Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dog Travel Safety & Dog Harnesses

Cinder's first harness at 3 mos. old
     I want to address dog travel safety and using dog harnesses.  Many people have asked:  “Why do your dogs always have harnesses on? Why do you still use their collars for attaching their leashes if they have harnesses on?  Why do your dogs look like they’re tied into your car?” My dogs only wear harnesses when we go somewhere.  I use their harnesses for travel safety and since I’m lazy, they wear their harnesses most of the time while we’re away from home so I don’t have to fuss with putting them on, taking them off; and keeping track of them when I take them off.  They do serve a few other purposes, like pulling Cinder and Gilley up the steep banks of the creek or ponds when they can’t just hop up and out!
     I’ve always been a supporter of securing dogs in your vehicle if you don’t happen to have a vehicle in which your dogs travel in crates.   I’ve personally experienced and witnessed numerous accidents and incidents in which unsecured dogs have escaped their vehicles to meet very ugly ends.  Some have been accidents in which a door/window broke or fell open, yielding an escape route for dogs to get out of the vehicle and run into traffic.  Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed several dogs surviving bad crashes only to escape their vehicles and be hit on the road by other traffic.  The first time I saw such a thing, it was a large, standard Poodle. I was shy of 10 years old and a passenger in the vehicle behind the one that hit the dog. I saw the dog escape his car, dart across two lanes and the median of an interstate, to be hit by the car in front of us; throwing the body into the air and landing on the edge of the interstate.  Talk about a vivid memory that haunts you forever-as you can tell, I remember it now 40+ years later! 
     Windows rolled down for dogs may be nice, but really they should only be rolled down a couple inches to allow air in/out of the vehicle-not enough for the dog’s nose to stick out.  Dogs riding down the road with their heads sticking out often end up with eye and ear problems relating to the wind blowing into them, and objects blown into them. Additionally, it’s true that if a dog can get his head through something, his body will also fit through it if he’s determined to escape. I learned about the hazards of open windows first-hand as a kid. I had one of our dachshunds riding on my lap, enjoying a sunny ride with her head out of the window. Suddenly, she jumped out, but because she was on her leash (which I had wrapped around my wrist), she essentially hung herself on the side of the car until we stopped. I was utterly horrified and panicked. LUCKILY, she was okay because we stopped fast and I quickly stuck my arm out the window enough to enable her to touch the ground until my mother got out and got to her.  That was an ugly lesson in not allowing a dog to stick its head out the window while riding in the car! The only good thing about the situation was that the leash, while nearly strangling her, also saved her from running away or into traffic.  From that day on, I have NOT rolled windows down far enough for dogs to stick their noses out of them.  I crack the windows as much as a few inches and that’s it.  Additionally, I’ve witnessed other dogs jumping from car windows.  People always think their dogs are so good they’d never do that, but you never know what will motivate a dog to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.  Why risk that so foolishly?  It’s not worth it to me. I feel even more strongly about those who put their dogs in pick-up trucks and leave them unrestrained thinking that their dog will ALWAYS behave and never jump out or be hurt during their trip to town.  Ever see one of those “good dogs” unattended in the back of a pick-up that bit someone who walked by their truck?  I’ve seen that happen. Freedom to escape isn’t the only reason to think smarter about how you travel your dog(s).  If your dog can reach outside your vehicle, people can reach inside your vehicle; and that’s just inviting trouble.
     Harnessing your dog and securing them in your vehicle helps ensure your safety and theirs.  There’s nothing worse than a distracted driver, except maybe one that’s distracted by a misbehaving child or dog, hopping over seats and doing things they shouldn’t.  If your dog is secured in a seat or cargo area, then he can’t bounce around over seats or get into things.  I once experienced a real need to be able to secure a dog in my truck, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to do it. I had to take him to a veterinarian and the drive from where I picked him up to the vet’s office was chaotic.  The dog had never ridden in a vehicle before and he was totally excited, unable to sit still, bouncing back and forth on the truck seat, bumping into my arm on the steering wheel. I was finally able to grab his collar and hold him still by his collar while I drove to the clinic. That was an unsafe situation for us both, but we survived. I have since learned to carry spare harnesses, collars, and leashes in my vehicles for emergencies. If they don’t fit an animal I may need to transport, at least I may be able to make something work to secure the animal for an emergency transport.  Now I drive a different vehicle most of the time so I can generally secure an animal in my cargo area.
     I've got a lot of police officer friends (it's a small city) and once I was told a story by two officers about a woman who had passed out and driven off the road.  When they initially approached the car to assess the situation they'd come upon, she had two dogs loose in the car that were behaving viciously as they approached.  They couldn't get near the car to help the woman without upsetting the loose dogs.  They had to call the animal warden to assist in containing the dogs so the rescue squad could get to the woman and provide rescue care. Calling the animal warden took an added 20 minutes to get him there; and another 15 minutes to entice the dogs into positions to safely extract them from the car and contain them.  That was an added 35 minutes of valuable time spent just to contain the loose dogs to get to their owner. The officers would've had to call the animal warden to pick up the dogs regardless since they had to be contained and cared for either way; but if they'd been secured in the vehicle, that would've enabled the officers to assess the woman's situation and begin rescue procedures 35 minutes sooner. The lesson is securing your dog(s) in your vehicle really can serve as a safety precaution on multiple levels-for the dog(s), you, and anyone approaching your vehicle.
