Driving with dogs: What you need to know

Black dog inside car with window down.

Sue Hewitt

Posted January 19, 2021

Taking Rover for a road trip? We answer your questions about the road rules, the best dog-friendly cars and handy accessories for a safe and comfortable trip.

If 2020 is remembered for anything other than a global pandemic, it may be the boom in dog ownership and the revival of the great Aussie road trip. The result is many more of us are driving with dogs. But what are the rules for travelling with a canine in your car? Is it legal to let your dog lean out the window. Can Fido travel in the front seat? What are the best dog-friendly cars and accessories to keep Spot safe and comfortable? We answer your most asked questions for a safe and happy road trip with Rover. 

The rules for driving in cars with dogs in Victoria

Does my dog have to be restrained? 

No, but Victoria Police strongly recommend you restrain your dog while on the road. Why? “In the event where a car has to brake quickly or is involved in a collision, there is a significant risk that an unrestrained animal could easily move around the cabin or project [fly] through the windscreen,” a police spokesperson says. “This could cause serious injury or death to the animal, as well as other occupants in the vehicle.” 

Can my dog sit on the front seat? 

Although it’s not illegal, police say it’s not safe for your pet if your car is fitted with airbags. If an airbag deploys it could kill your dog.  

Can my dog travel in the back of a ute or in a trailer? 

Yes, but it must be restrained, or you could face a $330 fine.

Can my dog sit on my lap while I’m driving? 

No. If caught, drivers face a $248 fine. 

Can I leave my dog alone in a parked car? 

It’s an offence to leave an animal unattended inside a vehicle for more than 10 minutes when the outside temperature is 28 degrees Celsius or above, say police. Drivers face a fine of $3304.40.  

Is it legal for my dog to lean its head out the car window? 

Yes, but police strongly discourage this because debris on the road may fly up and hit the dog or objects sticking out from other vehicles may hit it, causing serious injury. 

Can I put my dog in the boot? 

No. The state government’s Department of Agriculture says this is illegal. 

Anything else? 

VicRoads says although there are no specific laws about restraining your dog inside a vehicle, if you put your pet at risk you could face charges under the prevention of cruelty to animals laws. 


Dogs sits in the back of car looking out back window.

Putting your dog at risk inside a car can result in criminal charges. Photos: Unsplash

Best cars for driving with dogs

How do I choose a car to suit my fur-ever friend?

RACV’s senior motoring journalist Tim Nicholson says the perfect vehicle to transport a dog really depends on the size of your pooch. You might not need a big SUV if you have an Australian silky terrier, for example. So, tailor your car choice to your pet size.

I’ve got a big dog. What do I choose?

Tim says if you have a medium to large dog, an SUV is a practical option. The bigger the dog, the bigger the SUV. Cargo space is usually pretty good and it will have a high roof for taller dogs. Consider installing a grille between the cargo area and the back seat to prevent the dog from moving around the cabin, which may distract the driver.

If I don’t like SUVs, what are my options?

A station wagon is a great alternative as it’s lower to the ground, meaning your dog doesn’t have to jump up as high to get into the cargo area, says Tim. And more often than not, there is more space in a station wagon cargo area than in an SUV.

What upholstery is best?

Leather or fake leather trim is robust and easy to clean, but if you’re concerned about Fido scratching your lovely leather seats, consider a cloth trim, says Tim. It is, however, harder to get hair off cloth trim unless you use special pet hair-removing vacuum attachments.


Must-have car accessories for driving with dogs

What’s the best way to restrain a dog on a car trip?

There are many types of dog restraints. You can use a crate that is metal and mostly used for larger dogs, or one made from soft fabric for smaller dogs. There’s also a variety of harnesses and leads that connect to the car’s seatbelt fasteners to keep your dog secure. 

My dog travels on my ute tray, what restraint should I use?

Whatever restraint you use, ensure that the leash is shorter rather than longer. A long lead can let your mutt jump off the vehicle and be at risk.

I’ve got leather seats, how do I protect them?

Apart from the obvious solution of laying down a protective surface, like a blanket, some people choose dog shoes that cover the pet’s feet and nails to stop it from scratching upholstery.

My dog is too old or big to climb into my car, what do I do?

You might need to invest in a dog ramp or some steps.

What’s the best way to remove pet hair from cloth seats?

There are specialist vacuum attachments to remove pet hair.

My dog is coming on a road trip, what do I need to take?

Always carry water; there are pet accessories that allow you to carry water and bowls for pets. Don’t forget wet-wipes in case your dog gets car sick and poo-bags for doing the right thing.