Safety and Containment of Your New Dog

Safety and Containment for Your Dog,
Especially Foster and Newly Re-homed Dogs,
in the Car, in the Home and Yard, and on a Walk

by Sally Austen Tom, CPDT-KA

Safe Travels


Dogs Loose in Cars:

One of the saddest U.S. statistics dates from the days before infant car seats were required to bring a baby home from the hospital or birth center.  It was the number of newborns killed in car accidents before they ever reached home.  They rode unprotected and not stabilized in an adult’s arms and flew through windshields or were crushed in collisions. The same thing can happen to a dog riding loose in a car or held in a person’s lap. No one keeps a similar statistic on puppies or dogs, but the American Automobile Association says that 30,000 car accidents a year are caused by dogs in cars.

Even if the dog didn’t cause the accident, it can be seriously injured or killed in a crash. If not injured, when the first responders open the car door, a dog can hop out into the traffic and then be hit by a car and/or cause an accident, and/or run off into the woods beside the highway and never be seen again.  A dog in a car accident could also, whether injured or not, bite the first responder, which is not what you want to happen to the people who are there to help you and your dog. It is, therefore, imperative to transport your dog(s) safely.

How to Transport Safely:

Safe transport starts with taking your new foster or adoptee home in secure transport and using safe transport tools every time the dog goes in the car. That means either in a crate that’s secured in your car or in a seat belt harness.  This organization studies pet safety in cars and, more importantly, tests crates and harnesses:



For a puppy or small dog, the crate would be easier and safer than a seat belt harness. Crates also can keep medium and larger size dogs safe.  See recommendations for crates here: 2015 Crate Study Results – Center for Pet Safety

Securing a Crate in the Car:

According to the Center for Pet Safety, crates should be secured in cars with strength rated anchor straps, not with bungee cords. Bungee cords could stretch and contract in a sudden stop, thus tossing the crate and dog around in the car.


Seat Belt Harnesses:

A seat belt harness differs significantly from a regular or even anti-pull walking harnesses.   Safety harnesses have broad chest plates. These distribute the force of a sudden stop across the chest and make it harder for a sudden stop to slide your dog out of a harness.

The Center for Pet Safety has also tested harnesses and thus far, only one harness has passed the tests. See their recommendation for safety harnesses here:

Alternatives to CPS Tested Equipment:

The crates and the harness recommended by the CPS are expensive. If they’re out of your price range, look in pet supply stores (brick and mortar or online) for the sturdiest crate and/or harness that meets your price point. Regardless of which brand of crate you use, a properly secured crate is much, much safer for your dog than being loose in the car or held in your arms. Regardless of which brand of seat belt harness you use, a properly secured seat belt harness is much, much safer for your dog than being loose in the car or held in your arms.


Attaching Your Dog to the Inside of the Car – What NOT to Do:

If a leash is attached to a collar of any kind, never attach the leash to anything in the car. With a sudden stop or acceleration, the dog’s neck could be broken or the dog could be strangled.


Dogs Ride in Back Seat or the “Way” Back, NEVER in the Front Seat:

Dogs must never, ever ride in the front seat if the passenger side air bag is turned on/could deploy. Even the largest dog, such as a Great Dane or Saint Bernard, cannot travel in the front seat because a deploying air bag would force the dog’s muzzle back into its skull and kill it.



Staying Connected to Your Dog While on a Walk


Flight Risk:

Newly re-homed dogs are at the highest risk of taking off – from a yard, while on a walk, or after bolting out an open door. Consequently, new fosters or guardians should be most on guard during the first few weeks after the dog comes home. Once the dog’s behavior is better known, some precautions might be lifted, while others might be strengthened.

Loose on a Walk:

A dog can become disconnected from a person during a walk in several ways. The dog might jerk the leash out of a person’s hand and take off to chase an interesting smell or other animal. Or, to flee something frightening, a dog might slip backwards out of a collar (i.e., the collar pulls over the dog’s head) or might even wiggle out of a harness (even a properly fitted harness.)


