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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
July 1, 2021
Jack Russell dog in backseat of s car wearing a safety harness and seat belt
Eva / Adobe Stock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

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).

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. 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?

The most common solution is 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 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

With the right gear, you can safely hit the road with your dog. Here's how:

​1. Get a dog ​harness ​seat ​belt​.

P​erfect 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. Put 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 of a station wagon or other hatchback-style car, or in the back seat​ of a sedan​.​

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

3​.​ ​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.

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 the Center for Pet Safety rightly points out, that doesn’t mean they actually passed the test.

6 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. Start with shorter journeys.

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

3. Don't feed while driving.

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

4. 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. 

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

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

6. Always have the air-conditioner on.

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

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daniela lopez

Daniela Lopez

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