Sara Kobylarz was very happy when earlier this year the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) and the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles teamed up to remind dog owners to use common sense when transporting dogs in cars. At a press conference held outside the dog park in Overpeck Park in Leonia, officials reminded dog owners that unruly pets traveling in cars can cause accidents. In addition, they advised pet owners to consider restraining dogs for the safety of the animals.
"About six years ago," says Kobylarz, a Fort Lee resident and dog trainer at PetSmart in North Bergen, "I was on a ride down to the Jersey Shore when I saw a puppy hanging out a car window. The driver made a sharp turn, and the puppy fell out into the traffic. I will never forget that image. Dogs should definitely be restrained in cars."
In a 2010 study conducted by AAA, 31 percent of drivers admitted to being distracted by their dogs while driving. Those distractions included allowing dogs to ride on the driver's lap, feeding them, taking photos of their pets and using a hand to protect a dog while braking. AAA recommends that pet owners restrain their pet inside the vehicle not only to avoid distraction, but to protect the animal and other passengers in a crash.
Justin Schwarz, manager of PetSmart in North Bergen, began strapping his 7-year-old pit bull, Tundra, into the back seat of his car after hearing the reminder from the NJSPCA about the safe transportation of dogs. He wasn't alone; the store was inundated with requests for traveling harnesses for dogs.
Restraining devices on the market include padded travel harnesses, straps that attach between a regular dog harness and a seatbelt, and a zip line that attaches between seatbelts in the backseat, allowing dogs more freedom of movement. Other restraining options include a booster seat with a harness for smaller breeds, a crate that can be secured to the car and a metal barrier that prevents dogs from accessing the front of the car.
"Tundra was never a distraction in the car," Schwarz says. "She would just lie or sit quietly in the back seat. But when I thought about what could happen to her if we were in an accident and she wasn't restrained, I definitely wanted her to be strapped in."
Helping Dogs Adjust
Following are some tips from Kobylarz on how to get your dog used to a harness when traveling in the car:
Introduce the harness slowly. Strap the dog into the back seat of the car while parked in the driveway and give him a sit, stay or down command that lasts a few seconds. If he tries to chew the straps or wriggle out of the harness, distract him with a positive behavior. Reinforce the positive behavior with a treat and then remove the dog from the car. If needed Ð in addition to training Ð a bitter apple spray (available at pet stores) can be used on harnesses to help deter chewing.
With each training session, build on the length of time the dog sits in the harness in the car. Continue to reward for positive behavior.
Once the dog is happy to sit quietly for a few minutes in her harness, take her for a ride around the block.
Gradually increase the length of the ride, and soon your dog will be happy to be safely strapped in on family trips.