The best (for keeping the dog attached to the leash) kind of collar is sold under a variety of names, including “martingale” and “no-slip.” The metal ring to which the leash attaches is attached to a loop that is part of the collar. When the dog pulls on the leash, the loop becomes tighter and the collar tightens. The more the dog pulls, the tighter the collar becomes, up to the point that the loop is pulled completely tight (if the collar is fitted correctly). This kind of collar is put over the dog’s head and then adjusted (tightened) enough that it can’t come back over the head. When the collar fits correctly, a person can fit only two fingers (held horizontally, not vertically) underneath the collar.

Functions of a Collar on a Walk:

The collar had 2 roles on a walk. The first, as described above in “Collars,” is to keep the dog, leash, and walker connected to one another. The second is to carry the identification tag and any other tag that a dog should have on its collar, such as the microchip tag and the rabies tag. The collar is also the back-up to the harness and should always be connected to the harness. See the sections on carabiners and harnesses below.


The carabiner is originally Italian mountain climbing equipment, but it’s mostly used to carry keys and to connect one thing to another, in this case, the collar to the harness. If your dog should ever slip out of the harness, or if it should break, the carabiner is connected to the harness and the collar and therefore, you are still connected to your dog. Hardware stores sell carabiners.


All dogs, of all sizes, whether or not they pull on the leash, should walk on a harness. Unlike a collar, when a dog pulls against a harness, no harm is done to the thyroid gland (at the base of the neck), to the lower part of the trachea, or to the bones of the neck (which pulling on the neck with a collar can misalign and thus set the dog up for arthritis of the neck at an early age).

Dogs with Short Muzzles and Protruding Eyes:

Dogs with short muzzles, such as pugs, bull dogs, Shiz-Tzus, mixes of these breeds, etc. MUST walk on a harness. These dogs typically have trouble breathing and have a lower tolerance for the compression of their tracheas caused by pulling on a collar. Also, these breeds are typically “bug eyed,” and pulling on the leash puts pressure on their eyes and can damage their optic nerves.

Specialty harnesses:

There are harnesses (and leashes) designed to be used in various sports, such as running and bicycling. And, you can find a wide variety of harnesses designed to help teach dogs not to pull (without punishing them for pulling). Hands down, the best of the anti-pull harnesses is the Freedom Harness. It has a ring on the back on a loop that tightens if the dog pulls. It has a ring on the front that prevents the dog from engaging its shoulders, much as front-connection-only harnesses do. When a leash is attached to each ring on the Freedom Harness, the walker has 2 points of contact with the dog and gains more than twice the control. This harness does not substitute for formal training to walk with a loose leash, but it makes it much easier to handle a strong puller while training him to walk politely on a leash.

Do not, however, buy the Freedom Harness leash that is often sold with the harness and that is made by the same company. When used as intended with the 2 points of contact, it’s only 3 feet long, and that’s just too short. You trip on your dog’s heels. Instead, buy a leash designed for walking 2 dogs at once. These leashes have one loop for the hand and two long leashes. Both leashes are used on the one dog’s harness. Alternatively, loop the handles of two 6 foot leashes together to create an improvised version of a leash for walking two dogs at once. (A leash for walking 2 dogs at once is not the same thing as a coupler, which is not the tool needed with the Freedom Harness.)


The leash should be fabric (nylon, hemp) or leather. Six feet leashes are the best length. Four feet is just too short. There are a lot of variations on the designs of leashes and their handles these days. Choose that which feels best in your hand and which is the right weight for your dog. Use a lighter weight leash for a small dog or a puppy.

How to Hold a Leash:

Leashes have three parts; they are the loop or handle, the length, and the clip that connects the leash to the collar or harness. Hold the leash securely by putting your wrist through the loop of the leash and holding the length of the leash with your fingers, or by putting the loop of the leash over your thumb and folding your fingers around the two sides of the loop, thus enclosing them the loop in your palm. Do not wrap the leash around your hand, wrist , or arm. If the dog takes a leap to chase something while the leash is wrapped around these body parts, you can be jerked to the ground and dragged.

Retractable Leashes:

Do not use a retractable leash. They are extremely dangerous for human eyes (they snap back), fingers (amputation of digits), and dog’s paws (entanglement, broken bones, amputation of toes). Because the dog learns that when he experiences the tug of the leash and then pulls against it, he gets more length, a retractable leash teaches a dog to pull on the leash. If you want to give the dog more length than the standard 6 feet, buy a long line leash. They come in various lengths and for a really long line, can be strung together.


