PULLMAN, Wash. Motorists see plenty of dogs riding around loose in the back of their owners’ pick-up trucks. But pick-up drivers may not realize that they are putting their animals at risk, according to Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital faculty and staff who deal with the tragic side of injured dogs.
Estimates are that at least 100,000 dogs die each year from falls from pick-up trucks, including euthanasia deaths due to the extent of the injuries or the medical expense involved in recovery. Even if the dog isn’t killed, it could be lost or injured. Broken bones or joint injuries as well as severe abrasions are the most common injuries seen if a dog survives a fall from a moving vehicle.
If a dog has to ride along in a pick-up, there are ways to make it safer. Each of the following methods has benefits and shortfalls.
Ideally, the truck should be equipped with a camper or shell. The dog should be crate-trained and, while riding, the animal should be in a crate that has been secured from movement.
A camper or shell provides more protection for a pet, as well as a measure of climate control. Still, a dog in a crate inside a shell must be protected from the heat even on mildly warm days. A shell eliminates wind and flying debris issues for a pet’s eyes, too. A crate is of no value if it can slide around; it must be secured.
When a camper or shell is not an option, the dog’s crate should be secured in the back of the open truck bed to avoid sliding around or being ejected.
Dog owners should be aware that an open bed, if not kept clean, offers wind and debris hazards that can irritate a dog’s eyes, ears or nasal passages.
WSU experts from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital said that although many people look upon pet carriers or crates as somehow cruel to pets, this is simply not the case. Many studies have shown that once a dog gets used to its crate and when it is used consistently, it becomes a place of extreme relaxation and solitude that the animal actually desires. Some behaviorists insist this is part of the animal’s innate denning behavior; a residual from its wild canine ancestors.
Crates typically cost less than $100 and there are many Web sites to teach pet owners how to crate-train a pet.
A last resort, when crates are not an option, is well-planned cross-tethering of your dog in the open bed of the truck.
Cross-tethering means an animal is secured with at least two points of restraint on opposite sides of the pick-up bed. This allows the animal some mobility, but prevents it from being ejected or jumping out. Tethering with a single leash is not recommended because a dog that falls out will be dragged or hang itself.
Owners can also cross-tether their dogs by fastening a rope on each side of the truck with a short leash attached in the middle for the dog. Like the hazard of a single leash, it is important that the leashes not be too long.
Washington state’s law is clear, “Any person who willfully transports or confines or causes to be transported or confined any domestic animal or animals in a manner, posture, or confinement that will jeopardize the safety of the animal or the public, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Cross-tethering is allowed in some jurisdictions but drivers should check their local ordinances.
Regardless of the laws in each jurisdiction, a responsible owner should ensure pets are safe in all environments, especially in the back of a speeding vehicle.