Achieving Balance and Harmony

COMMUNITY

Dog Is My Co-Pilot (and Other Bad Ideas)

By Joe Wilkes

Living in Los Angeles, there’s usually ample time to enjoy the bumper stickers of your fellow commuters. I’ve seen the “Dog Is My Co-Pilot” one a number of times. But the other day when I was passing the car it was attached to, I noticed that the bumper sticker was more of a warning than a joke. A retriever-sized mutt was sitting in the driver’s lap with his head out the window enjoying what breeze could be enjoyed in the stop-and-go traffic. Maybe the dog was helping the driver prepare for a merge, but it didn’t seem like the ideal driving scenario, and while I couldn’t see, I’m almost certain the dog’s paws weren’t at ten and two.

The American Automobile Association recently released a survey that said 56 percent of pet owners drove with their pets at least once a month but only 16 percent used any type of restraint, such as a harness or a crate. Drive-time activities with the pets included:

  • Petting: 52 percent
  • Restraining pet while braking: 23 percent
  • Keeping the pet out of the front seat: 19 percent
  • Reaching into the backseat for pet: 18 percent
  • Allowing the dog in the driver’s lap: 17 percent
  • Feeding the dog: 17 percent

Now growing up in the 1970s, I’m not sure I even remember whether any of our cars had seat belts in the back. If they did, they were stuffed far enough into the cushions, so no one had to endure the discomfort of sitting on top of one. At any given time, you could find two or more small children and a dog roaming free in the back of my parents’ station wagon. Somehow no one was injured, but today my parents, along with most of their generation, would probably be in jail. Now, when you look at state-of-the-art car seats (legally mandated in most states), most children are as ready to take part in a shuttle launch as a trip to the store.

Dogs, however, do not seem to enjoy the same safety requirements as children. As the AAA survey (and my own randomly observed anecdotal evidence) can attest, the vast majority of dogs are not protected from any kind of crash or sudden traffic event like slamming on the brakes. Man’s best friend can turn from pet to projectile in a matter of milliseconds, posing a danger not only to the pet but to the other passengers in the vehicle. As nimble as your dog is when catching a tennis ball in midair, in a car he has no footing and no means of holding on to anything and is purely at the mercy of gravity and momentum.

And as dangerous as it is for dogs as passengers, they are actually pretty lousy co-pilots and largely do more harm than good when “assisting” the driver. Dogs rarely have any relevant experience operating heavy machinery and while owners talk about how they smile when they stick their heads out the window, that just may be the G-forces they’re seeing. Unrestrained dogs lead to distracted driving, one of the leading causes of accidents. Even if it’s only a teacup Yorkie, if it’s on your shoulder, your driving is going to be impaired.

So don’t stop taking your dog to the beach or the park or the vet, but do look into a safe crate. It’ll keep your pet safe, you safe, and the rest of us on the road safe. Watch Cesar's tips on what to look for in a crate.

What has been your experience using a crate to transport your dog in your car? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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