Would You Leave Your Dog In the Car?

When is it okay to leave your dog in the car? Some dog guardians would say never, as WDJ editor Nancy Kerns discovered.


Yesterday, I met a friend in a town about halfway between her house and my house, which are about three hours apart. We both had things to do/people to visit in that midway city, and then she – and her darling, 30-pound moppish-mixed breed dog – were going to follow me home and spend a few days visiting. We met outside a Whole Foods store/restaurant, and I proposed we go in and eat lunch before driving the rest of the way to my house. My friend said, “Can we take turns going in and selecting our food? I don’t leave my dog in the car.”

My mind boggled. If it was hot (or even warm) or freezing out, I would immediately understand, but it was about 50 degrees – a pretty much perfect dog-in-the-car temperature, in my view. So I had to ask, what’s up with that? I had a foster dog chew through the front seatbelts in my car once; was it about separation anxiety, or something?

My friend’s answer had more to do with concerns about the behavior of others in the San Francisco Bay area. People have become so incredibly sensitized about seeing a dog in a car, she said, that even if the temperature is no threat whatsoever (like right now in northern California), you just can’t predict the behavior of people who might be concerned about your dog! And, actually, once she mentioned this, I remembered hearing a horror story from another trainer friend about a dog being stolen out of a car, with a note left behind indicating that the person didn’t deserve to have a dog if they were going to leave it in the car!

My friend also said, “People are just so bizarre. You also hear about dogs being teased and worked up into a frenzy. I just don’t want to leave my dog in such a vulnerable place, even just for a few minutes.”

So, I get it – even if I can’t imagine being unable to run into a place to pick up take-out food, or some other quick errand. When the weather does not permit, the dogs stay home ­- that’s all there is to that.  But at this time of year, if I’m running errands, I often take my adolescent dog, Woody, into the types of places where dogs are welcome: Home Depot, Tractor Supply, and so on. It’s a great opportunity to continue his good manners training. If I have to run into Staples, or want to join someone for lunch, he stays in the car, no problem. But in my small, rural town, neither the issue of self-appointed dog police or people who tease dogs in a car have appeared to be a problem.

As it was, my friend and I were together, so we took turns going in and ordering our burritos, and then we ate outdoors, with the little mop-dog cleaning up our last bites.

How do you feel about leaving your dog in the car, weather permitting, of course? Do you actively avoid it? If so, what are your reasons?


  1. Had this issue today also and so frustrating!!! I would never put my furbaby in any danger. It’s approx 14 Celsius here in Scotland and today left my dog in car parked in shade all 4 windows down a few inches each. Upon returning to my car no longer than 20 mins max I was met with soaking wet interior where some1 had poured water into my car for dog!!. Then I was approached by security guard from store stating customer very worried about dog in car and how I shouldn’t be doing it. One it is not against law and 2 b4 i left my dog I gave him drink until he no longer wanted anymore and 3 had it been warm i wouldn’t have done this and due to fact all windows were open!!. I address my dog as my son from another mum, I would not risk my dog for anything!. Some people have too much to say about what other people are doing. That’s the problem with today everyone bothering about things that don’t bother or concern them. If genuinely concerned why not have gone into shop and asked over tanoy for owner of car to come to till and voiced concern directly, and I could have explained I was only 20mins, windows down, not remotely warm outside ECT… without reporting me, causing my dog further aggravation by being up at car or soaking my car interior lol.

  2. I avoid leaving my dogs in the vehicle and never do on hot days unless in full shade and only for 5-10 minutes but on the rare occasion I do…again, only for 5-10 minutes…they are crated in well ventilated Variocages in the rear of my small SUV with locks on the crate doors, Ryobi fans going, the back door of the SUV open two feet with a vent lock and a crate protective temperament. Good luck to anyone trying to remove them and no way could they justify it. I’ve intervened when I’ve noticed dogs in hot cars with windows closed or merely cracked open by finding the owners or calling LE. Common sense is often lacking on both sides of this issue.

  3. We have travelled from Texas to Canada with our two dogs by car every year for about 20 years. We are starting to have more people trying to intervene to “save” our dogs in Canada where there are public service announcements that preach that a dog should never ever be left in a car. We can ventilate our SUV with windows down a little, sunroof open a little, vent windows in the sides of the back compartment open, a vent lock on the back window. We use foil blankets on the sunny side if it’s very warm. A windshield screen. Crate fans. Water buckets. We have a very large thermometer on the back of the crate. With Texas plates and our excellent setup, you’d think people might want to give us the benefit of the doubt. “Perhaps these people know something about keeping their dogs cool and comfortable.” But we still have the occasional “Good Samaritan” who thinks they know better than we do. We even had one very upsetting incident where the Police were called and said they would have broken into the car and removed the dogs if they hadn’t been able to reach us by cell phone. That was a nice summer day in Canada. I could have comfortably sat in the car reading a book but the officer wouldn’t even come close enough to feel that the interior of the car was comfortable. I have become very fearful about leaving my dogs in the car, not because they aren’t comfortable, but I fear they could be injured or traumatized by some wacko trying to “save” them.