Additional Equipment for a Walk


Poop bags:

We should always pick up the poop, even if the dog never poops where people walk. Poop washes into the Chesapeake Bay and is not good for the Bay or our water systems. More immediately, rats eat dog poop and so are attracted to neighborhoods with dog poop lying around on the ground. And, it’s just good manners and neighborly to pick up the poop so others don’t step in it.

Treat Pouch:

We always need treats on the walk to reward good behavior and to distract the dog and get it to refocus on us in stimulating situations when, left to his own devices, the dog would rather lunge and pull and bark. When the treats are in a ziplock bag in a pocket, it takes too long to get to them and we end up rewarding not the behavior we intend to reward, but the behaviors that came after that behavior that deserved to be rewarded. A pouch allows quick and easy access to the treats. And, in cool weather, if you carry treats on a walk in a pouch that you have to take off when you come back from your walk, you’re less likely to leave a jacket with a pocket full of treats somewhere that a dog can access, such as over the arm of a chair, and eat holes in the pockets while snarfing the treats. If your treats need to be refrigerated, you can just take off the pouch and put it in the refrigerator. A fanny pack works well as a treat pouch.

The best kind of treat pouches open and close with a hinge, or with a magnet – both of which can be manipulated with one hand. Don’t get a pouch that opens and closes with a drawstring, as it takes two hands and too much time to open, and if you leave it open, the treats will fall out when you bend over. Also, it’s best to have two ways to connect the pouch to your body, such as a belt clip, a belt, or a Velcro loop. When there’s only one mechanism to attach the pouch, the weight of a full pouch can drag it off of your body.

Reflective vest:

Wearing an inexpensive reflective vest during walks at dawn, dusk, and night could save your life and your dog’s. I’ve had motorists stop me on the street at night to tell me how glad they are that I am wearing a reflective vest. You can buy these at hardware stores. Also, Ikea sells them in the children’s section (including ones big enough for adults) for $4.00.

Coats, Sweaters, Boots (for the Dog):

The rule of thumb for a coat or a sweater is that if you need two layers to be outside, such as a sweater and a winter coat, and if you and your dog are going to be outside longer than half an hour, put a sweater or coat on a short haired dog. And, of course, let the dog’s behavior be your guide. If your dog starts shivering after 15 minutes, next time put on the sweater or coat. It’s probably easier to wipe off a dog’s paws after walking on surfaces that have been de-iced with salts and chemicals than it is to put boots on and off, but if your dog will tolerate the boots, it might make the walk on snow and ice more pleasant for the pooch.

Aversive sprays:

At least two companies make an aerosol spray scented with citronella that is packaged in a small cylinder that you attach to your pouch or belt or pocket. If you are approached by an off leash dog, you spray this scented air at the oncoming dog and it might stop an attack. Dogs hate the smell of citronella. The spray won’t hurt you or the dogs, but it might stop an attack. Your dog will have an unpleasant experience because she will also smell the spray, but that’s probably better than being attacked. The two I know of are Spray Shield and Dog Stop.


Containment in the House, aka Preventing Door Dashing


Door Dashing:

Dogs often dash out of an open door, or slip from behind their person’s legs and stroll out the door – all too quickly to be stopped. Dogs will dash out of the front door or out of a door to the attached garage and through an open garage door. They will dash out to chase something they see or smell outside, to explore the big, exciting world, to try to find their way back to a previous home. Even a dog who normally stays inside easily will dash if something arousing (another dog who needs to be kept away from your dog’s territory), or alluring (a playmate or a female in heat), or exciting (a bunny or squirrel that must be chased) comes into view when the door is opened. It’s always best to open the door a crack, look first for anything that might stimulate a door dash, before opening the door fully.

Preventing Door Dashing with a Leash:

Preventing door dashing is mostly a matter of managing the dog. Several strategies can be used. Keep a leash on the door knob (if the dog won’t take it and chew it up) and make sure everyone knows to leash the dog before opening the door. Keep the leash on until the door is closed. If the dog would chew the leash, put it somewhere close to the door when people can reach it easily but the dog cannot.

