How to Keep Your Dog Safe in the Car · The Wildest

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How to Keep Your Dog Safe in the Car

Hitting the road with your dog? Make sure they're safe with this helpful advice.

by Daniela Lopez
Updated November 28, 2023
Jack Russell dog in backseat of s car wearing a safety harness and seat belt
Eva / Adobe Stock

Whether you’re going on a long road trip or just running a few errands, bringing your dog along for the ride automatically makes the trip more fun. But when you’re driving with your dog, it’s important to make sure they’re strapped in safely (just like any family member).

But, you might be surprised to learn that some of the pet restraints sold to ensure your dog’s safety don’t actually do what they are intended to do — and many are not adequately tested. “Many pet restraint products do not perform well in crash tests, but these products are unregulated because pet products are not considered consumer products. That means that promises on the packaging and in ads are not to be trusted,” animal behaviorist Karen B. London PhD says.

The non-profit Center for Pet Safety was founded to properly test car restraints for dogs. Very few pet restraints passed the center’s independent crash certification test, and some styles (including ziplines) can be downright dangerous.

So, what options do you have to keep your dog safe? First, if possible, put your dog in the back passenger seat. The back seat is the safest place for your pup because crumple zones, which are often likened to crushing a soda can, absorb the impact in the front and cargo areas. So in a serious accident, your dog is safest if they're restrained in the back seat.

Next, you need to get a doggy seat belt or harness (a regular seat belt won’t fit them). With the right dog car harness, you can keep any size dog safely strapped in the back of your car. This should also keep them from distracting you while driving or from hanging their head out the window. Dogs love to feel the breeze through their fur, but it’s actually pretty dangerous — they could be struck by a tree branch or even jump out of the car.

Dog harnesses aren’t your only option, though. Keep reading to learn more ways to secure your dog in the car, plus get six dog car safety tips.

How to keep your dog safe in the car

Taking your dog on a car ride can be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. But it’s important to take steps to keep your dog safe in the car, even for short trips. Be aware of the weather conditions and make sure your dog is comfortable.

Here’s how to safely hit the road with your dog.

​1. Secure your dog in the car with a harness and seat belt.

The best way to restrain your dog in the car is with a seat belt. Perfect for well​-​behaved dogs, the harness secures your dog in one position with a strap that plugs into the seat belt. Pro tip: Keep an eye on your dog to make sure​ they don't chew through the harness mid-journey.

Good for: Small and large dogs

How to secure your dog:

  • Slide the car seat belt through the dog seat-belt loop and buckle your dog in.

  • ​Place your dog on the car seat and connect the silver clasp to your dog's harness.​

Adjust your dog’s seat​ ​belt so it's secure and comfy.

2​.​ ​G​et ​your dog a plush carry box.

Perfect for small, anxious pups, this elevated box gives them a good view of you and their surroundings. Use it in conjunction with a dog harness.

Good for: Small dogs

How to secure your dog:

  • Place the plush carry box on the back seat. ​

  • Put your dog in the harness and attach it to the carry box.

3. Secure your dog in a crate.

Great for confident and relaxed dogs, the crate ensures that your dog is safe, comfortable, and secure. Make sure​ t​he crate is large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around ​in.

Good for: Small and large dogs

How to secure your dog:

  • ​Find the right size crate for your dog and car.

  • ​Place ​the c​rate in the back seat​ ideally, or in ​the back of a station wagon or other hatchback-style car.

  • Cover the crate with a blanket to help your dog relax.

4. ​Use a ​dog guard.

Ideal for dogs who like to see you and move around​, the​ guard prevents your dog from being thrown forward in the event of an accident. Make sure​ to get a guard that bolts to the floor and roof of your car so it can't be knocked out of position.

Good for: Small and large dogs

How to Secure Your Dog​:

  • Find a dog guard that will fit your car.

  • Bolt the guard behind the rear car seats.

  • Lock the guard to the inside of the roof (follow the instructions provided with your guard).

5. Try a back seat hammock.

Perfect for older dogs who may want to lie down, the hammock protects them from falling off the seat and stops them from climbing into the front. Make sure you get one with a nonslip covering so the hammock doesn't slide off the seat.

Good for: Small and large dogs

How to Secure Your Dog:

  • Lay the quilted side on the back seat and insert the anchors between the back and base of the seat.

  • Attach the fasteners to the rear and front headrests.

6. Install a back-seat barrier.

Ideal for larger dogs who struggle to relax when restrained, the barrier keeps your dog in the back seat when you brake suddenly. Make sure the barrier is securely attached before hitting the road.

Good for: Large dogs

How to Secure Your Dog:

  • Remove the car headrests.

  • Slide the headrest post through the D-rings and reattach the headrests.

  • Attach the bottom corners of the barrier to the seat using the hooks or clips provided.

Remember, pet safety products are unregulated with no mandated government safety standards. Some products may be listed as “crash-tested,” but as the Center for Pet Safety rightly points out, that doesn’t mean they actually passed the test.

Why is it important to keep my dog safe in the car?

Practicing dog safety in the car is important for both you and your pup since unrestrained pets can cause serious accidents. If they’re in the front seat and you get into an accident, they could hit the dashboard or the windshield; or, if the airbag deploys, they could be crushed. Having your dog unrestrained in the backseat is also risky. If you slam on your brakes, they could fly forward into the driver or the windshield and causes a serious injury or accident.

How do I prepare my dog to travel in the car?

Preparing your dog for car rides starts with taking them on short test drives to get them used to being in the car. If you plan to keep your dog in their carrier during a car ride, make sure they are comfortable with the carrier at home: Let them hang out in it and feed your dog in it to create a positive association. On the day of travel, feed your dog several hours before hitting the road or skip their breakfast to keep them from getting sick in the car.

8 car-safety tips for driving with your dog

1. Schedule plenty of stops.

Let your dog stretch their legs, go to the bathroom, and burn off some energy.

2. Be aware of your surroundings.

Watch out for anything that might trigger your dog — like pet in another car or people on the street.

3. Start with shorter journeys.

Some dogs get motion sickness so it’s best to slowly build up to longer trips.

4. Don’t feed while driving.

Instead, feed your dog at least three hours before your trip.

5. Never leave your dog unattended in the car.

The inside of your car can get dangerously hot very quickly, which can cause heat stroke, so never leave your dog alone in the car.

6. Don’t let your dog hang out the window.

It's not safe in general, and it's not good for their eyes. It can dry them out and may also expose them to flying debris. 

7. Don't give them treats on the journey.

Dogs have been known to choke while eating on the move.

8. Always have the air-conditioner on.

Cars can get very hot for dogs; keep the car well-ventilated.

What are some common hazards for dogs in cars?

The most common problem for dogs in cars is getting motion sickness. This is especially true for puppies, whose inner ears are not fully developed yet. That said, adult dogs can also get sick in the car. The feeling of moving inside a car and seeing so much unusual stimuli can cause dogs to become stressed and anxious, which may lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

FAQs (People also ask)

Can my dog ride in the front seat?

No, it’s not a good idea to let your dog ride in the front seat. The back seat is the safest spot in the car for your dog.

Can I let my dog roam freely in the car if they are well-behaved?

No, you should not let your dog roam freely in the car — even if they are well-behaved. To keep your pup safe, it's important to strap them in with a doggy seat belt or harness.


daniela lopez

Daniela Lopez

Daniela Lopez is a digital media specialist and long-time contributor to The Bark.

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