Driving Dog

Love That Car, Love That Dog

There’s nothing Australians love more than travelling with their four-legged friends, whether it’s a trip to the park, the annual holiday or a work run in the back of the ute.

But statistics gathered by the RSPCA show that about 5,000 dogs each year in Australia are killed or injured through falling from a moving vehicle.

And many more suffer heat exhaustion, dehydration and even death when left in vehicles during the warmer months, with heat building quickly inside the car to dangerous levels.

What are the Rules regarding Car Travel with your Dog?

As a driver, you can get a fine and lose demerit points if an animal is sitting on your lap, or stopping you being in control of the vehicle. Animals must be seated or housed appropriately inside the vehicle. If you have a ute, your dog must be restrained with a tether or kept inside a cage, preventing it falling off or being injured when the car moves, brakes suddenly or possibly crashes.

The RSPCA can also issue fines under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. If an animal is injured because it was unrestrained, owners face up to six months’ jail and fines of up to $5,500. Carrying dogs untethered on the back of a ute can land drivers with a fine of $500.

So what can you do to keep your Pet Safe?

Golden retriever in back of a wagon
Photo courtesy of DEPI Victoria

There are plenty of options to help you both comply with the law and keep your treasured dog safe while travelling in the car.

Travelling crates and containers: These are popular and totally restrain your pet. Just make sure your pet has enough room to sit, stand, turn around easily and lie down comfortably. There must also be adequate ventilation and air flow.

Car Harness: This secures your dog by linking the harness to the seat belt system. The trick here is buying a harness of the right size, ensuring comfort and safety. Pet shops will help you choose the right one if you need some guidance. Ensure you are fitting it correctly and linking it securely.

Cargo barrier: A great option for a stationwagon, keeping your pet safely contained in the cargo area as you travel.

Pet booster seats: Suitable for dogs weighing up to about 15kg, a booster seat elevates the dog to window level, so he can look out, and a comfortable, secure padded seat/container/basket with washable liners. Its adjustable tether easily attaches to your dog’s car harness.

Allowing your dog to travel in the front passenger seat is generally discouraged, as airbags can be fatal for your pet in the event of an accident. Seat belt attachments should always be used with harnesses, rather than being directly attached to your dog’s collar.

How can a dog safely travel on the back of a Ute?

Dog in a ute tray
Dogs tricks of the tray

Only a dog actively working livestock can travel on the back of a ute without being restrained by a tether or held in a cage.

Many dogs travelling ‘free’ have fallen off the back of the moving ute; been struck by oncoming or passing vehicles; been dragged alongside the ute; or attempted to leap off while the ute is moving – all with dire consequences.

Follow these three pointers to keep your dog happy in the tray

  • Using a lead or chain? It must be long enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down, but short enough to keep the dog away from the sides of the vehicle, and stop it getting onto the cabin or harassing passers-by when the ute is parked. Too-long tethers can be fatal; if the dog does fall off, it may be dragged or strangled.
  • Use swivels to attach the tether to both the vehicle and the dog’s collar, to stop the chain from tangling. Twine or any kind of thin rope may cause injuries if the dog becomes tangled in the tether.
  • Using a cage? Make sure it’s big enough to prevent cramping and discomfort, and well covered to give shelter from sun, wind and rain. Mesh covering gives better ventilation than solid covering. Place the cage directly behind the cabin to minimise exposure to the elements. Cover the metal cage floor – or the tray floor if tethering – with a surface such as rubber, to prevent the metal heating up and burning the dog’s paws.

And Don’t Forget . . .

Always try and park in the shade, and make sure your dog has adequate water. Isn’t your canine companion worth looking after?