Car Talk is pleased to present two actual experts, who know what they're talking about...for a change. Dr. Sip Siperstein and trainer Melissa McCue-McGrath will take your questions on all things animal and automotive. Got a question for them? Great! Share it with Sip and Melissa. Looking for other answers? Check Car Talk's FIDO Zone.
Dear Car Talk Pet Gurus:
My dog Kayla asked for a dog seatbelt for the car, for her birthday. Okay, I lied. She asked for steak- but I'm getting her the harness.
So I started Googling pet harnesses. But after some looking online, I see that they vary in effectiveness. Some might not even help at all. I want to do what's best for my dog, but I'm also cheap, and I don't want to spend the money on something that doesn't work. Any guidance? Thanks!
--Dwight and Kayla
Melissa: There are several options for you, depending on your preferences, the size of your pet, and the size of your car. While a crate is a great option for many pets, a crate for your Great Dane might not work if you drive a Smart Car. Let’s look at what options are available.
Dr. Sip: Seat belts for dogs are one way to go and there are lots out there now, including some with fleece lining for comfort. Some of my patients come to their veterinary appointments with the harness part of their seat belt still on and used as a walking harness. This is convenient for just popping the dog right back in the car after that check-up. Here’s a seat belt harness the SPCA sells.
Melissa: We love the idea of seat belts but in recent studies it's clear that this technology still has a long way to go. These restraints will keep your pet in place before an accident occurs, which is a great thing--they aren't jumping around the cabin of the car, distracting the driver. (My cat Rohan once escaped his crate and took a walk across the dashboard of my car while I was driving 80mph on I-93. A terrifying moment!) The good news is that if you love the idea of a harness, there are some great ones - including Sleepypods Clickit Utility Harness. If you want to use a harness, you should do your research and make sure you are getting a harness that is well designed and passed some sort of safety test. Some are great, some aren't helpful in the event of an accident, so it's on you to check safety regulations on the harness that you purchase.
With that being said, if there is an accident, I want to know that my pet has the best chance of surviving.
Dr. Sip: Exactly! Personally, I use a gate divider. The photo below is very similar to the “gate” I use, but there are lots of styles depending on the type that will work best in your car, and even some that come with different fittings depending on your make of car. These dividers are particularly practical if you have a big dog.
Dr. Sip: There are also dividers that come in mesh instead of metal. If your dog is well-behaved and would never DREAM of chewing anything, the mesh would be great. That’s not my dogs, though (nom nom nom). It's also important to make sure the gate is properly installed... The one time I decided not to bother reinstalling my gate after taking it down to move something big, I ended up with 55 pounds of Zuzu the Flying Hound in my lap.
Melissa: Sadie never chewed through the mesh, but she crawled under it. Imagine my surprise to see that my Border collie had unhooked the clip and made her way to the front seat. This leads me to our next blog...never get a dog smarter than you...
Dr. Sip: I agree about not getting a dog smarter than you. It’s darned inconvenient and embarrassing.
Probably the absolute safest restraint of all is to have your pet in a secured crate. Safer for the pet. Safer for the driver. Safer for other drivers who might be distracted by the temptation to gawk and say “look, honey, at the cute Bichon Frise peeking out the window of that...aaaaaaah!” (crash sounds).
Melissa: I’m a huge fan of using crates in cars. As a dog trainer, I see a lot of dogs that can’t handle people or other dogs walking by the car they are occupying. If you have a dog that is sensitive or reactive you can protect your dog (and your eardrums) by placing your dog in a crate. Then secure the crate with a device from PetBuckles.com. If your dog needs a blanket or other cover to block visual stimulation, you can do that, too! Training and safety. Two birds, one stone.
Dr. Sip: You’re getting ahead of yourself, Melissa. We’ll talk about driving with your bird in a future blog. As for dogs, I think we’ve got that one all tied up.
Dr. Siperstein is a staff veterinarian at Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital in Berkeley, California. Dr. Sip sees dogs, cats and exotic pets. She believes hedgehogs should have the right to drive because they should be treated as E-Quills.
Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA is a certified dog trainer. She is the co-Training Director of New England Dog Training Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Car Talk aficionados might have heard of Cambridge...for some reason.