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Can My Puppy Ride In The Front Seat Of My Car?

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Over 10 years ago we had no idea whether or not a puppy was safe to ride on the front seat of a car.  After all Linus was my first puppy raised by me as an adult.

Before I brought home Linus I bought several books and read about how to raise and train a puppy, but a general book about puppies does not always have all the answers.  In fact you’ll learn that reading books will not cover every detail of puppyhood.

Studying books and researching on the internet is a great starting point, but as soon as you pickup your first puppy you’ll soon find that it’s not as easy as 1,2,3…starting with…the first car ride home…

How Should My Dog Ride In The Car?

Adelle Puppy car ride
Adelle, Puppy In Training on a car ride in the backseat

1. The Front Seat

First there was Linus and because I had very little practical knowledge with puppies I made several early mistakes especially when it came to riding in the car.  If I had kids maybe I would have done differently, but Linus’ first experience in the car was riding on the front seat.  While I’m no expert I’ve been told by dog trainers from different guide and service dog schools that the danger of a dog riding on the front seat of a car is similar to the danger of a small child riding on the front passenger seat of a car.  If the air bag deploys then it could potentially kill your puppy or child.

The front seat of your car is definitely not the safest places for your puppy to ride in your car.

2. The Passenger Floor Boards

Then there was Stetson!  He was my first guide dog puppy in training and he had a specific set of rules when it came to riding in the car.  Stetson was trained to ride on the passenger side floor boards.

So why the passenger side floor boards?

  1. When a puppy starts working as a guide dog he will ride between his partners legs on the passenger floor boards.
  2. The passenger floor boards are basically the place where your legs are located.  The good news about that is car manufacturers design this area of the car to be very well protected to keep your legs safe in case of an accident.
  3. The puppy will be below the air bag so the danger of the air bag deploying and hitting your puppy is very low.

The passenger floor boards is where our guide dog school recommends we have our guide pups ride when driving in our car.  One drawback that has always worried me is that my puppy could still become a projectile if we were in an accident.  Since he’s on the floor I’m guessing it’s more likely he stays down there in an accident, but I’m sure there are plenty of scenarios where he could bounce up or even out of the car.  I’m hoping I never have to find out.

A few hints for those of you working with the wee pups on training them to sit quietly on the passenger floor boards:

  • Use a tie down to keep your puppy from trying to jump up onto your lap.  I knot my leash then trap the knot in the door.  Works like a charm.
  • Give him a blanket and something to chew on, but even if he has something to chew on he may chew on something inappropriate so keep an eye out.
  • Praise him for being quiet.  Ignore him for barking.  It usually takes a few days to about a week before my pups stop barking while on car rides.

Stetson, Derby, Dublin and Apache all learned to ride on the passenger side floor boards as all guide dog puppies in training should.

3. The Back Seat

When we brought home Adelle we had a different set of rules for riding in the car with our puppy.  Our service dog school instructed us to have Adelle ride in the back seat of our car.  We elected to strap Adelle into the backseat with a harness and seatbelt to keep her from flying around if we were ever to get into an accident.  We also liked using the seat belt because it kept her from moving around from backseat to frontseat to trunk area of our SUV.

Again we are not experts, but from what we’ve heard the backseat is a safe place for puppies to ride in a car as long as there is no danger of an air bag deploying into your puppy and he is properly strapped into his seat.

4. The Back Seat Floor Boards

At a recent guide dog meeting we were told that it’s a good idea to not only get your puppy used to riding on the passenger side floor boards, but also to give your puppy a chance to ride on the back seat floor boards.  Why?  What happens when a guide dog has to ride in the back seat of a taxi?  You guessed it!  The guide dog has to ride on the passenger side floor boards.

Guide dog puppy raisers try and get your puppy used to riding on the back seat floor boards.

5. The Back Of Your SUV

We used to think the back (trunk area) of an SUV was not a bad place for puppies to ride around in the car when in a crate until one of our friends had a talk with us about crumple zones.  Here’s a good picture of the crumple zones on an SUV

You see car manufactures make todays automobiles as safe as possible by adding “crumple zones” to your car.  Basically certain areas of your car like the front engine area and the back trunk space are built to crumple when in an accident which helps to absorb the impact of another object when in an accident.  The trunk (usually a crumple zone) is not reinforced and protected like the passenger areas of a car.  So if you’re thinking about putting your puppy in the trunk area of a car you might want to think again.  Try and get them situated in an more protected area like the passenger areas of your car.

Here’s a good image of the crumple zones on an SUV (the yellow areas are the crumple zones):

Crumple Zones
Crumple Zones on Nissan xTerra

Where Do My Dogs Ride In The Car

I have 3 dogs so we don’t necessarily have enough room on the back seating.  Here’s where everyone normally rides in our car a 2000 Honda CRV.

  • Stetson – was always trained to ride on the floor boards so he will ride on either the passenger or back seat floor boards.
  • Linus – was originally trained to ride on the front passenger seat (danger!), but we’ve since moved him to the back passenger seat in harness and seatbelt.
  • Adelle – was always trained to ride in the back passenger seat in harness and seatbelt.

A few more things to think about when bringing your dog along on a car ride:

  • We wear seat belts to keep us safe so why not do the same for our puppies.
  • Don’t let your puppy ride in the crumple zones of your car.
  • Keep your puppy away from the air bags.
  • If you want to train your puppy like a guide dog then teach him to ride on the passenger floor boards.

While one of our recommendations is allowing your puppy to ride on the backseat with harness and seatbelt we’ve also recently learned that many of these harnesses provide very little safety if you were ever in a car accident.  The good news is the Center for Pet Safety has been running some tests to find the best safety harnesses for dogs.

Next on our agenda is to test a few of these safety harness.  We won’t be running any crash tests, but we will give you a consumer eyes view of what these harnesses are all about.

Did we miss anything?  Where does your dog usually ride in the car?

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  1. Yes. I never really thought much about dogs riding in the back of SUV’s until I started raising guide dog puppies and doing more research into it. It makes sense that this area is made to crumble for the safety of passengers and a good reason not to allow your pets or people to ride in that area of the car.

  2. Nice to see this works just how I figured few years ago, when we got yourselves a puppy. We used these same pet transport methods based on merely our common sense. So, first we taught the puppy ride in a car in the passenger footwell, on a towel/blanket with toys and a cool water bottle (yes we hadn´t ac in our car in that time). Next when the puppy grew we taught her to ride with harness on, and we placed the puppy in the passenger side back footwell. The harnesses dog seatbelt strap was locked to the car´s seatbelt lock. Next we changed your cars one after to one other to the models didn´t have so large back footwells, so your now dog place was in the backseat with harness on. Sometimes the dog rides on the front seat also (harness on & locked). Then I just switch the passenger airbag off. But I never ever would put my dog in the car´s trunk area/back. No matter the car´s size and SUV/wagon or not. Due to possible rear-end collision etc…

  3. I’ve never really compared a dog riding in the front seat to a child riding in the front seat but I can see the similarities now. Thanks for the tips, they were very helpful.

  4. Is the leash attached to a harness? Do they keep the leash short? If the leash is attached to her collar and it’s not kept short tell your parents to be careful because that could become a dangerous situation in an accident.

  5. My parents have a Yorkie, so they bought a small basket that straps to their center console and she rides in there. The basket also has a leash attached to it, so she can’t jump out of the basket.

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