What are the options when it comes to travelling easily and safely in the car with your dog? Alison Gallagher-Hughes considers the alternatives.
Travelling with dogs is all a matter of physics — variables and constants that need to be weighed up to maximise the comfort and safety of your dog, while minimising driver distraction.
There are many variables: your dog — his breed, height and weight, his predispositions around travel, the number of dogs you have, and the vehicle itself (model and specification) that will determine fit.
This is not lost on me because last year my canine family increased in number. The back seat hammock liner and seat belt tethers — ideal for one or two dogs — proved less so when travelling with five! When using tethers, there needs to be sufficient length to allow the dog to move and change position, particularly over long distances, but extend these too much and you end up with something that resembles a maypole. I had to go back to the drawing board!
Rule 57 of the Highway Code states: “When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage, or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”
In other words, it is not prescriptive in how you restrain your dog and there is no requirement to tether them — the rule primarily relates to driver focus and safety. But, as pet owners, we also want to ensure our dogs are comfortable and safe, protected in the event of a collision.
When it comes to car travel, there’s a range of different options to meet all budgets.
So, where do you start?
An unrestrained dog can prove a distraction to the driver.
Choices tend to fall under four categories:
● Pet carriers/tubes/kennels. Usually made of fabric/mesh, they are portable and lightweight so easier to remove when needed. They can be fixed onto the back seat or in the boot space of a hatchback or estate vehicle.
● Dog cages/crates. These come in a variety of sizes or can be custom-made. Robust and secure, they are the gold standard, offering protection as well as containment. They should be of sufficient height/depth to allow your dog to change position, but not to walk around.
● Pet-safety harnesses/tethers. These are the equivalent of dog seat belts, but it is important to ensure that a travel harness is used as opposed to a walking harness. Check out https://ruffwear.co.uk/products/load-up-dog-car-harness or https://kurgo.uk/products/impact-dog-car-harness; never attach a tether to a collar.
● Dog guards. These fit between the boot and the back passenger seats, limiting dogs’ access to the body of the car to minimise driver distraction, although drivers need to ensure that their dogs do not obscure visibility. Dog guards offer little protection for the dog in the event of a collision.
A dog travelling in a pet tube.
Lucy Gray, marketing manager of Travelling With Pets (www.travellingwithpets.co.uk), says that a crash-tested product would be her number one choice.
“You wouldn’t choose any old booster seat over a child seat that meets current safety standards, and although there aren’t specific safety standards for pet travel yet, owners shouldn’t compromise on their pets’ safety either.
“Most modern cars now have Isofix fittings that allow child seats to clip in and be secured without the use of seat belts; we are finding that pet travel manufacturers are also starting to make use of these now, which makes sense.”
However, she accepts that buying decisions have to be balanced by practicalities and budget.
“Not everyone can afford to buy a top of the range product. That doesn’t make them a bad owner. Price can be a determining factor and there are alternative products on the market.”
Risk may be a factor in your decision-making. Every day we subconsciously undertake ‘risk assessments’ and act upon them, from securing our homes when we leave them, to crossing a road. We may consider that based on anticipated miles, the need for extra protection is unnecessary. However, an interpretation of “restraint” cannot be compromised.
“Restraint doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog has to wear a harness or that he needs to be in a cage. But your dog shouldn’t be able to jump about in the car and definitely shouldn’t be sitting on your lap, or in the footwell when travelling... but it’s surprising how some people think this is acceptable,” explained Lucy.
Read the rest of the feature in the February 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.
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