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the danger of dogs riding in the back of pickup trucks

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


Pet owners do some pretty crazy things from time to time, and as a veterinarian, I often have to take some of their habits with a grain of salt. But one particularly bad habit I see when I’m out of the office stands out: pickup truck owners who ride with their dogs in the back.


I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen dogs injured jumping out or being thrown from the back of a pickup truck – even one is one dog too many. To reiterate the danger of this particular activity, I can also honestly say that I’ve never seen a dog who has presented for this problem who was not very seriously injured. 


While it might seem like fun for four-legged friends to ride in the pickup bed, the dangers far outweigh the risk. If your dog jumps ship while moving, don’t forget that he’ll likely be jumping into a road with other cars on it, upping his chances of being hit by a car as well as sustaining injuries from the fall. In addition, consider the consequences if you’re involved in an accident. Even a minor fender bender can throw a dog from his riding spot.


Common injuries that can occur when dogs jump from or are thrown from the back of pickup trucks are:

  • Head trauma
  • Broken limbs
  • Injuries to the large nerve bundle in the armpit, which can cause permanent loss of function to the affected limb.
  • Road rash
  • Gruesome “de-gloving” injuries, where the skin and fur are peeled away from the arms or legs.


If you need to transport your dog or dogs and there isn’t room to safely transport them in the truck’s cab, then a few safety precautions should be taken before you open the back of the truck. Buy a crate specifically made for the back of the truck (yes, they do make them!), and secure it with bolts right behind the cab, which is the safest place for your pooch to ride. This will prevent your dog from jumping or being thrown from the truck and will buffer him in the case of an accident.


This is not merely a safety measure – in many states, such as California, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington, it is illegal to transport unrestrained animals in the back of pickup trucks.


For those of you without pickup trucks, similar rules apply. If you live in one of a handful of states that enforce distracted driving laws, having pets unrestrained in the car will land you with a ticket and a hefty fine. New Jersey, Arizona, Connecticut and Maine drivers are among those who are not allowed to drive with pets on their laps or improperly restrained, and more states are considering similar legislation as well.


Make sure your furry family members are buckled up, just like you are. Restraining your pet keeps them safely inside the car – yes, I have seen dogs who have jumped from car windows – and it prevents them from becoming projectiles in the case of a motor vehicle accident.  I’ve encountered more than one unlucky dog who has broken a leg when their owner had to slam on the brakes.


Pet safety harnesses are like pet seat belts. They keep your pets (and you) safe and secure while riding in the car and can be purchased online or at any pet store. Be sure they fit securely – you may think you’re taking away from the “fun,” but your pet will thank you when he arrives at his destination safely. 

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Posted by Aaron Polchowski
on January 03 2014 04:12

Every dog has their day. Just so happens everyday my dogs ride in the back of our pickup....it's one of those days! They love it.

Posted by Diane Gonzales
on June 06 2013 21:44

I don't think that restraining a a dog in the back of an open vehicle is sufficient to keep the dog safe. If you love your pet, please secure a carrier in the back and put it in that or leave it home. Has no one but myself thought of the gruesome outcome of a restrained dog flying out in an accident?

Posted by Kathy
on June 04 2013 23:06

I'm in northern Washington state and yes, we do have the pickup law in place. However, it does absolutely no good that I can see - they're everywhere - in town, country roads, on the highway and drivers don't think twice because they never get pulled over. So why did they bother to make the law if they don't plan on enforcing it? For the dogs' sake I hope other states are doing better than we are at enforcing the law.

Posted by Chandra Holsten
on June 04 2013 01:50

Yaaay for all the states that have passed laws against allowing unrestrained dogs in the back of pickups. It's dangerous for the dog and everyone on the road. Very cruel.

Posted by Rachelle
on June 03 2013 16:32

Letting any animal ride in a moving vehicle is irresponsible. I have 4 dogs and all 4 get clipped into a seat belt for them each and every time we are in the car. Big or small, back of a truck or in the cab a dog should be restrained as are people. I am not sure of the law in all states but I know I would never law or not drive or ride in a car myself without a seat belt on so why would I allow my best friend or another living being ride without one. Then add on top of it the fact that they have animal instincts and if they see something and want to jump or it could likely be deadly. Not to mention other things can happen while in the back of a truck or with their head's out a window. I just cannot believe people don't restrain them and quite honestly I cannot believe I am one of very, very few people I know that do. It makes no sense to me. My dogs are also much more calm and love riding in the car and feel safe and secure while clipped in. I wish it was a law to be honest and it should be, either a crate or a seat belt. If you have an accident they are likely if not more likely by their size to end up in serious injury or death. They are not just 'animals' they are supposed to be part of the family and they don't have a choice to make such decisions themselves it is up to us as their master/owner.

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