     The point I’m trying to illustrate is that harnesses aren’t supposed to be fashion trends, though if they happen to be cute, it doesn’t hurt.  Harnesses aren’t meant to be worn all the time. Harnesses should first be truly functional, serving a purpose safely. If it doesn't meet a need and do it safely, there's really not much point to having one.  
Cinder & Gilley fastened in the Jeep,
 waiting to get out.
 If you’re not a believer in harnesses as leading devices replacing a regular collar for walking your dog, I totally understand and absolutely agree. I never use harnesses as a means of leading my dogs. I feel you have little/no control over the dog by using a harness instead of a collar. I am a huge fan of nose-collars like the Gentle Leader and Halti. I feel the nose-collar provides optimal control with minimal force; and if used correctly, without hurting the dog the way neck collars can.  As always, the caveat for anything is training your dog.
     You should always shop for harnesses like you would shop for shoes. Good fit is paramount because too loose is ineffective and the dog will be able get out of it. Too tight a harness will restrict the dog, perhaps in very dangerous ways aside from general discomfort.  Other considerations are the ways you want the harness to function. Do you plan to use it as a way to walk your dog instead of leashing to a collar? Do you plan to use it to tether him outside?  Will you use it for securing him in a vehicle?  Will your dog wear it in areas with a lot of brush and undergrowth?  Will your dog wear it while boating or if your dog swims?  Will your dog be wearing it as a means of securing doggy hiking packs to it? All of these things should be considered when you go harness shopping for your dog.  There are very different kinds of harnesses these days and many are really more about being fashion trendy than functional.  If all you want is fashion trendy, that’s fine, but don’t count on that kind of harness for anything more than its trendy appeal. If you’re looking for function, then get a harness that suits your dog and what your dog will be doing while wearing the harness.  Consider the quality of construction like whether buckles and adjustment devices are plastic or metal; and how any straps are attached and adjust. If you’re looking for one that enables you to secure the dog in your vehicle, be sure you know exactly HOW it can be used for that because some work very differently than others.  If your dog swims or goes on boats, the harness needs to be safe for water in that it is water resistant/repellant and washable; and certainly not bulky or ill-fitting.  The list of considerations is large, but your dog deserves taking time to find the right harness that meets your needs. 
Cinder modeling her new Christmas harness.
   Good harnesses don’t have to be super expensive! There are some very nice quality harnesses available at very reasonable prices of $30 - $80.  You’ll spend an easy $20+ on the fashion trendy but non-functional models so for an added $20, you can find a good harness and not just a good-looking one.  Don’t be afraid to shop online either!  I’ve had really great luck shopping online. I’ve found far better harnesses online than in the average pet stores in my area.  Don’t be afraid to ask friends who use harnesses about the kind they have and why they use their harnesses.  If they can’t explain what the harness does and how/why it does it, then you should probably research it before you consider it.  Often your friends will have some great insights about things that you never thought about-sometimes as much about what to avoid as what to seek.
     How do I actually use MY harnesses? I use them for securing my dogs in my vehicle cargo area and back seats.  In the cargo area, there are built-in metal cargo tie-down rings. I have shortened leashes that are barely long enough for the dogs to reach the cargo door; and those are fastened to the harnesses and the tie-down rings. I have one dog that rides in the back seat and his harness has a special seat belt tether that fastens to his harness and enables the seat belt to pass through it and buckle normally, securing him in the back seat with a little room for some movement but not enough to be a problem.  This is not saying that securing my dogs in the car will save their lives in event of an accident!  This is only securing them from being able to randomly escape the vehicle.  In an accident, their lives are definitely at risk, but not from surviving the crash only to be killed escaping the crashed car. The dogs wear their harnesses while romping on the farm; hiking through thick woods; and while swimming in ponds.  It’s important to me that the harnesses allow the dogs complete freedom of movement for all things, but not be in any way loose. I need them to be “low profile” so they don’t get caught in brush or things.  My dogs are all Border Collies so they need to be light and comfortable for long days and lots of activity.  I chose Kurgo Go-Tech Adventure harnesses because they are an awesome quality for the price range and fit all our needs of a harness.  They have awesome steel nesting buckles that are the lowest profile buckles available and easy to use.  Once the dogs are home, the harnesses come off.  I appreciate the durability, versatility, and wash-ability of the harnesses since my dogs will immerse themselves in any mud puddle they can find-aside from getting into horse stalls and rolling in the shavings.
     That’s my spiel on safer dog travel and using dog harnesses as one means of ensuring better safety for your dog and you. 
     Now, Cinder and I have chores at the barn so she’s going to get her harness on for the ride to the farm as we conclude another day in our lives and the on-going endeavor Raising Cinder.

Safe travels and good times to all! 


Chris (aka Cinder’s “Hu-mom”)

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Bringing home a new dog, whether it’s a puppy or an adult, is like bringing home a new baby – you need to be prepared, and you need supplies. So, I was looking for articles on buying dog accessories and then I came across yours inspiring read. Thanks!


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