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Dog Car Safety: 4 Ways to Secure Your Dog on Your Next Trip

Dog Car Safety | dog in car

Whether you're driving to the grocery store or going on a summer road trip to the beach, keeping your dog safe in the car is a top priority. One of the best ways to keep your dog safe is by properly securing them in the car. While a dog smelling the fresh air out the window or excitedly running back and forth in the car seems cute, it’s actually dangerous for both the dog and passengers.

A loose dog in the car can easily get injured if you have to stop suddenly. In a car crash at just 35 mph, a 60-lb dog becomes a 2,700 lb projectile harming everyone involved. Still, many people drive with their dogs unrestrained, which can distract passengers and especially the driver who should be focused on the road.

To protect your dog, follow these safety tips and secure your dog the next time you go for a drive. 

Unsafe Seating Options for Your Dog

Unsafe Seating Options for Your Dog | dog in back of truck

Less than 20% of dog owners secure their pet when driving, despite the danger it poses to both their dog’s safety and the passengers in the car. Many dogs are allowed free range of the car while traveling, even being allowed to sit on the driver’s lap. The practice of having a dog on your lap while driving may seem harmless, it's a hazard to everyone in the vehicle and illegal in several states. 

Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have laws requiring dogs to wear restraints. Drivers in the following states can be charged with varying degrees of distracted driving if they have their dog in their lap while driving: 

  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts 
  • South Carolina
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.
  • Wisconsin

Instead of keeping your dog on your lap, you need to keep them in the back seat and away from the front of the car. When deployed, dashboard airbags can injure or even kill a dog if in an accident. Of note, avoid traveling with your dog in a two-seater car where there is no back seat option. 

Secure Your Dog with a Car Restraint

Choosing the Right Dog Seat Belt | dog with harness

Over 10,000 dogs are injured or killed in car accidents each year. One of the best and easiest ways to keep your dog safe in the car is by getting a dog car restraint and harness. Dog car restraints attach to their harness or collar and then to the seat or car’s seat belt. We recommend using a harness with any car restraints to avoid injuries that collars can cause when there is too much strain on the neck. 

Dog car restraints are convenient to use for dogs of all sizes and breeds. They work well for dogs that are used to the car’s vibrations and want a little more freedom in movement while still being restrained. Dogs with car anxiety may be better suited to a dog carrier or a dog car seat if they are smaller, especially puppies. 

There are three main styles of dog car restraints:

  • Harness Attachment - Specially designed harnesses designed for the car. They are usually attached using a carabiner or have the car’s seat belt loop directly through the harness at the back. 
  • Clip-in Leash Attachment - These click into the car’s seat belt receiver and secure to your dog’s collar or harness. They work well with smaller dogs that are lower to the seat. For large dogs, the strap goes up to the harness and may aggravate your dog if it’s not properly sized. 
  • Loop Strap Leash Attachment - This is the most common restraint option for dogs. The dog car restraint has a loop that goes around the head rest and adjusts to fit securely. It is then attached to your dog’s harness at the back.

Choosing the Right Dog Car Restraint

  • Does it work with your dog’s harness or does it come with a matching harness? Back-clip harnesses are the best type for dog restraints because they put your dog in the right position in the car and avoid putting strain on the neck.
  • Does it have adjustable length to fit any car seat size and dog? If it’s too long, your dog will still wander around the car. If it’s too short, it will be too constricting and uncomfortable.
  • Where does the harness secure? Some dog restraints secure around the headrest while others are secured using the car's seat belt like a baby car seat.

Recommended Dog Seat Restraint

CarLeash Adjustable Car Dog Leash

Our adjustable car dog leash works well with all sizes of dogs, attaching to their harnesses. It secures over a headrest and can be moved with ease. The adjustable length goes from 18 to 24 inches to allow your dog to sit up and lay down during the ride. 

Keep Your Dog Comfortable in a Crate

If your dog doesn’t react well to a restraint, you can keep them safe by using a crate. We recommend using crates for dogs who are more relaxed and confident. They will feel the car’s vibrations more in a crate since it’s lower to the floor, so make sure your dog is familiar with cars before putting them in one. If they are showing some anxiety, placing a blanket over the crate will help calm them down for the ride.

Crates are an excellent choice for dogs of all sizes, especially larger dogs that might be too uncomfortable in a seat. Your dog’s crate should be secured in your car, typically in the back seat or if you have an open car like an SUV, the trunk area. Even a lightweight wire crate could become a projectile hazard in an accident harming both you and your dog. 

If you have a large dog that needs to be secured in a crate in the back area of the car, be sure that your dog has plenty of air circulation. Don’t pack suitcases or anything around the crate and make sure the crate is secured within the car. 

