Car Crash Preparedness With Service Dogs

Published Categorized as Service Dogs

Car Accidents – Something to Think About

Of course, no one wants to be in a car crash. But the truth is that they happen every day. And more and more people are traveling with their dogs, some of which of course would be service dogs.

It’s good to take a few minutes to be prepared just in case something does happen one day. Here are some tips for being the most prepared as possible with your service dog in and around vehicles.

Keep in mind that pet safety products are unregulated with no mandated government safety standards. Some products may be “crash-tested,” but the Center for Pet Safety rightly points out, that doesn’t mean they actually passed the test.

Car travel for dogs
Car travel for dogs
Medical alert service dog sitting on top of a white car
Medical Alert Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphena

Secure Your Dog

The safest way for your dog to travel in the car is in a crate that has been anchored to the vehicle using a seat belt or other secure means. Dog restraints or seat belts are useful for preventing your dog from roaming around the car and being a distraction to the driver, but they haven’t been reliably shown to protect dogs during a crash.

U.S. Humane Society

This is the first and probably the most obvious advice. Unsecured dogs are simply not safe. Always be sure to secure your dog. There are several ways this can be done.

Pet travel harnesses come in two forms, those that only prevent distraction and those that provide actual crash protection. Choose wisely!

Center for Pet Safety

Use a dog ​harness ​seat ​belt​

This type of harness secures small or large dogs. It keeps your dog in one position with a strap that plugs into the seat belt.

It’s a great choice for dogs that are already quite well behaved. Just keep an eye on your dog because there’s still a chance they could chew through the harness while you’re driving if they really wanted to.

How to secure your dog using this method:

  • Slide the car seat belt through the dog seat-belt loop and buckle your dog in
  • ​Place your dog on the car seat and connect the silver clasp to your dog’s harness.
  • Adjust your dog’s seat​ ​belt so it’s secure and comfy

Use a crate

Crates can be quite useful, especially if your dog is already used to them and won’t find it stressful. They are usually great for confident and relaxed dogs.

Crates ensures that dogs are safe, comfortable, and secure. Make sure​ t​he crate is large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around ​in.

How to secure your dog with a crate:

  • ​Find the right size crate for your dog and car
  • ​Place ​the c​rate in ​the back if you have a station wagon or other hatchback-style car, or in the back seat​ of a sedan​ style
  • Cover the crate with a blanket to help your dog relax. You can also add some extra blankets around the edges of the crate for comfort and protection

While it is intuitive for most people to “buckle up” their pet’s carrier – DON’T! – unless the manufacturer provides you with crash test video to illustrate structural integrity.  Using a seatbelt to secure a carrier can actually crush the carrier if you get into an accident.

Center for Pet Safety

For smaller dogs, consider a plush carry box

This can work great for smaller pups. The elevated box gives them a good view of you and their surrounding area. You can use it with a dog harness.

How to secure your dog

  • Place the plush carry box on the back seat​
  • Put your dog in the harness and attach it to the carry box

Consider a ​dog guard

Dog guards can be ideal for dogs who like to see you and move around​. The​ guard prevents a dog from being thrown forward if there was a collision. Be sure​ to get a guard that bolts to the floor and roof of your car so it can’t be knocked out of position.

Consider installing a back-seat barrier

This can work for larger dogs who struggle to relax when restrained. The barrier keeps your dog in the back seat if you brake suddenly.

Dog riding in the car
Kylie’s “Lucy On Duty” @lucytheservicesibe

What About Trunks?

Trunks are crumple zones. If you’re planning to secure your dog in a kennel in the trunk, make sure the kennel is pushed all the way as far as possible towards the back seats.

Front Seat Footwells

Front seat footwell areas are not good because a lot of vehicles now have knee airbags, which would injure your dog. So it’s not recommended to have dogs in the front seat, similar to the recommendations for children.

Psychiatric Service Dog
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.service

Turn Off Front Seat Airbags

If you decide to secure your service dog on the front seat, be sure to turn off the airbags. An airbag that has been turned off is much safer for your dog.

The Safest Location for Dogs

The safest, best spot seems to be the back seat. A kennel can be placed here, or your dog can be secured to the seatbelt with a car harness.

Avoid Free Roaming Dogs

Having your dog roam freely in the car isn’t safe. Your dog could easily become a projectile, even if the car accident is seemingly minor. And even though dogs love to stick their head out the window and have their ears blow in the wind, this isn’t actually safe for dogs for a number of different reasons.

Allowing your dog to stick his head out the window is a very dangerous habit. Their eyes are exposed to dirt, rocks, dust and other debris. These materials can easily puncture and scratch your dog’s eyes. A line of pet goggles has come out to help prevent these types of injuries. However, even if you can train your dog not to paw the goggles off his head, there are still many other dangers when your dog’s head is out the window while driving.

Trips With Pets

If You’re Conscious

  • If you are conscious, you can let others know what to do with your service dog
  • Service dogs are allowed in hospitals, and should go with you
  • Services dogs are allowed in ambulances as long as there is space

If You Are Unconscious

If you are unconscious and the medical staff need to work on your care, there may not be space for your service dog in the back of the ambulance.

Have An Emergency Plan for Your Dog

Have an emergency plan ready to go for you and your dog.

  • On a kennel, you could have a tube or folder secured on the outside
  • Stickers could be used to direct people to where your emergency plan is located
  • Have a box ready and available with treats, toys, slip lead, food, and a service dog vest

Have this emergency folder contain emergency vet information, including an emergency contact in there.

Direct police not to bring your dog to animal control, but to have the dog wait at police HQ for your emergency contact to pick up the dog if that’s what you prefer. Include your medical info in there.

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By Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.

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