The Dog Days of Summer

J Sutherland
by J Sutherland

Most dogs love to go for a ride. Perhaps it taps into their genetic hunting imperative. Maybe it’s a pack thing. One thing’s for sure: a dog would never question why it has to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. Nor, unfortunately, do hundreds of thousands of pickup-driving dog owners. The Utah Humane Society estimates 100,000 dogs die every year from jumping out of moving trucks. At least as many dogs are seriously injured. And the number of chronic ear and aggravated eye injuries is even greater. So stand back, fellas. I’m going to pour some hate on owners who think man’s best friend should ride in the back of the truck.

Why guys want to take their faithful companions on a trip where Spot gets the third class truck bed seat is a mystery that rivals why moronic “Reality TV” producers don’t go to jail for the wholesale slaughter of viewers’ IQs. When I’ve asked owners about the practice, their answers tend to fall into one of three categories: “who the hell are you to tell me how to take care of my dog,” “he loves it” and “it’s a dog.”

The first answer reflects a misplaced love of freedom; the freedom to raise an animal any way they damn well please (unlike the restrictions placed on their children), without some stranger/cop questioning their methods. Even more basically, it’s the freedom to let their dog live as they wish they (the owner) could: wild and free. In the moment. Without worrying about danger. Or lawsuits. Or, let’s face it, responsibility. Which is where the “right” to stick a dog in the back of a flatbed falls down.

For one thing, Canada and the U.S. have democratically-enacted laws against animal cruelty. Our governments hold dog owners responsible for the health and well-being of their animals. While pickup truck owners don’t consider “Fido rides in back” dangerous and unhealthy, society does. And for good reason. According to Dr. Deb Zoran, a Texas A&M University veterinary professor, “There’s probably not a veterinarian in Texas who hasn’t treated a dog injured from riding in a pickup truck.”

A report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal reported that 21 of 70 dogs thrown out of pickups between 1982 and 1993 sustained multiple injuries. The other 49 had single injuries. An article in provides anecdotal evidence of what common sense suggests: “A Massachusetts SPCA worker claimed they saw an average of one dog a week with a spinal fracture or broken neck from falling or jumping out of the back of a truck. The vast majority had to be euthanized.”

By the same token, drivers are not “free” to drive down public highways with an unsecured load. At the risk of evoking nightmare images, what of the cars behind the pickup, when they’re suddenly faced with the prospect of a collision with a flying or bouncing dog?

But all this stuff about the “social contract” doesn’t register with guys who make their dogs ride in the back of their cherished truck. They’re in love. They see their animal leap into the back with primitive joy. They see the dog yelping with pleasure at passing canines. They get the love when the dog gets out. If the dog loves it, why not? After all, their dog has never jumped out of the truck when it’s moving, or fallen out when jostled. After all, if it had, they wouldn’t be doing it. Would they?

Sometimes I wonder. There are dog owners who simply don’t want to let a dirty dog into their clean cab. And then there are those who believe their canine should be treated as a semi-wild animal, rather than a cherished, fully-domesticated companion. They don’t want to “city-fy” their dog. If they take their dog hunting or working, their “tough love” philosophy may be even more virulent.

The “it’s a dog” defense is also an attack on dog owners who don’t really understand the profound connection between man and nature, dog and nature and man and dog. These canine carrying flatbed owners are proud that their animal is roughing it in the back. Danger is their business.

It can’t be said enough: dogs in the back of pickups is an inherently deadly business. (For the dog, not the irresponsible owner, of course.) And what of owners who park their pickup and leave their dogs in the back, out in the public, where a curious six-year-old is a tailgate leap away?

Some states, even rural ones, have taken action. Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Florida, R.I., Washington and Hawaii have cage and/or cross-tie truck bed rules. In California, Fido has to be belted-up inside the vehicle.

I’m not a big fan of the Nanny State. But if there’s some part of you that agrees that society has some obligation to protect our weakest members, I ask that you contact your local politicians with a simple e-mail, supporting laws to ensure dogs’ safety while riding in a pickup truck. A dog really is man’s best friend. It’s time for us to return the favor.

For more of Jerry Sutherland’s work, go to

J Sutherland
J Sutherland

Online collector car writer/webmaster and enthusiast

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  • GS650G GS650G on Aug 24, 2009

    @Lumbergh21 Yes, the government has a say in regulating the securing of pets in moving vehicles. As a famous president once said "Government exists to protect men from each other, it's when government protects us from ourselves it overreaches" If your dog fell out on a deserted road it would be cruel to the dog and you'd be sorry it happened. But unless you can guarantee someone else won't be behind you when Fido decides to jump out then: (turn up the volume a bit) DO US ALL A FAVOR AND SECURE THE DOG But since we have an idea that we are entitled to do whatever we want then maybe a law will get your attention. I think @Kurt never rode a motorcycle behind a truck with unstable cargo, including canines. He'd have a different take on this subject if he did.

  • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Aug 27, 2009
    Sorry folks, how I treat any pet that lives with me is my business, and nobody else’s.... Bullshit it is. A pet is a living thing that is dependent on you to make every reasonable effort to protect it. Its not an old washing machine. If you have such callous indifference, you shouldn't own a pet. One would think extra laws aren't needed. Common sense and compassion should be enough. Cold and heartless statements like this make me think otherwise. At one time there were no laws to protect children, either.
  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.