Helen Dolphin with her assistance dog.JPG

A guide to taking your dog in the car

If you regularly travel with an assistance dog in your Motability Scheme vehicle, take a look at this helpful summary of everything you need to know, from independent mobility consultant Helen Dolphin MBE.

Transporting a dog

Twelve years ago I became a dog owner after getting my first assistance dog Yancey from the charity Canine Partners. On the assistance dog training course which covered everything from working with your dog, to grooming we were also instructed on how we should transport our dogs on all different modes of transport, but most importantly in cars.

I had ignorantly presumed that the dog would just jump in the boot or lay on the backseat, I hadn’t considered the safety of the dog or myself. Although Yancey and now my new Canine Partner Fairport don’t need restraining to stop them jumping about, they still need to be secured in case of an accident. If a dog got thrown forward it would most likely injure itself, and if it hit you as it flew through the car it would most likely cause you serious damage. But this is not the only reason to secure a dog, as even if it survived an accident an injured dog can be dangerous and more likely to attack people, get run over or run away.

However, it’s not just sensible advice to secure your dog in the car it’s also the law. The Highway Code states that dogs or other animals should be suitably restrained in a vehicle so that they don’t distract the driver or injure them if the vehicle stops quickly. Therefore, if you have an accident with an unrestrained dog you could find you have invalidated your car insurance so you could be made to pay for any damage to your car and any other cars involved.

Different options for keeping your dog restrained

It’s is generally considered to be safer for the dog and less distracting for the driver if the dog is transported in the back of the car as opposed to the front. There are all kinds of different ways to restrain a dog in a car but depending on your disability some will be easier to use than others. However, the size and shape of your car and the size and temperament of your dog will also need to be taken into account.

Dog harnesses

Dog harnesses are generally considered to be the best and safest choice of restraint. Dog harnesses are worn around the neck and chest of the dog, and attach to the seatbelt fittings. It’s advised that the tether part of the harness is kept short so in the event of an accident your dog won’t fly very far and his injuries will be less serious.

I have a harness for my dog Fairport but I can’t put it on him myself as the fastenings are just too tricky. However, I generally travel with someone else who can put it on for me. Fairport travels in the boot as he is a big dog and I fix his harness to one of the fixings in the boot. Harnesses are generally quite well padded so they shouldn’t injure a dog if a car stopped suddenly. Fairport wasn’t that happy about putting it on to start with but now he’s got used to it.

Doing research for this article I visited my local pet store and discovered that there are now special doggy booster seats. I thought they were to help a dog see out of the window but they are to ensure a comfortable seating position and safe attachment to the car. There are some booster seats which don’t strap dogs in properly so check the one you purchase will secure your dog. Fairport is too big for one of these but smaller dogs may benefit.

Dog crates

Some dogs are used to crates and happily sit and travel in them. If this is the case for your dog it could be a potential option for restraining your dog in the car providing that you have enough room. If like me you need to transport a dog and a wheelchair space can be a bit tight, but it also depends on the size of your dog and therefore the size of the crate required. A crate to house Fairport, who is a large labradoodle, would be sizeable as the crate needs to be large enough to allow them to sit up and stretch. Check the crate you buy is designed for vehicle use as not all are designed for this purpose. A good quality dog car cage will specify the size of dog it’s suitable for.

Dog guards

Similar to a cage is a dog guard. These can be fitted to your vehicle between the back of the seats and the boot area. This provides a caged in area for your dog to be contained within. This works in a similar way to a crate but it does not give as much protection as the dog has further to travel in an accident. However, they are very simple to fit and easy to use as your dog can just jump in the boot without any fiddling about.

Other considerations when transporting your dog


It’s important that your dog is not seated in front of an airbag as it may become injured in the event of airbag deployment. If you have to have your dog in the front than it is advised that the airbag be deactivated. However, there are some exceptions so check the instructions carefully for your own specific vehicle.

Hot weather

When your dog is in the boot it can be hard to see if they are sitting in full sunlight and getting too hot. To help prevent this happening you can put sun shades on the windows to help protect your dog.

It’s also really important to never leave your dog in a car in warm weather. If it is 21 degrees outside  on a sunny day, after a half hour, the temperature inside a car is 40 degrees. After an hour, it can reach 45 degrees. Every year a significant number of dogs suffer from the effects of heatstroke and unfortunately may prove fatal.

The Motability Scheme enables disabled people and their families to access a brand new car or scooter, by exchanging their mobility allowance to lease the vehicle of their choice. Find out more:

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