After I recently posted about the importance of restraining your dog properly in the car, I asked two of my favorite pet travel bloggers to explain the best way to achieve that goal. Speaking for the large — and multiple — dog contingent today is Rod Burkert, co-creator with wife Amy Burkert of GoPetFriendly.com. These guys are not only constantly on the road with their dogs, finding the best places for people and their pups to stay and play, but they’re also perfectionists, so you know their advice is based on a combination of paws-on personal experience and impeccable background research.
By Rod Burkert
Most of us wear seat belts while driving as a matter of course – an exercise of good judgment and common sense. When it comes to securing children in the car, the laws are very specific and compliance is extremely high. However, when we put our pets in the car, it seems that safety precautions go out the proverbial window.
Consider this: Bark Buckle UP, an advocate for pet travel safety, analyzed the Travel Safety Evaluation Booklet used by police agencies nationwide and concluded that 98% of pets do not travel properly restrained. 98%!
The danger is clear when you understand that at 35 mph, a 60-pound unrestrained dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, windshield, or passenger. Ouch.
One often overlooked benefit of securing your dogs in the car is preventing their escape in the event of an accident, when they could run out into traffic and be hit by a car, or even cause another accident. As Edie pointed out in a previous post, if your unsecured dog causes an accident, your auto insurance may be rendered invalid. And if the accident is the other driver’s fault, your pet insurance may not cover the vet bills if your dog wasn’t properly restrained.
Evolution Of Our Restraint System
We are on the road about 70% of the time for GoPetFriendly. That’s a lot of driving with our two dogs – Ty, a 35-pound Chinese Shar-Pei, and Buster, a 75-pound German Shepherd. And though we’re pretty easy going about many things, we’re not slackers when it comes to buckling our dogs in for the trip … no lap rides, no heads out the windows, no free roaming in the car or RV.
Though that dictum sounds pretty simple, the recovering accountants here at GoPetFriendly tend to overanalyze. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised that we only ever considered two options for securing our dogs in our vehicles:
• Crate them (and secure the crate)
• A harness and seat belt system
When we first started GoPetFriendly, our vehicle was a Toyota Rav-4. Given the size of our dogs and the interior space of that mini-SUV, I just couldn’t see us crating. The wire crates for medium and large dogs are heavy and take up a lot of space. However, if crating would work for you, just make sure the crate itself is secured in place so it doesn’t become a projectile with your pet in it.
That left us with the harness and seat belt system. We’ve tried several brands and styles of harness-type restraints and have learned a few things along the way:
• When you choose a harness be sure it will fit your pet properly. Some are sized according to the measurement around a dog’s chest, just behind the front legs. Others are sized according to a dog’s weight.
• Whatever harness you choose, make sure it comes with a D-ring. When you take a break from driving to exercise your dog, you can simply clip her leash to the ring and you’ve got a sturdy walking harness.
• Our dogs are frequent “circlers.” If your dog is one too, avoid the harnesses with a loop that the seat belt slides through or they’ll get tangled in the seat belt. The system we use now is made by Guardian Gear and has a tether that connects to the D-ring and clicks right into the seat belt receptacle.
So back in the Rav-4, Ty and Buster started out sharing the rear seats. That worked OK, but the dogs were perched on a narrow space and that got a little precarious for them when swerves or sudden stops were necessary.Then we got the idea to fill the rear passenger foot space with cushions. This effectively raised the floor to the seat and allowed for some pretty comfortable cruising. Unless Buster wanted to stand up to stretch his legs. He could only do that by extending his neck and head forward into the cockpit.
Oh, and Buster has a tendency to bark LOUDLY at oncoming cars.When a trainer suggested that Buster might be trying to herd the traffic whizzing by us, we took out the rear seats and give the entire space over to the dogs and their paraphernalia. Buster and Ty are shown just hanging out in the back of the Rav-4. When we’re driving, their harnesses are on and tethers are attached to the floorboard clamps that held the seats. This ended up being a pretty cozy arrangement that got us through our first three road trips totaling almost 12,000 miles.
Now that we’re in the Winnebago, space is at a premium so we haven’t reconsidered crating as an option. We’re still sold on the harness and seat belt system. Ty and Buster lie on the floor just behind the driver and passenger seats. And notice the curtain that separates the pets from the pilots to minimize distractions.
No matter which restraint system you use – just remember to USE IT EVERY TIME. Based on 2001 crash statistics, Progressive Insurance estimated that 52% of all car accidents occur within 5 miles of the home. So you’re at more risk than you think if you’re packing the pooch “just” to run to the bank, pick up the dry cleaning, or grab the kids after school.
GoPetFriendly.com is changing the face of pet travel by making it easy to locate pet-friendly hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, beaches, wineries, dog parks, and much more! Make plans to include your pet on your next trip, and connect with GoPetFriendly on their blog, Twitter and Facebook to get tips from the pet travel experts.