, don’t leave your dog unattended in the car – and never ever with all windows closed tight. Heat is a particular danger, jeopardising your dog’s life as the temperature inside a car soars in a couple of minutes. Try to park in shaded areas when you can, and consider sunshades for longer trips. Additionally, when driving, use your car’s air-conditioner/heater to keep things comfortable for pets as well as people. If your dog is carried on the back of a ute, it’s unkind not to travel them in a roofed container with adequate side ventilation and protection from rain, sun and buffeting winds.

Avoid distractions

Yes, your dog is adorable, but remember – keep your eyes on the road and don’t get distracted by his cuteness (or any other distracting behaviours). This means no dogs on laps, either.

Nix the nibbling

While you and your family should enjoy the best part of a road trip (snacks!), try to manage motion sickness by feeding your dog only when you stop for breaks. It’s also a good idea to let him eat his meal a few hours before you leave to help prevent digestive issues or tummy troubles in the car.

As dog lovers, we want our pets close to us whenever possible – even when we’re in the car. But it’s also our obligation to keep them safe. Use these tips to protect your dog, prevent distractions and enjoy the ride together.

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