Road rules for dogs

January 25th, 2009
Dog waiting at crossing

It is a dog owners worst nightmare; the sound of wheels screeching to a halt followed by a distinct, painful yelp. Prevent your dog from becoming the next roadside accident with some road rules for dogs.

Dog are smart when it comes to fetching slippers, predicting a thunderstorm or looking sheepish when the sandwich you left on the coffee table goes missing but when it comes to road sense, put simply, they just don’t get it!

“Dogs are not born into this world knowing that if they step in front of a car its going to run into them,” says Dr Debbie Calnon, a vet who also counsels on animal behaviour. “Noises like cars and trucks can worry them, but as a species and because of breed selection, dogs haven’t evolved to cope with traffic conditions,” said Calnon.

Vet Andrew Redmond of Melbournes Beaumaris Vet Clinic agrees that road sense is not an instinct with dogs. “Dogs are like children. They have no road sense. They don’t look, they just run out onto the road,” said Redmond. “When a dog is focused on a distraction that’s all theyve got eyes and ears for. Often its not the drivers fault and they feel guilty. I would almost always put the responsibility on the dog owner for letting the dog run loose.”

Like most vets, Calnon and Redmond believe the only way to make sure you and your dog never have to go through the pain of road trauma is to always rely on a leash.

“No matter how well-trained the dog is, there’s no place for a dog to be without a lead alongside a busy road. They could get a fright or be distracted. It would be a very unusual area where a dog is allowed to be off-lead near a road anyway,” said Calnon. “A dogs hearing is super sensitive. Dogs can hear infrasound and ultrasound, noises significantly higher and lower pitched than what humans can.

Its the reason owners often say their dogs can sense thunderstorms in advance. But because a dogs hearing is more attuned they’ll pick up on things like a moving cat. That’s why its important that they’re under control near roadways. I hear it all the time in general practice, My dog walks right beside me, even next to a road, but now hes here with a broken leg because hes been hit by a car.”

The victims
The most recent road accident victim at Redmonds Bayside Clinic involved a dog that managed to get out while his owner went to collect the mail.

“We had a Golden Retriever who went out with his owner to get the post, saw a cat in front of the road, tore out in front of it and got hit. He has a nasty broken front leg, dislocated hip and had to have surgery worth thousands of dollars. This owner was very responsible but it was just an unlucky event. The golden rule is, if you put your dog on the lead, nothing is likely to happen to him,” said Redmond.

Despite such nasty injuries, Redmond thinks the Golden Retriever will make a good recovery. But some dogs in road accidents are less fortunate; those that are hit head-on can suffer instantaneous death.

Chelsea Brown, a senior nurse at one of Victorias five animal emergency centres, has witnessed the tragic results of animal road trauma firsthand. “We estimate that about 30 per cent of our entire case load would be animals involved in road accidents,” said Brown, a vet nurse of 10 years. “Some animals are lucky and they just get a bit of a knock and come away with a few grazes. But then other times you see broken limbs, internal bleeding and all sorts of contusions. If dogs are attended to promptly after a road accident they do have a good chance of survival.”

Brown says that every effort is made to contact owners after a road accident as its usually the driver who brings in the injured animal. “We need permission to go ahead with surgery and there are financial implications. Mostly we can provide oxygen and strong pain relief while we try to track down the owner. We try to keep the dog alive and will only euthanase in a very severe case, where the animal is truly suffering.”

Broken limbs, head injuries and abdominal injuries are the most common outcomes for dogs in road accidents, says Calnon. But modern treatments can save many dogs. “Treatment for broken limbs in dogs can vary from padded bandages to lightweight fibreglass casts. Pinning and plating bones is more common for fractures. Even in the worst-case scenario of amputation, three-legged dogs do very well,” said Calnon.

On the scene, Brown warns that its often a dog that is quiet that poses the most danger. A sulky disposition is often a possible indication of shock, which can kill. Shock is caused by a loss of fluid from the body that inhibits blood circulation, preventing oxygen getting to the vital organs. When this happens the victim can stop breathing and lose consciousness. Calming the casualty and covering them with a blanket can prevent the fatal onset of shock while you seek emergency assistance.

Despite the high incidence of trauma, vet nurses like Brown find working in emergency animal medicine extremely satisfying. “This is a stressful area of veterinary work. The clients we see are not happy, they’re fairly emotional and upset about their animals. But if they come out the other side its amazingly rewarding.”

Under control
Dr Calnon, also a Delta Canine Good Citizens Accredited Instructor, believes good training and obedience are some of the best ways to ensure your dog doesn’t become a road statistic. Training a reliable recall could make the difference between a dog that comes to you in a crisis and one that continues to run head on into danger, says Calnon.

“If you’re in an off-leash area with your dog (which can be close to roadways), training a good recall is absolutely invaluable,” she said. “The recall does take lots of practice. Dogs tend to learn sit and drop reasonably quickly, and they’ll usually continue to do that on cue without a lot of practice. But to train a reliable recall in the face of distractions takes lots of practice. On every walk with your dog you should be practising some recalls.”

