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Taking Rover in the Rover

Once upon a time, dogs trotted alongside whatever form of transport we humans used quite happily, as dogs and horses had similar levels of stamina. A few lucky dogs got to ride inside the cart or coach, while other dogs (e.g. Rottweilers) got to pull the cart personally.  Dogs also famously provided the grunt for the sleds that conquered the South Pole.  Some dogs still do act as the motive power of transport – just ask all the people who drive dog sleds in the Iditarod race in Alaska.

Fast forward to today. We still like to have our four-footed family members coming with us on outings. Some people need to take dogs with them for work purposes (cops and farmers).  But is it just a case of simply popping Rover in the Rover? Or is it more complex than that?

Doing it wrong.

Doing it wrong.

We all know that it’s important to wear our seatbelts (don’t we???) and that the whole point of seat belts is to stop you flying forward and exiting via the windscreen in the case of a sudden stop.  The laws of physics apply to our canine friends as well, of course.  Dogs can indeed go flying forward in an emergency stop, the same as humans will. So the logic says that a dog ought to wear a seat belt.

The trouble is that the canine anatomy is not suited to seats or to seat belts. What’s more, dogs come in a much larger range of sizes than humans do.  This means that the standard seat belt provided in the typical car won’t do the job. It might not fit your St Bernard (or Chihuahua) and putting on the Labrador might throw your dog’s limbs out.

You can buy doggy seat belts to solve this problem. These consist of a sort of chest harness thing to go around the dog while the seat belt clips into this.  These work pretty well and will secure your dog. They’re not the only option, so if you’d rather not have your dog sitting on the leather seats of your car (their nails will scratch the leather) or if your dog is too darn big to sit comfortably on the seat in a position that allows the seat belt to be used, then you don’t have to use this method of restraint.

But you still have to make sure that your dog is safe in the case of a crash.  In fact, the law in many states says you have to.  It does vary from state to state, but in Western Australia and New South Wales, it’s illegal to have an unrestrained dog in the car, especially if said dog is on your lap or interferes with your ability to drive safely.

Doing it right again.

Doing it right.

If your dog is small enough to fit there and your state permits it, you can encourage him or her to sit in the footwell behind the driver or front passenger seat. The other alternative is to pop the dog into the boot area of a hatchback or stationwagon – and to install a safety net that stops things flying forward.  Again, the boot is probably best for a massive dog, while the footwell suits smaller dogs of about bull terrier size downwards.  The third option is the carrying cage.  A lot of people who own dogs and 4x4s have a carrying cage in the back of the 4×4 specially for the dog that allows the dog to see out of the back while keeping it safe.  Not a bad option, really.

Doing it right.

Doing it right again.

I know your dog loves to stick his/her head out of the window while you’re travelling. This may have to stop, however, unless the doggy seatbelt permits this.

Utes are a different story again. The law also has something to say about what you can and can’t do with a dog in the tray of a ute or similar vehicle. The dog has to be restrained so that it can’t jump or fall off. This means either a cage or box, or a short leash. Notice the word “short” in that sentence.  A dog shouldn’t be on a leash that’s long enough to allow it to get off the sides of the ute. Oddly enough, the law (in South Australia, anyway) says that if a farm dog can be loose on a ute deck if it’s just about to, in the middle of or just finished moving livestock along the road.

The other thing that has to be said about dogs in cars is what you should and shouldn’t do when the vehicle has stopped and you have to get out of the car. Sometimes, you can’t take the dog with you where you’re going (e.g. the shops or into church).  Now, the RSPCA gets very angry (and rightly so) about dogs being left in hot cars. This really is animal cruelty. Dogs have a naturally higher body temperature than humans (some scientists suggest that this is how certain breeds of lapdog came about – they were bred to be living hot water bottles). They also can’t sweat to cool off and rely on panting instead. This means that the surrounding air temperature has to be cooler than the dog. Now, we know about how hot can get inside a car and that you can melt cheese and chocolate on the dashboard. If you leave your dog inside a car with all the windows closed up, you will slowly cook your dog alive. Shocking but true.

Doing it right on the back of a ute.

Doing it right on the back of a ute.

If you can’t take your dog with you, you’ll have to ensure that your dog stays safely cool. This may involve removing the dog from the car and tethering him/her somewhere safe outside the car. The other alternative is to park in the shade and leave the windows down a little to allow fresh cool air into the car. Obviously, you shouldn’t leave the windows down far enough to allow the dog to wriggle or jump out.  This will compromise your car security, but a thief is less likely to try breaking into a vehicle that has a yappy terrier kicking up a fuss inside it… Double that if the dog is a bull terrier or Alsatian. Better still, plan your trip so that you don’t have to leave your dog in the car!

In all cases, it’s always wise to make sure that your dog and your vehicle suit each other. This means that if you have your heart set on a Great Dane, it might be time to say goodbye to your little Fiat 500 and look for a larger vehicle.

Safe and happy driving, with or without your dog,


One comment

  1. Graeme says:

    Your paragraph on leaving a dog in a locked vehicle with the windows partially down is bad advice. recent research has shown how high car temperatures can rise in a short space of time. As our canine friends do not have sweat glands this is a highly dangerous practice and could lead to death.

    August 25th, 2015 at 8:43 am