In almost all countries there are traffic laws regarding road safety, and these laws include having all passengers safely restrained within the vehicle using some type of approved seat belt. Although these laws don't typically extend to four legged passengers, most safety conscious drivers and pet owners understand that their dogs are just as much at risk in the event of an accident as a human passenger would be. Since dogs are much lighter than people, at least in most cases, they are much more likely to become injured in accidents by being thrown through a window, especially with emergency stops and accidents from behind. In addition dogs can easily panic in an accident and quickly get out of control, something that is very dangerous both to other's in the vehicle as well as themselves.
The first step in helping your dog to stay safe in your car or truck is to teach them to tolerate and enjoy being in the car in some type of a safety device. Basically owners have two choices for small, medium and large sized dogs, however for very small dogs and toy breeds there is usually only one option. Small, medium to larger sized dogs may be kept in carriers in the vehicle or may be restrained through the use of a safety harness, which is very similar to an over the shoulder seat belt and harness combination. Very small dogs and toy breed can only be transported in a carrier. Most safety harnesses or restraints are sold by the weight of the dog and the rib cage measurement, rather than the actual physical size. Dogs weighing less than 6 to 8 pounds cannot be properly fitted for the restraint harnesses, however they can be put in a carrier and then the carrier belted in.
What To Look For In A Safety Harness
Like most safety devices on the market there are good restraint harnesses and there are poorer devices. One feature to look for is that the restraint harness has been tested and meets human seat belt test requirements, which will assure you that the harness will not break in the event of an accident and can withstand the pressure of the dog suddenly moving one direction or another in an accident. The harness or restraint should clearly indicate it passes S.A.E testing standards; this should be both on the advertisement as well as actually on the harness itself.
The safety harness needs to have wide, well made straps that will provide a comfortable fit for the dog. Narrow bands are going to be fine when the dog is just sitting in the car, however in the event of a sudden stop or an accident, the dogs weight will all press on a narrow area of the chest, possibly resulting in bruising, broken bones and even cuts to the areas around the straps. Wider straps distribute the pressure and weight across a wider area of the chest, resulting in less likelihood of any type of physical damage.
Avoid using a regular harness that you would walk your dog with and simply looping a seat belt through the back. This not only puts pressure in the wrong spots across your dog's chest and rib cage but they are also not tested for the types of pressure that may occur in an accident, resulting in the harness simply breaking at the buckles when put under stress. Some harnesses are sold as combination walking harnesses and car restraints, however unless they are S.A.E approved for tensile strength to human seat belt standards they are not providing safety for your dog when used in the vehicle.
Fitting A Safety Harness
Safety harnesses need to be snug to the body but not restrictive or tight. Most harnesses will have a step through system and the straps will cross on the center point of the chest, well below the throat area. The best harnesses have no buckles or fasteners, rather the harness will slide over the dog's head, and then each front leg is placed through the loop to put the harness into position. Since there are no buckles or connections, the harness is much stronger overall.
If possible take your dog to the pet store and try on the harnesses to find the one that fits correctly. It is also possible to buy online, just measure your dog's weight as well as the distance around the widest part of the rib cage, which is usually just behind the elbows. When the dog is right on the top limit of the harness size, go up one size to ensure a good, comfortable fit.
Using A Carrier
A carrier can also be used for transporting toy, small or medium dogs, although the larger sized dogs may not be suited to traveling in a carrier unless you have a van or other larger vehicle. Carriers need to be sturdy plastic or wire as soft-sided carriers provide no protection in the event of an accident. The carrier needs to be large enough for the dog to comfortably stand and lie down without being cramped. In addition provide a rubber mat in the bottom of the carrier to give the dog additional traction when moving about.
Don't put any heavy toys or objects into the carrier with the dog as they can cause injury in a sudden stop or accident.
Installing The Restraint In A Vehicle
Basically both a harness and a carrier simply attach to the seat belt through at least two loops that are also attached to the harness or carrier. In this way the harness or carrier is like a child's safety seat, actually being attached to the seat belt with the shoulder strap and then clicking into the seat belt receptacle as normal.
Like with a child's safety seat manufacturers of both harnesses and carriers recommend the dog be safely restrained in the backseat of the car whenever possible, since they are much less likely to injured with impact to the dash or front widows from the back seat.
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