by Anne Martinez
Since your Service Dog (SD) will be going virtually everywhere with you, chances are there will be plenty of car trips. You might think that bringing your SD along is as simple as opening the door and directing her to hop in, but if you love your dog, there’s an extra step you should take: securing her safely inside the vehicle.
If you overlook this step, even a minor accident may send your partner catapulting around the interior of the vehicle, resulting in serious or fatal injury. Securing your SD also safeguards against accidental escapes. You may think your Service Dog would never step out of the vehicle without your permission, but it does happen. During a gas stop or bathroom break an SD can slip out the door and disappear. You might not even notice until further down the road.
Furthermore, if you get into a serious accident and someone opens the car door to help you, an unsecured SD, traumatized by the occurrence, can easily forget its training and leap out of the car. When this happens the dog is in danger of getting hit by passing traffic or wandering off in confusion, making an already bad situation drastically worse.
Hooking your Service Dog’s leash through the seatbelt doesn’t provide real safety. While it may keep your dog from roaming the car, in an accident, she will be jerked by the neck, perhaps fatally. Harnesses meant for walking aren’t a good connection point either, as they are rarely strong enough to stand up to the force of a serious crash.
Fortunately, there are several great alternatives for ensuring a safe ride. One of the safest methods is to use a travel crate that’s securely fastened to the vehicle’s floor or seat. If you go this route, choose a crate that’s got very sturdy attachment straps, as that is the most common point of failure in a crash. A sturdy crate for a large dog can get quite expensive. Gunnar Kennels crates, which are top of the line, can cost $500 or more. Variocage crates can cost even more, but provide a high level of protection.
If you can’t afford a top-of-the-line crate like a Variocage, a less expensive crate that’s secured to your vehicle will still provide some crash protection and is much safer than allowing your dog loose in the car.
Crates are very convenient if you always use a particular vehicle. Just open the door, in goes your Service Dog, and you’re on your way. They can also help dogs with a tendency toward car sickness to travel comfortably.
Many handlers opt to use a safety harness instead of a crate. A dog auto safety harness is designed to distribute force from an accident across your Service Dog’s chest and body, where it will do the least damage. They are designed differently than most walking harnesses so don’t just hook up your everyday harness to the seatbelt and think your dog is safe.
To use a safety harness, you place it on your Service Dog and connect it to a buckled seatbelt using a short tether. Your SD can move around a bit but is safely restrained. A big plus of harnesses is that they can easily be moved between vehicles. They are also much more affordable that a crash-resistant crate.
If you research safety harnesses, you’ll likely come across an article that reports on a crash test and says that Sleepy Pod harnesses are the only ones that passed. That article is from 2013, and in fact many manufacturers strengthened their harnesses after it appeared, so don’t feel like a Sleepy Pod is your only alternative. Kurgo harnesses, for example, are also a good option.
If you want to protect your Service Dog and all the training you’ve invested, take the time to properly secure her in the vehicle, especially on highway trips. You wouldn’t take a small child on even the shortest trip in a car without buckling up, and it’s a good idea to make securing your SD a habit as well. Accidents happen in an instant, but the consequences can last a lifetime.
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