Social experiment shows hundreds of people ignoring distressed dog in hot car

Don't leave your dog in the car without ventilation on a hot day.
Don't leave your dog in the car without ventilation on a hot day.

Hundreds of people ignored the distressed cries of a dog trapped in a hot car in a social experiment caught on film.

The three-day experiment saw just four people stop and attempt to help the fake dog, which was abandoned in temperatures exceeding 28 degrees celsius.

Confused.com, the car savings site, conducted the experiment to investigate how members of the public would react to a dog left in a vehicle on a warm day.

The aim of the experiment was to raise awareness of the actions people should take, rather than finding themselves in the position of a helpless bystander.

Armed with a fake dog – called Annie – a car and realistic sound-effects, a camera crew set up camp in car parks and busy streets across the UK. They recorded the reactions of passers by who assumed a real dog had been abandoned in the vehicle on a hot day. The camera crew waited, hidden from view, to see how people would react to the distressing barks and whining, and how many would intervene. Footage was collected over three days in July when outside temperatures were the hottest seen this year.

Throughout the entire time filming the social experiment, the overwhelming majority of passers by failed to intervene or do anything to help the dog; instead just glancing over and walking on by, or ignoring the loud cries of the dog altogether.

Only four people out of hundreds stopped to take action, with one trying to open the car in an attempt to rescue the whimpering dog. Another tried pulling down on the slightly open window to get to the dog.

During the filming, the crew had to stop a passer-by who was moments away from calling the RSPCA out of concern for the trapped dog. The full video can be viewed here

Further research by Confused.com supported the findings of the experiment revealing – of drivers who have witnessed a dog left in a car – three out of four (76 per cent) did not intervene, with only a small number (2 per cent) taking the right course of action.

A further few (2 per cent) decided to call the RSPCA, while almost one in 20 (4 per cent) alerted the closest store to the parked car. Some (2 per cent) took a slightly different approach and took matters in to their own hands by attempting to break in to the car.

Worryingly, despite media warnings about the soaring temperatures vehicles can rise to on hot days, a number of drivers admit abandoning their dogs in their vehicles.

More than two fifths (42 per cent) of drivers have left their dog unattended in a car – and shockingly, a quarter (25 per cent) of these admit to doing so on a warm or hot day. While more than one in five of these (21 per cent) claimed that it was ‘only for a short time’, a small number of people (2 per cent) confessed it had been for a long time. The research also revealed some respondents have left their dog alone in a car for as long as four hours.

Despite very few people choosing to intervene in such circumstances, many drivers have seen dogs left alone in cars in very public spaces.

In fact, almost three quarters (73 per cent) revealed they have witnessed an unattended dog in a supermarket car park. Almost a fifth (18 per cent) had seen a dog left alone on a high street, which often see a very high footfall of passers by.

However, the most common (28 per cent) time and place motorists have admitted to leaving their dog in the car is when they are refuelling or paying for petrol. One in five (20 per cent) also confess to leaving their dog behind in the car while they go into a shop.

Even though very few motorists have done their bit to help a distressed dog left alone in the car, more than one in five (22 per cent) think those who do so should be penalised with a fine or criminal offence. More than one in eight (13 per cent) even go as far as saying they think they should have their dogs taken off them. Perhaps with stronger punishments or better guidance on what to do in these circumstances, fewer dogs will be left alone in the car and with their life and health at risk.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, said: “As a dog owner, the results of the experiment really did come as a surprise: we expected far more people to try to intervene and help Annie the dog. The temperature inside a car, even in the shade, can be exceedingly high on a warm day. Poor Annie wouldn’t have stood a chance, judging by the amount of people who ignored her distressed whines.

“We urge all drivers to make themselves aware of the dangers of leaving dogs in cars on a hot day, and for them to be vigilant to what is happening around them in car parks, especially during the summer months. Spotting a dog alone in a hot car might just save the animal’s life.”

To help people be better prepared in the future, Confused.com has set up an advice page to educate people on what to do if they spot a distressed dog in a hot car.