Preventing Door Dashing with Barriers:

Before opening the door, make sure the dog is behind a door (i.e., contained in another room). Or, create a barrier between the door and the great outdoors by putting a baby gate between the room closest to the door and the door. Make sure the dog is behind the baby gate before opening the door. Baby gates can be purchased at many big box stores (Target, Wal-Mart, Babies R Us), pet supply stores such as PetSmart and Petco, and online. For long term use, I recommend the kind that screw into the wall, as they do the least amount of damage to paint. The rubber tips of the kind that use pressure to stay in place tend to pull the paint off of the door jamb in big, ugly splotches.

An Outside Containment Area- Creating Redundancy to Contain the Dog:

If family members or visitors cannot be relied on to make sure the leash is attached or the dog is behind a barrier before a door is opened, then acquiring a small fenced and gated area just outside the door can keep a would-be escapee contained. In other words, the dog dashes out of the door straight into a gated pen. This kind of containment area can be built around steps and a walk way outside of the front door or in the attached garage at the door to the inside of the house. The gate can be attached to the fencing in such a way that it automatically swings closed, which helps prevent a dog dashing out through a gate that has not been completely closed.

Training to Prevent Door Dashing:

In the long run, a dog can learn that sitting by the door, or doing the “go to mat/bed/place” behavior, is much more rewarding – because he is paid for the work with delicious treats – than dashing outside. This training takes time, patience, and awesome treats. It’s not the first line of prevention for door dashing. And, for a dog with a strong urge to go exploring, it should probably not ever be the first line of prevention. Gates and leashes remain the first line of prevention for door dashing for eager explorers.

Training a Strong “Come” Behavior:

In an ideal world, every dog would know that being called to come to its person results in the world’s most fabulous treat that is more rewarding than all the temptations waiting for him outdoors and every dog would come, every time it is called, under any circumstances. Even in our less-than-ideal world, many dogs do learn to come this reliably. It takes time and patience and fabulous treats.

In the Meantime:

Until your dog learns a rock solid come, these human behaviors might induce a dog to come when she has dashed out the door or wandered out a door or gate accidentally left open.

  • Always use a sweet, friendly voice when calling your dog. If your voice communicates fear, anxiety, or anger, your dog hears danger. Dogs are smart enough to know not to approach danger. (Yes, keeping your voice calm and sweet and friendly when you are terrified because your dog is loose outside is very hard. Do the best you can.)
  • Your dog is looking at you, but not coming. Crouch down, hold your hand as if you have a treat in it (even if you don’t), and sweetly say “come, come, come, treat!” Once you get the dog inside, do give that awesome treat.
  • Your dog is looking at you, but not coming. Calmly turn around and walk away. Your dog will be curious, because you are her person and she wants to know what you’re up to. Also, because dogs are predators, they are interested in anything that moves away from them.
  • Your dog is looking at you, but not coming. Go down on one knee and call her sweetly. Being down on one knee makes you less formidable and more approachable.
  • Your dog is looking at you, but not coming. Invite your dog to play chase with you by running or skipping away from her, clapping and calling her as if you’re suddenly the most fun party in town.
  • If the dog is dragging a leash, and you can walk calmly to her, remember that to prevent further flight, you only have to get close enough to step on the leash. You don’t have to be close enough to grab the leash, collar, or the dog with your hands.

Plate Glass Windows, Screens:

Yes, it can happen. A big enough dog, jumping full force against a plate glass window, or a medium size dog launching itself against a screen, can either break the glass or screen or pop the whole window out of its frame. Usually this happens because the dog has seen something that must be chased away, or must be escaped from. The best way to keep the dog from seeing out the window is to cover it (on the inside) with contact paper that looks like the frosted glass on a bathroom door. The paper lets the light in, but blocks the dog’s view of that-which-must-be-chased. This kind of contact paper can be purchased in hardware stores. It costs very little to try it and if you don’t like it, you can pull it off without leaving a residue on the window. Incidentally, blocking the view in this way can prevent barking that is triggered by sights on the street or yard just outside the window.


Containing a Dog in a Fenced Yard


A High Level of Caution:

Never underestimate a dog’s capacity to go over, under, through, or around a barrier. The fence should be as solid as possible. Inspect it before bringing home a new dog. Look for gaps under the fence and between boards. Look for places that the wood may have rotted and need to be replaced or reinforced. Make sure the gate itself cannot be nosed open. Consider whether a dog could use a wood pile, a table or chair, a pile of leaves, the top of your compost bin, or anything else she could climb on to then leap over the fence. Consider whether a really ambitious dog could climb the fence by putting her paws in the chicken wire or knot holes or anything else that could give her a grip.

