Distracted Driving

SleepyPod's large and small crash test dogs
SleepyPod’s hard-working crash test dogs

How do you keep your dog safe in the car?

On long trips (anything involving a freeway), I use a dog seatbelt. Koala likes to ride on the floor, in the footspace behind the front passenger seat.

Since I have a run-of-the-mill dog seatbelt restraint, neither of these options is particularly good. Better than letting the dog sit in the front seat or, worse, on my lap. And way better than letting her ride, loose, in the back of a pickup — all things I see often.

The issues are both her safety and mine. A dog can be distracting; I’ve driven dogs who pace on the back seat. And if I have to stop suddenly, the dog can fly off the seat and get hurt. In an accident, the dog could fly through the windshield or crash into the driver or a passenger. Or escape and get lost or hurt.

Hence the seatbelts.

AAA recommends restraining pets inside the car, in the back seat, using either a seatbelt attachment (like mine) or a crate, which is itself strapped in. These take care of the distraction issue and would provide some protection from a hard stop or mild fender bender.

The advice to let dogs ride only in the back seat is significant. It’s not only about distraction. If you are in an accident that causes the airbags to go off, your dog is very likely to be severely injured or killed by the airbag. That is why small children cannot ride in the front.

A small dog dangles from a car seatback, held by a Rocketeer harness
Rocketeer for small dogs

There’s a more secure option, one that also dramatically improves the pet’s chances of surviving an accident safely. There’s an organization called the Center for Pet Safety that tests (among other things) pet seatbelts and rates their performance.

They paid for extensive crash testing, and came up with a (very) few certified harnesses: three. These are the SleepyPod Clickit Sport and Terrain and the ZuGoPet Rocketeer.

The Rocketeer is for dogs up to 25 pounds only and is sort of like a baby carrier that you wear on the front. Only the car seat back wears it. A little weird.

You can actually watch video of the crash tests on the CPS website.

They are pricey: The Rocketeer starts at about $100, and the SleepyPods, for dogs 18 to 90 pounds, start at $70.

Duke, the new-and-improved crash-test dog, works hard to make SleepyPods safe (if you believe the video on the company website). The video is scary. Cali might be getting a brand-new, Duke-approved harness before our next road trip. Frankly, I’d feel safer if Duke came along for the ride as well!


Born to Ride

The happy person driving down the road while his buddy rides along, head hanging out the window, ears flapping in the wind, is an iconic image for dog lovers. That’s why it was so exciting when Beau, my aunt’s new dog, jumped into the car with no help — and with great enthusiasm — recently. He had surgery on both knees before my aunt adopted him from a boxer rescue group, and his hind legs are still shaky.

We were even more thrilled when he jumped onto the back seat from the foot space. He wanted to sit next to me, which was gratifying. But I’m no longer visiting, and he’s still getting up onto the seat. He seems enthusiastic about going for rides and is equally thrilled with the adventures in store when the car arrives at its destination. He’s been on walks in different places and helped drop off the recycling once. Now that Beau is willing to get onto the seat, we’re wondering what kind of rider Beau will be. Is he the head-hanging-out-the-window type? Not all dogs are.

Cali’s riding style is to sit up and look out the window, watching everything that goes by. When she realizes we’re going someplace familiar and fun — her sister’s house, for example, or the dog beach — she gets really excited and starts pacing and sometimes squealing. For this reason as well as for general safety, I usually seatbelt her (and the other dogs) when we’re off on a car adventure. Cali gets the window seat on the passenger side of the car; if she were sitting behind me, I’d have to contend with more than her vocalizations: She likes to lean over the shoulder of whoever is sitting in front and nuzzle that person’s neck — and drool on her shoulder.

Ory and Jana in carAlberta gets the middle because she likes to poke her head between the front seats and say hi to the driver and passenger. For a petite Lab, Alberta has a surprisingly heavy head. It can be hard to get into the storage console when she’s in the car, using it as a pillow. And forget about using that console as an arm rest.

Jana is the most mellow rider in the family. She curls up and snoozes. Sometimes she cuddles with Alberta. Several years ago, when Oriel was still with us, Jana and Ory spent most of a cross-country drive snuggled up together in the back seat.  On a recent trip to Yellowstone, we did get Jana to sit up and take notice, but only when the bison came right up to the car.

Fortunately, all of our dogs love car rides. But some poor dogs are scared or get carsick. For them, a car ride is worse than a nail trim! Whether Beau hangs his head out the window, drools on his driver, or just sits there and smiles, I wish him many miles of enjoyment in the car.