How to Not Kill Your Dog in the Car

A hound in the back of a pickup is great imagery. It's also deadly.

Dog Car Safety
Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

For a time in the early Aughts, concurrent with the cresting popularity of The Simple Life, it was required that every blonde starlet do the following: 1. purchase a tiny dog 2. clutch that tiny dog, always and everywhere. At The Grove's juice stand, the red carpet, and everywhere in between, the dog remained clutched—meaning dozens of Chihuahuas, Shih-Tzus and Pomeranians rode, unrestrained, inches from the explosive power of a Bentley airbag. As cutesy as it may have been for Paris Hilton to crook Tinkerbell in her pit, it was also really dangerous for heiress and dog alike. We don't want to get too evocative in describing what happens when a 9-pound dog meets a 200+ mph airbag, but think: From single animal into kibbles and pulpy bits.

Right now is an exciting time for automotive safety, with crazy advances in everything from radar and airbags to seatbelts. The problem is that all the awesome new tech is meant just for humans, even though of the thousands of dogs that go for car rides every year, 98 percent go unrestrained—and every 18 minutes, one of those loose pets causes a traffic accident.

This isn't just PETA pandering. Sure, a dog loose in a car is subject to the same gruesome deaths as a loose human: sliced through the windshield, crushed into the dashboard, whiplashed by forces of deceleration, thrown out a window. But an unrestrained dog poses huge risk to humans, too. Dogs can get into the driver's footwell and keep him from being able to depress the brake; they can obscure a driver's vision; distract them generally; and, lastly, in a crash, Fido can become a furry projectile, ramming into passengers.

For your dog's safety—and your own—we've compiled a list of options (mandates, really) to make sure you and your dog can motor safely together. Having a goofy, four-legged friend riding shotgun is one of life's great pleasures, the cheese to driving's wine. So do it right.

Buy a Dog Harness

All that physics that applies to our ape bodies applies in full to our dogs'. But folks rarely take the time to secure their dog with a seat belt. However, there are now several good safety harnesses on the market. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends purchasing one that complies with the V9-DT pet harness durability test. Bergan makes a suitable model, available in various sizes, for under $40.

Use Crash-Tested Crates

If you'd rather go a more comprehensive route, try a crate that has been specifically tested and verified crash-worthy. Recently, the Center for Pet Safety released the results of its tests and certified two kennels. First is the luxuriously-named "Pet Ego Jet Set Forma Frame Carrier with ISOFIX-Latch Connection," followed by the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock. Both protected dog dummies in crashes up to 45 mph.

Lock Power Windows

Dogs love to clamber. As such, make sure to always lock power windows. An errant paw could lower a window and help a dog to escape a car at speed or, worse, raise the window while a dog's head is outside, causing death by choking or decapitation.

Keep Heads and Paws Inside the Vehicle

It's a classic image in stock photography and beyond, but a rugged hound (or other, less floppity breed) with its head out a window is actually endangering itself. Any airborne object means possible ear, eye or facial injury; many a dog has lost an eye to a low-hanging branch. And, though they're not cats, dogs can be surprisingly slinky: don't assume that just because a window is only partially lowered an excited dog can't escape.

Tether Dogs Securely in a Truck's Bed

If a dog—for reasons of filth, slobber, space, or otherwise—must ride in an exposed truck bed, make sure it's tethered with a short length of rope. Any tether should be short enough to keep a dog's front and rear legs within the bed. In addition, dogs should have a surface with adequate friction. Also note that in many states it's actually illegal to drive a dog unsecured in an open bed.

Keep a Bowl in the Car

Dogs get thirsty, especially on hot days. While it's easy to buy water at any gas station, make sure you have an adequately shallow vessel from which your dog can drink.

Don't Leave Dogs in Cars

Look at the chart. Even in 80-degree heat, a dog left 10 minutes in an enclosed car will suffer temperatures near 100 degrees. At a half-hour, that cabin will be near 115 and well towards killing your dog. If it's hot and you're running errands, leave the dog at home.