What you gon do with all that junk inside your trunk?
November 26, 2009 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Which is the safer car position for my dog?

We have a VW Golf and a German Shepherd. Traditionally, when the dog travels with us he sits in the back seat. Yesterday we drove 12 hours home for Thanksgiving and I had to sit in the back with my dog the entire time as we drove an additional person home with us this time. It was an...adventure.

This led to the following debate between my husband and I:

He wants to get one of those bar things that extend from the back seat to the roof of the car and start putting the dog in the trunk. I think it's an unsafe proposition because I think we're most likely to be rear-ended if in an accident, and that would effectively smush my dog. I think he's way safer sitting in the back seat, and therefore we should continue this arrangement. What do you think? Note I'm only looking at this from the perspective of his safety.
posted by sickinthehead to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I agree with you, but I have no particular expertise to back this up.

They make seat belt things - tethers or harnesses - for dogs, too.
posted by dilettante at 3:16 PM on November 26, 2009

Best answer: Is there any possible way that you can fit his crate in the car? Because that is the number one safest way to transport a dog. It will 1) physically protect him in a crash, 2) prevent him from running off, terrified, after a crash, and 3) prevent him from defensively stopping emergency personnel from getting to you after a crash, and thereby keep emergency workers from potentially harming him. The third possibility is one most people never consider, but I know someone whose dog (also a German Shepherd) was shot on the scene by emergency personnel because it was barking and growling at them. The person who owned the dog woke up from a coma two days later to learn that his best friend had been killed. A crate would have prevented that.
posted by HotToddy at 3:27 PM on November 26, 2009

Response by poster: HotToddy, you make excellent points that I have not considered; however, while I fully agree with points 2 and 3, I feel iffy about point 1. I feel like it's not necessarily true that the crate would protect him physically in a crash. What if the crash dented in the crate thereby hurting the dog, whereas if he wasn't in his crate he would've just gotten shoved over. Does that make sense?

I know I am probably way overthinking this, but he is my baby.

Still, your story about the dog being shot is deeply compelling.
posted by sickinthehead at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2009

Response by poster: I should also mention that a soft-sided crate would never contain my dog. It would be ripped to shreds within 10 minutes.
posted by sickinthehead at 3:38 PM on November 26, 2009

I love my dogs, I really do. But who is supposed to survive in an accident? If you want safety for you and your dog, you'll get a safety belt for the dog or a box in which the dog fits.
If you want it comfortable for the dog during a 12h drive and do not want the dog to turn into a cannonball during an accident and kill the driver and/or the passenger, put it in the trunk (It' s not a sedan people, it's an open trunk that needs a bar thing to separate it from the passenger compartment.)
Please get a doggy seatbelt or put it in the trunk. During any accident that is sufficiently dire to crush the trunk you have to think about yourself and consider the danger of a flying dog. The problem is that the doggy seatbelts I know of only harness the dog so it doesn't turn into a cannonball but I don't trust them to provide a better survivability for the dog.
(Achtung! Holier than thou attitude of the writer: I am very irresponsible here, because my dog likes to sit on the passenger seat. First it will get killed by the passenger seat airbag and if the car swerves during the accident it will crush me.)
posted by mmkhd at 3:39 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your run of the mill crate isn't going to provide much protection for either you or the dog. It certainly isn't going to protect from crumpling, and it probably won't keep your dog from flying through the car and injuring itself, and possibly you. That plastic is not going to hold. I don't know if those barrier bars are going to do any better.

I think the safest bet is probably something like a Roadie harness hooked with a seatbelt in the rear seat.
posted by Good Brain at 3:45 PM on November 26, 2009

Best answer: Speaking as a former firefighter/EMT, I've got to vote for the dog crate. I assume he uses a crate at home and is crate trained. For all of the reasons put forth by HotToddy, you and the dog are probably safer if he is restrained in a crate and in the back seat. Those who feel that he will be crushed are most likely imagining the type of accident that the dog probably wouldn't survive anyway. The main concern in having a pet in the trunk of a vehicle is just what the OP is worried about. A rear-end collision of as little as ten miles and hour can dent the trunk lid enough that it will not open without serious extraction tools. If the car catches fire, the trunk is right over the gas tank and the dog is not going to be rescued. If the dog is in a crate that is belted onto the back seat, either the crate can be snatched out or the crate door can be opened to liberate the dog.

Remember to stop periodically to let the dog out to stretch his legs and claim some territory. My Queensland Healer owns a bit of every rest stop between California and East Tennessee.
posted by Old Geezer at 4:45 PM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another thing about harnesses--if you do decide to use one, make sure to find one designed so that it can't possibly get twisted around your dog's leg. I used to use them (before I bought a new car for the specific purpose of transporting my dogs in crates) and I once checked on my dog and found that she had somehow gotten twisted around with her leg in the harness and it was acting as a tourniquet. Thank God I happened to check on her, because it was super tight and she could have been seriousy injured.

The harness that did that was basically a loop of nylon webbing that went around the lap belt on one end and hooked into her harness on the other. It had an adjustment thingy in the middle that held the two sides together, but there was still a way for her leg to get in it, and sure enough she found it.
posted by HotToddy at 4:52 PM on November 26, 2009

1. I feel like it's not necessarily true that the crate would protect him physically in a crash. What if the crash dented in the crate thereby hurting the dog, whereas if he wasn't in his crate he would've just gotten shoved over. Does that make sense?

