Taking Your Dog for a Ride? – What You Need to Know About Car Safety for Dogs

Taking Your Dog for a Ride? – What You Need to Know About Car Safety for Dogs

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Having an active lifestyle means you and your dog spend a lot of time in your vehicle. You’re headed to the park or driving to agility class. You’re meeting up with friends for an afternoon at a local dog-friendly patio or maybe driving to the lake. But while you’re buckling up for safety, what is your dog doing? Here’s what you need to know about car safety for dogs.

Last month, I got a call on my cell phone no mother ever wants to receive.

Through the sobs on the other end of the phone, I heard my teenager say, “Mom, I’ve been in an accident!”

To cut to the chase, she was shaken but fine. Everyone else involved in this chain collision was also uninjured. Cars were damaged but nothing a body shop couldn’t repair. Thankful for our modern day safety belts and airbags, I was immensely grateful that it wasn’t worse.

Then I started wondering: what could have happened if Chloe had been in the car with her?

My daughter sometimes takes Chloe along for fun, riding in the front passenger seat to have a Puppuccino  at Starbucks. If our dog had been in the car during the accident, would she have been injured?

Are you as surprised as I am to learn “only 16 percent of dog owners who have driven with their pet use some form of restraint while their dog is in the vehicle” – this according to a survey conducted by American Automobile Association and Kurgo a few years back.

Guess what? I am one of the 84 percent of owners who DOESN’T use some type of safety device for my dog while in the car. I knew that needed to change.

Aussie in the backseat of a van, looking out the window.

Why Should Your Dog Ride With a Safety Device?

Statistics and facts don’t always do a great job of conveying the reality of car safety devices for dogs. Most of us aren’t safety engineers. You can read that “If a car crashes at a speed of just 25mph, an unrestrained dog can be projected forward at a force equal to 40 times its weight” (blah, blah, blah) but until you watch the actual crash test videos, you won’t wrap your mind around what that could mean to you, your passengers or your dog.

Here are three reasons to consider:

To prevent distraction to the driver. According to the above survey:

  • 60% of dog owners have driven while distracted by their pets as passengers.
  • 52% of dog owners have petted their dog while driving.
  • 17% percent of drivers allowed their dog to sit in their lap while driving.
  • 13% percent of drivers admitted to giving food or treats to their dog while driving.
  • 4% percent of drivers acknowledged playing with their dog while driving.

To prevent injury to the dog and passengers in the vehicle if a collision occurs. “Even for smaller pets traveling at just 30 miles per hour, an unrestrained 10-lbs dog will exert 300 pounds of pressure in an accident, according to Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, traffic safety programs manager for AAA. Without a crash tested safety restraint, that pint-size pooch can injure passengers and become severely injured on impact.”

To prevent the dog from being ejected or escaping if a collision happens. If your dog should escape during an accident, he can become lost, injured by oncoming traffic or present a hazard and distraction for first responders arriving to the scene.

What Are Your Options?

Your decision about which is the best safety device/restraint for your dog will depend on your individual circumstances.  There is a lot to consider.

Think about: How big is your car? Will you be buying a different model soon? Do you have more than one dog? Do you frequently carry cargo? How many family members also ride along with you? What activities do you do with your dog? Do you need a portable system?

Main options for you to consider:

  1. Safety harness and tether
  2. Carrier/Crate/Cage
  3. Cargo barrier

Safety Harness and Tether

The most budget-friendly of the options, a safety harness and tether allows your dog to ride where he is most likely comfortable : in the back seat, buckled in just like a passenger would be.

The catch is – your regular walking harness will not cut it. You will need a safety harness that has been specifically engineered to withstand the impact of a collision AND a tether belt that has been crash tested to work with it.

The good news: a safety harness can be quick, easy to change from vehicle to vehicle and can double as a walking harness if necessary.


Many dog owners travel with their dogs crated. Especially for those of us active in dog sports or competition, it makes sense to have a good containment system for our dogs to travel safely and lounge about in between events.

But not all crates are created equal. Can your travel crate withstand the forces of a crash without breaking apart? Is it engineered to use “crumple zone” technology, the same as car manufacturers use?

And do you know how to correctly place and secure your dog crate in your vehicle?

Little boy opening door to dog crate in vehicle by Gunner Kennels
Photo courtesy of Gunner Kennels

The challenge is to your budget. The best cages/crates are expensive and for good reason. The engineering and testing are very costly for the manufacturers. Also, many crates/cages are heavy and not easy to move. Size matters; if your car is small and your dog is large, a crate/cage may not be an option.

The good news: A well-designed safety crate is a lifetime investment and will last you for years.

Cargo Barrier

This third type of safety device is a barrier that protects the passengers in your vehicle from the contents of your cargo area. Even if you don’t have a dog, if you regularly haul things in the cargo area of your van or SUV, I highly recommend installing one of these! Items in your cargo area can become projectiles in an accident. Why didn’t I realize that before?!?

Cargo barriers that have been purposefully built to prevent injuries are on the pricey side. Many are custom-sized for certain models of vehicles. If you get a new car, you may also need to get a new barrier.

The good news: Cargo barriers are useful for all sorts of cargo – not only your dog.

What to Look For

If I haven’t overwhelmed you yet, here’s more to consider… I discovered in my research that unlike child restrains for vehicles, there seem to be no cut and dry testing or regulations when it comes to car safety devices for dogs.

Products are routinely marketed with the spin “Crash-tested.” Ask yourself – what does that mean? Did the product pass or fail? Who did the testing? Who paid for the testing? How was it performed? Where can I see the results of the test?

Car safety for dogs info graphic

There are a few organizations that conduct independent crash tests on dog safety devices. These organizations , like Center for Pet Safety, and some European agencies, may issue a product certification seal. There has been some controversy over certain aspects of the testing of some of these organizations. Money is always a factor as is test criteria when it comes to independent testing results. Before you accept any certification at face value, make sure you know how and why it has been issued.

Now hang in here – I have some excellent resources for you.

It’s a bit of reading, but if you’re serious about giving your best four-legged friend the protection he deserves, take some time to look it over.

Also – watch the videos. Don’t be afraid to watch them – it will give you  a good understanding of how car safety for our dogs comes into play.

Finally, take action!

If you haven’t already, make it a priority to decide what option works best for you and your dog and implement using a safety device.  Today!

Start here for basic canine car safety info. https://www.kurgo.com/dog-travel-statistics/

More detailed info   https://www.petprosupplyco.com/pages/pet-safety

Crash Test Videos https://vimeo.com/171395676 (by 4×4 North America’s Variocage )

https://vimeo.com/86834846 (4×4 North America’s AllSafe Harness)

https://gunnerkennels.com/crash-tested (videos)

Crash Stories (good ones!) https://gunnerkennels.com/customer-stories

Here’s where I usually have some Amazon links for you to purchase recommended products. This time, however, I feel so strongly that safety devices for your dog is such a personal choice that depends on so many factors, it’s best for you to go directly to the manufacturer to make your purchase.

You can still browse our Amazon storefront to see a few of the safety products we like. If you purchase through the link, as an Amazon Associate I’ll earn from qualifying purchases.

Want to keep this info on hand? Pin to your favorite Pinterest board!

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