Choosing the Right Dog Crate:

  • Look for the right size. Your dog should be able to walk into the crate without crouching down and be able to turn around with the door shut. Measure your dog’s height when standing and length then add four inches to find the perfect size. Make sure this fits into your car as well!
  • Consider the style of the crate. Depending on your dog, a soft-sided crate is an excellent choice when traveling as they are easier to transport. A more traditional wire crate might be a better option for smarter and larger dogs who can easily escape.
  • Durability of the crate - Not all dogs love being in crates for long periods of time on a drive and might get a little bored. Find a durable crate that can withstand any chewing or scratching that your dog might do as it gets used to the road. The crate should have rounded edges and non-toxic materials.

Recommended Crate

K&H Pet Products Travel Safety Pet Carrier

With three different sizes, this soft sided carrier fits dogs up to 40 pounds. Its straps the loop around the headrest to keep it in place and has a waterproof, comfortable bottom pad. Mesh windows let your dog see out and two access points allow easy access.

Car Seats for Puppies and Small Dogs

Car Seats for Puppies and Small Dogs | dogs looking out window

Sometimes dogs need a little boost too. Car seats or booster seats are perfect options for puppies new to cars or small dogs who need extra help looking out the window. Dog car seats come in many sizes and designs to fit different needs. The basic design is a square box with mesh sides that is secured to the seat using the car’s seat belt. A leash inside the car seat clips onto your pet’s collar or harness to keep them safe.

Choosing the Right Dog Car Seat

  • Material - Your dog might want a softer material if they are an older dog or perhaps a more durable material for those who like to play. Look for high-quality material that is washable and breathable. Bonus points if it has a removable cover that you can throw in the wash after muddy paws or accidents.
  • Size - Most standard car seats will fit an average car’s back seat but you should still measure your dog and weigh them. Weight is important in finding a sturdy car seat so it holds your dog safely in place. Find a car seat that fits your dog’s measurements; the car seat for an Italian greyhound might be very different from a car seat for a beagle.
  • Ease of Use - If you are going to be moving the car seat in and out of the car frequently, look for a car seat that is easy to install and store. Most car seats use a seat belt to hold it in place, but others use the child car seat anchor points. This can be a hassle if you have to remove the seat often. 

Recommended Dog Car Seat

PetsFit Lookout Car Seat

A lot of car seats are meant for smaller pets, but the large size of the PetsFit Lookout Car Seat is unique because it can fit up to two small dogs. They also have a small size to hold one small dog. The liner is made of high quality oxford cloth and can be detached for washing. The booster lets small dogs look out the window while securing them with a safety loop. The car seat itself is secured with the car’s seat belt to prevent it from moving. 

Install a Back Seat Barrier

Back seat barriers, or car pet dividers, are a good choice for dogs, who don’t like to be restrained and need to move around more than a crate allows. They are not as safe as a dog car restraint, but when installed correctly, a back seat barrier will keep the dog securely in the back if you brake suddenly, preventing them from flying forward. Back seat barriers also prevent distraction of the driver, letting your dog be comfortable in the back while you can focus on the road. 

Choose the Right Dog Car Barrier

  • Wire Cargo Barriers - Metal barriers that cover from car floor to roof and allows the dog to see through. These are best for strong dogs since they can't break through them. They are also great for keeping an eye on your dog as they are easy to see through and you can pet them when the car is stopped. 
  • Mesh Dog Barriers - Mesh dog barriers are similar to a volleyball net for your car. They are lightweight and easy to install while helping to keep your dog secure in the back. Make sure it’s secured properly or your excited dog might bust through it since they are not as strong as a wire cargo barrier. Mesh dog barriers are recommended for dogs who have a calm temperament and are okay with being separated from their owners in the car. 
  • Hammock Barrier - Hammock barriers protect your car seats and your dog all in one! They act as a car seat cover and keep your dog safe in the back seat with a comfortable, waterproof barrier. Most hammock barriers come with a restraint or hooks to secure your dog. They are great choices for dogs who need space that crates do not provide, dogs who may have accidents while on the road from anxiety, or dogs who shed or tend to easily track dirt. 

Recommended Dog Car Barrier

Backseat Waterproof Pet Seat Cover Protector 

Try our back seat waterproof pet seat cover protector on your next road trip. It uses high quality, water-proof material that keeps your car and your pet comfortable and works with dog car restraints. Unlike other hammock barriers, ours allows room for passengers so you can sit next to your dog and keep them company. 

Keep Yourself and Your Dog Safe on Your Next Trip

Our dogs are like family members and should be taken care of like family. By investing in either a back seat barrier, car restraint, or crate (or all three!), you can ensure you and your dog will be safe on your next trip, even if it's just up the road to the groomers or a cross-country road trip.

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