I'm not sure it does. Whatever is going to dent the crate is going to hit your dog, and then he will also get "shoved" into other things in the car. The more room anything has to fly around, the more likely it will be broken/break other things. That's why people wear seatbelts.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:27 PM on November 26, 2009

My dog, a Bedlington Terrier, rides in the back seat with a special harness that connects to the seat belt. I went through several harnesses before I finally found one that works well. I forget the brand name, but it has thick padding on the part of the harness that covers the dog's chest and two straps come around behind his front legs and snap onto the top part of the harness where the connecting ring is. The part that connects to the seat belt has two swivel/snap things -- one on the snap that connects to the dog and one on the dealie that connects to the seat belt. This is great because the dog can turn around in the car without twisting the seat belt or the connecting strap. The strap that connects to the seat belt isn't a loop like many of them are -- it's a length of seat belt strapping with heavy-duty metal connecting hardware.

I believe my dog is very safe with this harness on.
posted by rhartong at 6:07 PM on November 26, 2009

First it will get killed by the passenger seat airbag.

Some newer cars have weight-activated airbags for this reason. A coworker bought a new Civic a year ago and one of the features was that the airbag is not supposed to deploy unless the passenger weighs a certain amount. This was probably intended to protect small children, but she drives with her Sheltie a lot and wanted this feature. (I think the minimum weight for airbag activation is 60 lbs, though, and a German Shepherd weighs more than that.)
posted by Violet Hour at 6:07 PM on November 26, 2009

A crate is most comfortable for the dog and safer than just riding in the back seat or trunk. Seat belt harnesses are probably safer than crates, but my dogs find them extremely uncomfortable for long trips. You really need to contain your dog somehow, for your safety and your dog's safety.
posted by biscotti at 6:33 PM on November 26, 2009

I have a friend who has a disabling switch installed on their passenger-side airbag for when their harnessed dog (>60lbs) rides with them. IIRC there's some sort of ridiculous form you need to fill out in order to get permission to get a switch installed, but I'm pretty sure he found a garage that did it on a cash, no-questions-asked basis. It is probably better to get all the paperwork done properly if you ever plan on selling the car, though.

Best bet is probably a good purpose-built dog harness, and then in the back seat, same as you'd do for a kid in a car seat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:47 PM on November 26, 2009

My car is too small and my dogs are too big to fit two crates in there. I drive an older sedan and I have one dog that's large-medium sized and the other is gigantic. I have seat belt harnesses for them and they ride in the back seat. I can't remember the brand that I bought and they're in the trunk of my car right now, but they look like this.

The thing I like about the seat belts is that it also keeps my dogs from falling off the seats or getting slung around when I turn and stop. It also keeps them from do irritating things like attempting to hurl themselves through the windows at other dogs or trying to stand on the armrest between the front seats, or violently licking me in the face while I'm trying to drive. They can stand or sit with the harness on, but they can't really jump around back there.

One of my dogs used to be a runner, and he used to always try to bolt out the car door and take off the second I opened it. Wearing a seat belt has made it much easier to train him to stay while I put his leash on, too.

I don't know anything about how the bar thing with your trunk would work or how safe it would be, but it sounds like some seat belt harnesses might be easier to deal with, and they're safer than just letting your dog ride free in the back seat. It also cuts down on the dog-in-car annoyance factor by about 1000%
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:57 PM on November 26, 2009

Have you seen the Ruffrider harnesses? That's what I use for my Lab. It seems very safe and I've never had any issues with it.

Also, while I don't have any experience with accidents and crates, my inclination is certainly that a crate could do more harm than good - it could get squished in a way that either causes more injury to the dog or prevents you from being able to get him out of either the crate or the car.

A harness does what a seatbelt is supposed to do: it keeps the dog secured to a place in the car in the event of an accident (and also, just while you're driving around - I drive around in an open jeep with this thing on my dog and don't have to worry about him jumping out the window). It won't always save his life but I trust it much more than a crate.

Good luck.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 5:46 AM on November 27, 2009

Something that people seem to be not focussing on in these answers is the following - if you have a dog in your car that is not crated or harnessed, then the dog's health in the accident is possibly the least of your worries. Something as large as a dog (ANY dog) in an accident will fly around in the car and most likely injure or kill you. It's quite likely, in addition, that the dog may survive accidents relatively unharmed that leave you very injured as being hit in the back of the head by a dog at 30mph is very bad for you.

One of the reasons that compulsory rear seat belt use was pushed into legislation was because in many accidents (some relatively minor) the rear occupant either killed, or injured more greatly than they were injured themselves, the front seat (belted) occupant. Front seat belts are for your protection as the driver/front passenger, but so are the rear ones for your benefit, too. This is why I won't let people get in the back of my car without putting their belt on. If they want to die by refusing to wear a perfectly sensible belt in their own car then fuck 'em, to some extent, but they're not taking me with them when they're in my car.

It is unsafe to have dogs in a car that aren't restrained. If you don't want to put a crate or harness in your car then by far the safest place for a dog for all occupants of the car would be behind a grille in the back of the car (trunk/boot).

Otherwise, as mentioned, a crate is most likely the next best bet - the dog will move with teh crate if it is at all possible in a major accident, and any accident bigger than the crate is able to withstand (ie if it gets crushed rather than moved) then it becomes academic - neither you or your dog stand a very good chance anyway in an accident of that magnitude. You can only do so much to protect yourself and the dog.
posted by Brockles at 8:47 AM on November 27, 2009

I have a Maltese-Poodle mix that wears a dog seatbelt everyday on the ten minute drive to work. He was in a car accident with us before he had one and was okay, but it made us get one for him (and no, he didn't try to eat the rescue personnel, lol). With a German Shepherd, though, I think that the crate is the best option even if it does have to go in the trunk area, because I would be worried about my dog hurting/getting hurt by rescue personnel if he was a German Shepherd.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:02 AM on November 27, 2009

Back seat is safer for the dog. The further a passenger is from a likely impact area, and the easier it is for them to get out of the vehicle afterwards, the safer they are.
posted by zippy at 10:10 AM on November 27, 2009

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