Calnon advises owners to be patient with recall training. “People get annoyed when their dog doesn’t come when called, and when they do finally come they get in trouble, which makes them even less likely to come next time. Just don’t expect too much of your dog too soon with a recall. If you’re in an off-lead area and you want your dog to have a run, don’t trust them to come back to you; have your dog on a long lead.”

Taking the lead
Even if you manage to master the recall with your dog, Calnon believes you can’t go past the lead for preventing road accidents. “Training a really reliable recall is hard work, but no matter how well youve trained your dog, they should still be on a lead beside a roadway. Nobody can absolutely guarantee a dogs behaviour and if its going to potentially cost a dog its life, why wouldn’t you use a lead?”

If you walk your dog on a lead with a head collar, vets advise to make sure it is fitted correctly too loose and your dog could wriggle free near dangerous traffic. The correct way to use a head collar is with a double lead, one connected to the head collar and one connected to the actual neck collar. This not only provides ample safety, but also takes the strain of the collar off the nose (hence the reason most dogs will rub with just the head collar on). For more information on how to correctly use a head collar, read the insert in the packaging or check out Dogs Life Nov/Dec 2003 issue #62 (lead and collar roadtest). Back orders available on 1300 303 414.

“Its about having your dog under control, and most of the time that means having them on the lead. A lot of owners think that their dog will do anything they say but remember that it is law to have your dog on a lead in a public space,” said vet Andrew Redmond.

On the move
For dogs riding as passengers, its equally important to follow safety recommendations and the law. Recently, the RSPCA had a major concern with the amount of unrestrained dogs on the back of utes, tray trucks and trailers. Although the legal requirements vary in each state, the RSPCA advises that in most cases it is legislation to have dogs tethered in a manner which prevents them from falling or jumping from a moving vehicle.

RSPCA Senior Inspector Kevin Apostolides says that under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Victoria), unrestrained dogs on the back of open tray trucks or motor vehicles to which a trailer is attached can incur fines up to $500.

“Unrestrained dogs on utes, open tray trucks or trailers risk terrible injury or death. If a vehicle brakes or swerves suddenly, an unrestrained dog can be hurled from the vehicle and suffer horrific injuries,” said Apostolides.

The RSPCA encourages dog owners to secure their dogs. The restraint should be long enough to permit the dog to stand, lie down and move about but should not be of a length which would permit either the front or hind legs reaching the side of the tray when the dog is standing in a normal posture.

“The restraint should be attached by a swivel to an anchor point hard up against the vehicle cabin, the other end of the chain should be attached to the dogs leather collar or harness by another swivel which prevents the chain from tangling,” he said.

On the inside, harnesses remain the best way to safely secure your dog in the event of a car accident. A recent campaign to promote the wearing of dog harnesses featured a Chihuahua in the back seat with the tagline: “You’re looking at an unrestrained killer.”

Ray Lord, media officer for the RSPCA, highlights the speeds at which an unrestrained animal can be propelled through the air, presenting danger both to itself and surrounding passengers. “When a dog becomes a flying object it can do real damage. If you’re going to take the animal with you in the car, make sure you have a harness for it. In a collision, the dog can bounce around in a car and cause enough damage to injure your entire family. You would never drive without a seatbelt, why let your dog?” asked Lord.

Dog seatbelts are being taken so seriously that in Santa Fe, USA, proposed laws may soon see Fido required to buckle up in the state of New Mexico.

Escape artists
The sad fact is that some dogs manage to escape only once. These are the dogs that don’t make it back home because they’ve become a road statistic or a prisoner at the local pound. According to a dog will manage to escape his or her yard an average two to three times during its life.

“Dogs escaping supposedly dog-proof yards is one of the most common reasons why dogs end up in animal shelters. Often they escape when they’re really panicked, like in thunderstorms, when there are fireworks or even when nail guns go off at a construction site. Some can jump six-foot fences,” said Calnon.

She identifies Staffordshire Bull Terriers as the Houdinis of the dog world, very adept at demolishing fences if they become panicked. For dogs with a history of escaping, preventative measures such as identification tags, micro-chipping and reflective dog collars (to alert motorists at night) can help keep track of infamous wanderers and prevent a road accident.

And while there is no evidence to suggest that some breeds are less road savvy than others, vets like Dr Calnon do believe some dogs could be more predisposed to car accidents.

“Some of the breeds that Id worry about are the herding breeds like the Australian Cattle Dogs, as they’re more inclined to chase an animal, cyclist or motorbike.”

Unfortunately the once bitten twice shy principle doesn’t apply to dogs in car accidents. Even dogs that have been hit by a car once don’t necessarily learn by experience. “With humans, a traumatic experience can be blocked from the memory, but were not sure if dogs can have the same reaction. The way they remember the incident can be very specific, like associating the accident with the location where it happened, and not the moving traffic itself,” said Calnon.

