Driving Miss Daisy

If you’re anything like me, you drive with your dog in the car. A lot. So, let’s assume that your dog doesn’t have any major issue, and drives with you. Let’s talk safety.

There are a few things to consider when dealing with car safety. The first is airbags. Dogs, like children, can be killed by an airbag. Unless you’re in training (in which case, drive carefully) and it’s temporary, your dog should be in the back.

The next safety issue is movement. If you’re checking out what the heck your dogs are doing back there, you’re not driving safely. (Check out this video to get an idea of how fast things can happen.)



Your dogs should not be up and wandering around.

There’s another safety issue about being up and wandering around, too; if your dog is on her feet when you get into an accident, the likelihood of severe injury or death for her is much higher. A dog laying down has the lowest center of gravity.

Story time!

I had Cash and Lily in the car, heading from one job to the next, both laying down, when someone peeled out onto the road ahead of me. It was a two-lane road with a speed limit of 45; I was going 50. I slammed on my brakes. My tires squealed. The guy ahead of me swerved and floored it. In the meantime, though, I nearly came to a stop — from 50mph. My seatbelt locked. Both dogs went flying forward.

If they had been sitting or standing, both dogs would have hit the back of the driver and passenger seats, most likely face-first, snapping muzzles or necks. Instead, they were both laying down. Both of them still flew forward, hitting the base of the seats with their full bodies and sliding into the foot well area. While it’s likely there might have been bruises under the fur, I didn’t even hear a yelp, and neither showed signs of injury later.

Aside from a near-heart attack on my part, we were all safe.

I’d like to say that in the eight years I’ve had Cash and Lily, this has only happened once. Sadly, it’s happened more times than that, with varying degrees of severity.

Of course, the real trick is to get your dogs to lay down. Here we go!

First, having a solid “lay down” or “down” command will make your life much easier. Start practicing it at a distance if you don’t already. (Start with “lay down” right in front of you, use whatever method you like, then start putting them in a sit, taking a step or two away, and ask them to lay down. If they move forward before laying down, put them back and ask again. Increase the distance as they improve.)

If your dogs are car-wanderers, put them in the front seat beside you (it’s a temporary training thing!), and tie their leash to the headrest. DO NOT get in an accident while you do this; practice on quiet streets in the neighborhood. When your dog stands up you can reach across and grab the leash — because it’s tied, so you know right where it is! — tell them to sit, and pull up gently until they do so. Praise and keep driving. You can do this whole thing without taking your eyes off the road.

Once your dog is pretty good about sitting when asked, put them in the back seat. Still tie them in so that if they get any ideas, they’ll be confounded right away. (At this point, though, you can tie them in with a seat belt or harness. More on seat belts in a moment.)

Now, start driving. If your dog didn’t have room in the front seat to practice laying down, they should now. When you put them in, ask them to lay down. (Give them a good bone or something to keep them occupied for the drive.) Get in. Before you start, ask them to lay down again. (It’s guaranteed they’ll have sat up, at least!) When they do, start driving.

At first, it’s best if you can stop the car every time they sit up/stand up and tell them to sit down/lay down again. (Laying down being the next step; you may have to back up to just sitting at first!) Once you get tired of stopping all the time and they’re getting better at sitting/laying down when asked, tell them to sit down/lay down and if they don’t, tap your breaks. The goal is to knock them off balance. If they stand up, stop, and tell them to lay down. Always praise when they do what you ask!

Obviously, you have to be careful of traffic, what’s around you, whether they’re tied on a collar or harness, etc. Please keep that in mind!

It’s amazing how quickly dogs get it, once they’ve had the front-seat primer. They already know what to do; they just need to know you can and will enforce it on the road.

A note on dog seat belts: most dog seat belts are designed to keep the dogs in one place, NOT to help during an accident. Subaru ran crash test doggies through various seat belts a while back, and found that only this brand, the Sleepypot Clickit Utility Harness, actually helped in an accident. Otherwise, your dog is as safe laying down as in a seatbelt!