    • Ran into a similar situation at Disneyland, CA 40 years ago. We’d been an in-laws in San Diego for a week, on the way stopping at DL, in our small hatchback, with my 4 year old GSD … “my baby”. We left not one but TWO large bowls of water, back seat down, white sheets covering the back, and front seats, window screen on front window, all 4 windows cracked about 3″, with battery fan blowing, AND tented the car with a white cover. Plus, this was January and only about 55 F outside. We got back to the car. Overheard some comments on the “funny covered car” but no one knew she was in there (couldn’t see her) until we hauled her out of the car to let her go potty and repack everything. Boy did they pile on us!!!! Never mind that it was COOLER in the car!!!!

  4. I do leave my dogs in my car when conditions are appropriate. I travel and trial with my dogs on a regular basis. I have all sorts of cooling and shading gear and a temperature sensor that transmits the current temp to my phone. Common sense on this issue seems to have simply disappeared. No one cares about my dogs more than I do. I would NEVER put them in harm’s way.

    • I know of people who do trial, rally, barn rat, agility, and other dog sports, with their dogs. It is expensive, and they put a lot of time training into their dogs. Unless dog is competing they must be crated, or in a vehicle. There is all kinds of equipment people use to keep their dogs cool while crated in their vehicles. Including temperature sensors, window grills so windows are 100% down, water bowls that the dog can’t dump, etc. Not cheap. But very much available. What I find interesting is newer cars have backseat sensors now. Any movement, will set off the alarm. It is not detecting a seat belt being plugged in. Although our current dog is restrained in the backseat, she is not buckled in. No, we do not have the items I listed, have looked at them, but don’t have them … not cheap.

  5. When we lived in Chico, CA, rarely did we leave our dogs in the car – winter was the only acceptable time temperature wise (simply too hot most if the time). Now we live in the PNW and the weather is beautiful, therefore our dogs go everywhere with us.

  6. We live along the 81 corridor, a hot bed for dog thieves with the highway being so convenient. Dogs disappear on a regular basis so my babes are never left alone in the car. My husband was skeptical until I showed him a news article where a man ran into a local 711 to grab a drink only to have his dog stolen in those few minutes he was gone. Not worth the chance.

  7. I feel so much better about what happened today reading that there are other people out there that feel the same way I do. I’m in SC and my pup wanted to get out of the house “since we are quarantined” so I took her on a car ride and decided to stop at the grocery store, I cracked all the windows and was in and out in 19 minutes. It’s 59 degrees and windy outside so I knew she would be fine. Got attacked and called horrible names and it broke my heart because I love my baby and would never ever ever put her in danger!

  8. I only leave my dog in the car if I am at the agility center, parked on their property, with our group around. I would be too worried about theft in any other scenario, such as parking on a street or in a parking lot and running errands, regardless of the weather. I might feel differently if I didn’t live in a metro area.

  9. So many stories, so many reasons to just leave a pet in a car, “for just a few minutes.” I remember a friend telling me that her sister was still so sorry she’d left her mini schnauzer in her car, in the shade, with windows rolled down slightly — on the grounds of her tennis club. She went in “just for a minute” and ran into friends she hadn’t seen for awhile, who invited her for lunch. Poor baby, her little dog died of heat stroke in a little over an hour. The woman had totally forgotten her baby. Once, as I scraped fresh snow off my car, I observed a man lock his two large dogs in his car in a household store and dash inside. I waited half an hour before I called the police about the dogs. In my state, police are permitted to break a car window to rescue “abandoned” pets. The officer waited another 10 minutes with me. He went into the store to have an announcement made about the situation. The man came rushing out of the store just before the officer broke the driver side widow. The dogs had been in the unheated car for nearly an hour. The driver was given a warning and a $500 ticket. The dogs belonged to his brother who was out of town.

    • That is absurd…unless the dogs were mexican hairless or chinese crested they were perfectly fine. Some dogs like cold weather, ugh huskys, malamutes, samoyeds …my furry babies lay out in the snow in Montana, they burrow under the snow and make tunnels. I have a collie…if we were on a ranch he would be out working no matter the weather. But I agree with not leaving in hot car. If I leave him in a vehicle the windows are down a couple of inches, the sun roof is open a little and the fan is blowing. He has water. If it gets really hot or I’m longer than planned I start the vehicle remotely and it cools off for 15 minutes before turning off.