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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Not securing dogs in a car puts them at risk

July 06. 2018 6:45PM
The safest way for a dog to travel in a car is either confined in a crate or behind a gate, or secured with a seatbelt attached to a harness. (Metro Creative Connection)

Every few years I revisit a health, safety or behavioral issue, hoping to reach a new audience. This week's column was prompted by my staff asking me to write a memo to our clients about the dangers of a dog hanging out a car window.

You may have seen the story in the Union Leader a week or so ago about Popeye, an 8-year-old English setter from Auburn who was left briefly in a parked car with a window open about 6 inches. Popeye panicked when a motorcycle backfired and squeezed out through that small opening. He ran loose for three weeks before he was caught and reunited with his owner. During his terrifying ordeal, he was likely hit by a car and left with a broken femur. His injured leg will need to be amputated.

Popeye is back home, and luckily his story did not end tragically, but it isn't rare to hear about a dog jumping out of a car window and being severely injured or even killed. It happened to one of our staff whose dog jumped out of a moving car, was hit by another car and killed. And one of our clients had a dog who jumped out of her moving car and had its leg run over. Fortunately the dog survived but was badly injured and traumatized, as was the client!

Do these qualify as "accidents?" If it's totally avoidable, can you call it an accident? I want to shout it from the rooftops (this being my metaphorical rooftop!) how dangerous it is to give a dog the "freedom" to hang out a window, feeling the wind in its ears. Is "freedom" more important than your dog's life?

I don't want to see a dog fly out of a car window, and I REALLY don't want to be driving the car that kills someone's dog - as traumatic for the driver who killed the dog as it is for the dog's owner.

How "safe" do you think these scenarios are? A huge German shepherd with literally (and I mean literally literally) three-quarters of his body hanging out of the car. His rear legs and hips were all that were on the other side of the car door. Or a toy dog sitting on the driver's lap, hanging out the driver's window with its front feet resting on the door frame.

For either of these dogs, a slight swerve or bump could throw the dog out the window. Not only could the dog be ejected from the car, but for the toy dog on the driver's lap, if the airbag deployed, the dog would be crushed against the driver's chest. The danger of the airbag killing a dog isn't something most people think about, but it is definitely a concern if your dog rides in the front seat.

The safest way for a dog to travel in a car is either confined in a crate or behind a gate, or secured with a seatbelt attached to a harness. If you want your dog to enjoy the air rushing past the window, secure your dog with a harness and seatbelt. This is safest even if you keep your car windows closed or only open enough for your dog's nose to get through.

I have written before about each of these issues: the dangers of allowing our dogs to ride with their heads hanging out a window or to ride untethered in the back of an open pickup truck. I've written about open windows that a dog can jump or fall out of and about the dangers to the dog if an airbag deploys while it rides in the front seat. One might think that avoiding these dangers is just common sense. Sadly, it is not.

Please help spread the word. Your dog's or your friend's dog's life may depend on it.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog" and a dog behavior consultant, runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.

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