Total recall
Here are some basic steps to help you perfect the art of a reliable recall:

Step 1: Recall them around the house on a regular basis and offer a treat, toy, pat or praise. The dogs instinct will be to hear their name and the recall command such as “come” and equate that with something positive. Get into the habit of taking hold of the collar before you give the treat as some dogs will sit just out of reach and then take off.

Step 2: Try the John Fisher recall method. Divide your dogs dinner up into 10 equal portions. When you take the dog for a walk, have them on a long line and call them 10 times, rewarding with the food. On the first time, the dog may only get 20 per cent of its rations, but the next day the dog is keener to come because hes hungry and he might come 60 per cent of the time. Within a week most dogs will come pretty reliably each time they’re called. Only try this method with adult dogs that are physically well. Dr Calnon says that she has yet to find an owner who has said “my dog didnt come at all” when they have used the John Fisher recall method.

Step 3: Do some recall under light distractions and under greater distractions. Line up somebody with lots of good things like toys and treats and have that person call your dog. As the dog eventually comes to the owner, the person with the goodies comes over and rewards the dog. That way, the dog associates being rewarded by checking in with its owner first. Then the owner can release the dog to get the treats that another person might be holding.

Accidents and the law

When it comes to road accidents, dog owners should also be aware they might be liable for injury or damage to property caused by animals. The following information comes courtesy of the NSW Young Lawyers website, a division of the Law Society of New South Wales:

Injury or damage to property caused by animals

There are several ways to obtain compensation for this. If the owner or keeper is negligent you can bring civil proceedings. Negligence can be hard to prove. An ideal example would be where the animal is known to be dangerous; perhaps it caused an accident before. For example, neighbours give evidence that a dog was always chasing cars in a case where it caused an accident by catching one. If the owner has not taken reasonable precautions, to keep the dog from getting out on the street, the owner may be negligent.

Make sure you have insurance and check your policy closely for what it covers.

The Companion Animals Act 1998 allows for liability even where there is no negligence.

Injury or damage caused by dogs
In addition to the general factors we have discussed, you may be entitled to receive compensation through criminal proceedings against the owner or keeper, or through civil proceedings.

Companion Animals Act 1998
The owner or person keeping a dog can be prosecuted if it rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses or chases any person or animal, whether or not it causes any injury.

There are exceptions if it occurred because:

  • the dog was provoked (teased, mistreated, attacked);
  • the person or animal was trespassing on the property where the dog was kept;
  • the dog was acting in reasonable defence of a person or property;
  • the dog was being used in lawful hunting;
  • the dog was working stock or training to work stock;
  • it was a police dog.

A person who suffers injury or loss from a dog attack may receive direct compensation of up to $50,000 under the Victims Compensation Act. This is paid out of the property of the dog owner after they are convicted. For more information visit

In Victoria, according to the Domestic (Feral and Nuisance) Animals Act 1994, its enough for your dog to simply escape to be penalised. The Act states: “If a dog is found at large outside the premises of the owner or not securely confined to the owners premises, between sunrise and sunset, the owner is guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction.”

In the event of a car accident with an animal:

Look after your own safety first. Don’t get hit by a car yourself if you’re on the road.

Handle the animal quietly and gently and try to stop bleeding. Get the dog to a vet ASAP.

Ring first to give the clinic some warning.

Even dogs with a nice temperament can bite if they’re in pain, so avoid touching the dogs mouth unless the airway is blocked. Use a blanket or sock over the dogs mouth to reduce the risk of biting.

Owners can check a pulse, which is a femoral pulse on the inner thigh of the dog. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is difficult with a dog and only apply CPR cardiac massage if you have studied First Aid.

If the gum colour is nice and pink, the dog is probably healthy. If the gum colour is pale or blue, take the animal to a vet immediately.

Contact your local vet (who can also give 24-hour emergency contacts) or emergency vet centres in your city or town.

Flashing Collars
Flashing collars and relevant tags are vitally important in your dogs walking attire. If you are interested in a collar, like the one Jazmine (above) is wearing, contact the Dog-E-Data store for your very own Dog Glo Gear. These neon-flashing collars are produced in the UK and scream safety especially when walking early in the morning or in the dark of night. However, these collars are no longer produced so this is your last chance to pick one up. You can purchase a collar from Dog-E-Store for $39.99 incl GST, P&H while stocks last.

Visit: or and follow the shopping links.

Alternatively, FreeCall 1800 444 364 at anytime to buy over the phone.

Dog-E-Data also provides a wonderful service paramount to all dog owners. If you want to ensure Rovers safe return to your home if hes become lost, invest in a Dog-E-Data membership. Your dog will love you for it!

You need to look after your pooch's health - check out our all-new DOGSLife Directory

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One Response to Road rules for dogs

  1. Maddy Moo says:

    My dog was on lead tied to metal cage that holds gas bottles outside 7-11 and was spooked by man trying to stir dog ! She bolted and took cage with her and was running circles and back and forth petrified on main road. But caused damage with metal cage to two cars in car park ! Who ? Is responsible to pay for damage to cars ?