How to Introduce your Pet to Driving and Parking

You’ve probably seen it: people with excited-beyond-belief dogs in the back of their cars as they try to drive safely and navigate parking around Melbourne. Dogs and other pets are such wonderful additions to our lives. But not teaching them proper manners in vehicles or investing in pet transport tools is a disaster waiting to happen.

In this article, we’re going to cover some of the basics when it comes to city parking and driving while pets are in the car. By the end, your best friend will be more than ready to hop in and accompany you wherever you go!

The dangers of loose pet transport

Having a pet unfastened and out of control in the back of your car is dangerous for everyone involved. And it’s not your pup’s fault! They can’t help but be so excited for this fun adventure with their favourite human. 

According to a study from the University of Adelaide, only about 2 out of every 3rd person with a dog in Australia is likely to harness them in the car. Studies haven’t concluded how many car accidents are attributed to having unrestrained dogs in the car. However, we do know that around 5,000 dogs are injured as the result of driving related accidents. Even the lead researcher on the project suggested that the distraction is as high as using a mobile phone.

The risk, as you can see, is that an unrestrained or untrained dog in the car is both a distraction to the driver and at risk, itself, for injury during an accident. So it’s not surprising that states are beginning to pass laws about having pets in cars. In Victoria, it is illegal to drive with an animal in your lap. It’s also against the law for a pet to be untethered in the back of a truck or ute.

Unrestrained pets in cars aren’t just a hazard while driving, either. When parking Melbourne residents must ensure that their animal be secure even while the car is stationary, especially when they’re unfamiliar with driving. It’s common for pets wanting to escape as soon as the doors open. This is especially concerning if you’re navigating city parking. Not only is that a dangerous situation for your pet, but it can also make you liable for any situations that occur as a result.

The risks are large enough that many Melbourne residents choose to travel on public transport with their pets rather than drive. You can read more in our article on The Situation on Pets and Public Transport in Australia.

So how can you make driving and parking in Melbourne safer for your pet?

The first thing you can do for your animal is to invest in the right pet transport equipment. Ultimately, you’ll decide whether a harness or an in-car kennel is right for your pet. But make sure that you do your research. Some models will carry crash testing certifications so that your pup or cat will be safe. And make sure to read up on the types of cars that pet owning Aussies prefer, as some models are better equipped for kennels or seat belts.  

An in-car kennel has the added benefit of potentially calming your animal in a stressful or exciting situation. Kennels can shield your dog’s view with covered sides or be covered with your pet’s favourite blanket. That way there’s less visual stimulation that will upset or excite them. This form of safe pet transport will also limit their movement more than most harnesses. This may keep them safer in a collision and lower the distraction of a moving animal in your peripheral vision.

In general, in-car kennels are more successful when you’ve already trained your dog or cat to be comfortable in one. It’s a good idea to start kennel or crate training in a quiet, peaceful area of your home so that your pet associates the kennel with relaxation. 

This form of training should be a slow and positive experience for your pet. Use plenty of verbal encouragement, treats, and toys so that they see the kennel as their cozy cave. Never use a kennel as a form of punishment. Sometimes, we see pet owners who will start with their pet loose in the car and then resort to the kennel if the dog gets over excited. The tendency is understandable but it often makes the animal more upset and invites them to build a negative relationship with the kennel. When properly crate trained, your pet should never hesitate to get into their kennel, but should instead, seek it out.

Training should be just as mindful when it comes to introducing your pet to a safety harness. In fact, you’ll want to spend more time focusing on specific commands that your dog follows when in the car. These include the “sit,” “lay down,” and “stay” command. Not only will this prevent you from having your attention diverted en route, but it will also make parking easier. After successfully parking, ensure that your dog sits and stays to prevent lunging or escaping as soon as you unleash them. Many owners opt to secure their pet’s regular walking lead before detaching the car safety harness so that there’s no risk of the pup getting away.

Setting up your training routine

Whichever pet transport equipment you choose, dedicate a good amount of time to training and acclimating your pet to riding in the car. Any animal can get overwhelmed by the excitement and anxiety of riding in a moving vehicle. The more you do it though, the more opportunities you have to teach them to be calm and relaxed. 

One mistake that is very common in pet owners is that they will only drive their pets to the dog park or the vet. This is simply because of poor vehicle behaviour. Instead, a better approach is to drive them around often and without a pet-related purpose so that they don’t associate riding in the car with the destination.

Try exploring different neighbourhoods and get off the beaten path! If you live in Footscray, adventure with your dog to another suburb like Sunshine or Kingsville. And while you’re in the early stages of training, make sure to stay out of very busy areas like CBD.

A helpful training tip is to invite along a friend or family member when you’re just starting to acclimate your animal to being in the car. You might start out in the passenger seat as you cover the basics of car behaviour with your animal. But then, make sure that your pet has the opportunity to undergo training with your helper while you’re the driver. Eventually, you’ll want to be able to drive with your pet alone.

How long does it take to train pets to behave while driving and parking?

There are many factors that will determine how quickly your animal gets used to driving in the car. Here are a few reasons that your training time may take longer than expected:

  • Your pet is not getting enough exercise in general, making them more energetic or anxious in the car.
  • The age of your pet. Puppies will naturally have more energy and curiosity.
  • The breed of your pet. Some puppers are more vocal than others.
  • Their past experience with cars.

The biggest factor, of course, is you and the amount of time that you can dedicate to training. Your energy, commitment, and relationship with your pet is the difference between a few weeks of training or a few months. 

If you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to call in a professional. The risk of distraction is very high when teaching your pet how to behave while driving and parking Melbourne, and a pro will cut down the training time significantly.