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Ozzie, passed away 7/3/2021
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My golden retriever, Ozzie, passed away over two months ago. In the process of treating him for cancer, we became close with our vet tech at the veterinary clinic. After Ozzie died, we had her to dinner at our house and I brought up the discussion of “how to travel safely in a car” with a dog. It had always been an issue for me and I wanted to know her thoughts. Previously I had used dividers, then settled on a heavy duty harness for the back seat. She told me a horrible story about a client who used a harness for her dog and was in a car accident and the harness broke the dog’s back and they had to euthanize him. In 4 weeks we will have a new golden puppy in our house, and based on this story, I will not use a harness. Other than bolting down a wire crate in the back of the car, is there a relatively safe way to cart dogs around in the car? It doesn’t matter if it is close distance or long, the danger is the same. What sage advice do you have for me? And for the record, I do not know what kind of harness was used in the horrible accident I described, and the harness I used was “auto crash tested” but really, I have no solid research on tested harnesses. Thank you in advance.
 

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Kristy
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Oh Lord, I have to confess, I've never heard a story like that about injuries caused by a harness but I have to imagine this isn't the only one. Unfortunately, I doubt there is a 100% fool proof way to protect a dog, just like there isn't a 100% fool proof way to protect human cargo. We just have to do the best we can. I would have to think that whichever method you would use consistently and follow the 'rules' with is probably best. A harness that keeps the dog in a seated position without a lot of room to be wandering around and twisting into crazy positions is probably going to be safest. However by limiting movement, the dog may really resent this method and you'd want to do a lot of training with treats etc. to have it become accepted and tolerated.

I greatly prefer a crate for puppies, it limits what they can destroy through chewing or vomiting (no treat like trying to clean vomit from between car seats and center consoles I will tell you ;) ) or upset stomach etc. Plus when the weather is nice, I have always felt much safer taking dogs to run errands when they are crated and doors locked and windows left lowered. Dog can't get into trouble as easily in a crate. And you can tether a crate so it's movements are limited, you'd want to do more than just bungy ties. Obviously a super heavy duty crate is going to be safer than wire, but then you limit air flow. There are lots of considerations and risk vs. reward, just like anything in life.

I wish you luck with whatever you decide is best for your situation - we all do the best we can.
 

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Mine ride in wire crates. They are as safe as they can be from accidents. It also keeps them out of trouble. Imagine going 70 mph down the interstate and your dog finding something dangerous to chew on and/or eat.
 

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With two dogs in a Subaru Outback I have usually travelled with one in the "way back" behind a metal barrier and one on the back seat in a harness. Then I read a story (here I think) that someone had been rear ended at speed on a highway exit and the "way back" did what it was supposed to do - It crumpled on impact. Thankfully, their dogs were on the back seat and no one was injured, but had a dog been in the far back, it almost certainly would have been killed. Since then I've had BOTH dogs in harnesses on the back seat, though I'm aware there are risks there as well (not to mention that the dogs aren't as comfortable). At a minimum I'm hoping that in a slower speed impact it would at least keep the dogs from being propelled through the windshield (or the back of my head!).

As Kristy said - there are risks and benefits to all options. If safety was my biggest concern, I think I'd put down the rear seats and invest in crash tested crates (I think Gunners and Varios are the two most often recommended) and put them as far up behind the front seats as possible. Of course, loading and unloading dogs would be a pain, not to mention the impact on visibility and the loss of cargo space.

I guess you just have to assess the risks and benefits and decide what you are most comfortable with...
(FWIW people have been injured and killed by safety belts as well... and yet most of the time they save lives and most of us choose to wear them).
 

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I put Logan and Abby in the second row seats with harnesses made of seat belt material which hook to the cars seat belts via a heavy duty carabiner. I would like to get crash tested crates for safety -- probably a double Variocage. I'm waiting for my next vehicle (chip shortages making it way late) for sizing.

It says this in the description:

"Built-In Crumple Zone Absorbs Impact - Designed to work with your vehicle's crumple zone protection, helping to protect both dogs and humans in the car. A rigid cage can be dangerous to both your dog and human occupants in the event of a severe impact."
 

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Archie travels in a wire crate, that is just big enough for him to curl up in and he can stand with his head down if he wants to change positions, but there's not so much space that he would be tossed around in a car accident. We use heavy-duty tie-down straps to secure the crate in our Tahoe, so it doesn't go flying and potentially hit the passengers. We also took the center seats out of the Tahoe, so he is not in the way back.
 

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I use a crash-tested kennel in the back of my vehicle. However, most experts agree that the right harness is very safe as well. Note that Ruff Wear just redesigned their Load Up Harness, and I bought one two weeks ago for my grand puppy. It is noticeably more sturdy than a normal harness (steel reinforced under the padding and metal buckles, etc.) and has been crash tested as well. Good luck, as there is not perfect solution to this one.
 

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Shala travels in a wire crate in the back of my SUV. I love knowing she is secured; even if I have to slam on the brakes, she is not flying around. I have heard concerns about the back being potentially crushed inwards in a crash, and that worried me, too, but a firefighter/first responder I know said that the way the back of an SUV is designed, the metal absorbs much of the impact. He described it in detail at the time and showed how the metal would cruch, and it made sense to me and he said it was definitely safer to have a dog in a crate back there than in the back seat.

That said, if I didn't have an SUV (and I didn't for my first dog or Shala when she was a puppy), I would definitely use a harness in the back seat. It is better than no harness in terms of keeping them secured and belted in. Not everyone has a vehicle that accomodates a crate and I think there are definitely ways to still keep a dog safe. I always found the harness helped to keep my dog lying down and quiet, too, and I just wanted to make sure they were somehow belted in (same as I would any other human in my car).
 

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Ozzie, passed away 7/3/2021
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thank you to everyone for taking the time to write thoughtful responses. It seems to me there is no perfect solution to keeping our pets safe in a car, and like most everyone says, you have to weigh the risks verses the benefits. I had a heavy-duty steel breasted harness for Ozzie, and since it clipped into the shoulder harness, once he was strapped in he couldn't move. It didn't make car riding much fun for him, but he was a good sport. I don't know what I will do this time around, but I will think about all your responses, thank you.
 

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The absolute worst thing that can happen is to have the dog thrown from a vehicle in an accident. A crate, secured so it can't be thrown out of the vehicle, is generally best, but if your car isn't big enough, a seat belt harness is much better than riding loose. There are a lot of different kinds of harnesses out there, many not designed to be used as seat belts.
 

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Agree with assessing risks and benefits. Our car is not big enough to strap a crate down in. So we use fitted car harnesses (Champion K9 USA) made with wide seatbelt material, padding, and heavy duty hardware. If we had a bigger car I'd go for the car crates, but my feeling is the harness is the best option we have available.
 
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