A Back-Up System in the Early Days in a New Home:

It never hurts to have a back-up system to increase the probability that you can foil an escape plan. It’s best to let your dog drag a leash behind him in a fenced yard in the first few days (or maybe even weeks) in a new home and to go out with your dog every time she goes outside. If she has a leash on, you will probably have time to interrupt the escape before it is complete. If you’re out there with her, you’ll be able to observe whether she tries to climb on the wood pile or over the fence, or whether she starts digging at the fence line. In the first few weeks, you’ll need to be outside with her anyway to help her learn where to eliminate.

A Word about Meter Readers, Landscapers, and Police:

Unless the gates to the yard are locked, people can open the gate and forget to close it. Meter readers, landscapers, and others who are working in your fenced and gated yard may forget to close the gate when they come in or when they leave. Police, when running through back yards in pursuit of a suspect, will not bother to close gates after them. To help prevent a gate being left open accidentally or on purpose, install gates that swing closed and latch automatically, or that must be unlocked with a key.


Safety and Containment for Your Dog, Especially Foster and Newly Re-homed Dogs,
in the Car, in the Home and Yard, and on a Walk: A Summary


Car Safety:

Keep the dog safe by tethering to the seat belt with a seat belt harness. In a pinch, tether the dog who is wearing a regular harness to the seat belt or to some fixed feature of the inside of the car.

Or, keep the dog safe by putting it in a crate and tethering the crate with the seat belts or by tethering the crate with strength rated anchor straps to something fixed inside the car.

NEVER tether a dog by tying from the collar to anything fixed in the car. A sudden stop would break the dog’s neck or strangle it.

NEVER put a dog in the front seat of a car that has a front seat air bag. The deploying air bag would crush a crate. It would crush a dog. Even the biggest dogs would die in the front seat because the air bag would smash the muzzle into the dog’s skull.


Home Containment/Prevention of Door Dashing:

To prevent dashing out the door, put the dog in another room or in a crate before opening the door to the outside (or to a garage which might have an open door).

Or, install a baby gate between the door to the room(s) next to the door. Be sure the dog is contained behind the baby gate before opening the door.

Or, keep a leash near the door. Train everyone in the family to always leash the dog before opening the door.


Yard Containment:

Before bringing the dog home, inspect the fence for gaps at the ground, between the boards, and at the gate. Close all gaps. Make sure the gate latch works and cannot be pushed open easily. Repair rotten wood, especially next to the ground.

Make sure there are no woodpiles, tables, benches, etc., that a dog could climb on in order to leap over the fence.

Attach a leash and let the dog drag it around while you watch him in the yard for the first few days or weeks. If the dog starts to try to get out, you’ll have the leash to help prevent an escape. Because you’ll be out there to watch for attempts to escape, you’ll be able to see if your dog starts digging at the fence line. You’ll be out there anyway to train the dog to eliminate outside.


Staying Connected on a Walk:

Use a cloth or leather leash, not a retractable leash (because retractables are dangerous to human hands and eyes, and dog’s paws).

For walking with the leash attached to a collar, use a no-slip/martingale collar that is correctly fitted, i.e., snug enough around the neck that it cannot be pulled over the dog’s head.

Hold the leash securely by putting your wrist through the loop of the leash and holding the leash with your fingers, or by putting the loop of the leash over your thumb and folding your fingers around the two sides of the loop, thus enclosing the loop in your palm.

Do not wrap the leash multiple times around your wrist or hand, as this could lead to your being dragged along the ground if you fell and your dog started running with you still attached to the leash.

For walking, it’s best to use a harness, which is the recommended equipment for walking (to prevent pulling on the neck, which can damage a dog’s thyroid gland, trachea, and alignment of the spine at the neck).

Use a carabiner (the egg shaped clip that people use to carry keys on their belts) to connect the ring on the collar to a ring or a strap of the harness. That way, if the dog panics and wiggles out of the harness, you are still connected to your dog. In a pinch when you don’t have a carabiner, clip the leash to the harness and the collar to create extra precautions against escape from the collar or harness.