Dogs LOVE to go for rides. A dog will happily get into any vehicle going anywhere.–Dave Barry, humorist (b. 1947)
Like all dog people it always brings a smile to my face when I drive by a car and see a dog with its head stuck out the window, jowls flapping and ears flying.
But even though the dog enjoys it, is a loose dog safe in the car? The answer is no.
You wouldn’t let a child lean out a window with their head outside and no safety restraint. The same should go for your furry family members.
While none of us wants to think about anything bad happening to our pets while we’re out driving, accidents with pets in the car happen every day.
According to a survey by the American Automobile Association, 84% of drivers who travel with dogs in their vehicles don’t use a proper safety restraint. Driving with an unrestrained dog increases the risk of serious injury or death for both you and your dog.
What can happen if you drive without your dog safely restrained?
- The dog can increase your chance of an accident by distracting you while driving
- If an accident happens, an unrestrained dog will impact whatever it hits with a force equivalent to several thousand pounds of energy.
- The dog may be ejected or escape from the vehicle resulting in the dog getting lost, injured or killed.
- Once outside, the dog can become a hazard to other drivers and is at risk of being hit by another vehicle.
- After an accident, an injured or frightened dog can pose a threat to emergency responders, preventing them from helping human occupants that may be in need of assistance.
Traveling with your pet restrained isn’t cruel to the dog. In fact, you not only reduce the risk of injury or death to your dog, but also improve the safety of human occupants as well. You owe it to yourself, your passengers and your furry friends to make everyone’s trip as safe as possible.
US Drivers and Their Pets
- There are 43.3 million households in the US with pets.
- Only 16% of people who transport their dogs use proper safety restraints.
- 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.
Car Crash and Pet Statistics
- 51% of travelers with pets say they would bring their pets on every vacation if they could, according to a AAA/Best Western survey.
- According to the National Safety Council, more than 2.5 million rear-end collisions are reported every year, making them the most common type of auto accident. This is why it’s important to use crash-tested safety products.
- If a car crashes at 25mph, an unrestrained dog can be thrown forward at a force equal to 40 times its weight. A large-size dog weighing 75 pounds, for example, can achieve an impact force of 3,000 pounds in a car crash, which could be a lethal blow for both a passenger and the pet. (Allianz website – Keeping pets safe in the car)
Things To Consider When Choosing A Restraint To Keep Your Dog Safe
There are several factors that can go into a decision about what type of restraint is right for you and your dog to help keep them safe in the car.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common considerations.
- The size of your dog. You may make different choices for a 5 pound Chihuahua versus a 200 pound St. Bernard. Small dogs may be constantly scrambling to stand up and see out the window, so a booster seat with a safety harness attachment might work well. Booster seats and St. Bernards, not so much 🙂
- The size of your vehicle. Again, this is a custom decision. Do you have a tiny car and a huge dog? A safety-rated crate probably won’t fit, so you might have to consider a safety harness and tether. If you drive a large vehicle, you’ll have your choice of options depending on other factors.
- Your budget. Obviously this is a big part of the decision. You want your pup to be as safe as possible, but sometimes a thousand dollars or more just isn’t in the budget. Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly options like a tether and harness or reasonably priced crate.
- Multiple dogs. This will be another specialized consideration based on the size and number of dogs you have, the size of your vehicle, and the budget.
- Dog age and activity level. If your dog is a constant chewer, or you’re traveling with a puppy or excitable juvenile dog, make sure you don’t get a tether they can chew through or a mesh crate they can claw and chew through.
- Climate. Some areas of the country, especially the south, become extremely hot during the summer. Even with the air conditioning blasting in the car, many pet owners report their dogs become overheated in a travel crate. Tethering or a barrier restraint may be good choices for these climates.
- How much you travel. While we all know an accident can happen a block from your house, it’s also true that the more your travel the more chances you have for an accident. If you travel the country with your pooch, it may be worth considering some of the more expensive crash-tested dog travel crates.
- Dog breed. Large breed dogs, dogs with long fur, and dogs with flat faces/short noses can all overheat easily. Take this into consideration when choosing your restraint.
- Health considerations. Dogs with medical conditions like Laryngeal Paralysis who have compromised breathing, older dogs with arthritis, or dogs with other special health conditions need to have their health taken into account. For example, an arthritic dog may be more comfortable with an orthopedic pad in their crate or wearing a harness and tether in the back of an SUV on a comfortable dog bed. Likewise, dogs with breathing difficulties may not do well in enclosed crates and need airflow to breathe comfortably.
Types of Restraints To Keep Your Dog Safe In The Car
Luckily today there are many effective safety restraints for pets.
We’ll take a look at some of the most common: a tether which attaches to a seat belt and your dog’s harness; an elevated car seat with safety restraints for smaller dogs; traditional hard-sided and mesh crates; and crash-tested barriers and travel crates.
So let’s compare some options to find what will help keep your dog safe in the car.
I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Universal Dog Car Restraint Tether
Using an EzyDog Universal Dog Car Restraint is very easy to use. Just slip the seat belt through the loop on the restraint, connect the clip to your dogs harness, and you’re ready to go.
The restraint features a cold rolled steel buckle attachment and abrasion-resistant seat belt webbing with reinforced stitching.
You must ALWAYS use a harness with this restraint, not a collar. Attaching a tether to a collar can cause the dog to choke or could actually break their neck in a crash situation where they are thrown forward.
It’s best to make sure your pup’s harness is very sturdy and preferably crash rated. If you’re in the market for a new harness, check out our next item.
The MIM AllSafe Comfort Safety Harness was developed in Germany by a company with 18 years of experience with the design of crash tested pet safety harnesses. It has a special soft chest plate for comfort.
We interrupt this regularly scheduled post for a special announcement. I just have to say this dog is so stinkin’ cute…and now back to harnesses. 🙂
This comfort harness is available in four sizes. The company says sizes run large so be sure to use the sizing guide when ordering.
Other points to consider from the manufacturer’s literature are:
- Crash Tested
- TÜV Tested (a very reputable third party tester for safety)
- Maximum Safety for Dog and Passengers
- Attaches Easily to the Vehicle Seat Belt with One Hand
- AustriAlpin Cobra Quick Release for Optimal Safety & Ease of Use
- High Strength Tear-Resistant Polyester Harness
- Extremely High Load Capacity
- Coated Steel Connectors
- Soft Padding Alleviates Pressure Points
- Excellent for use as a Walking Harness (woo-hoo! Gotta love a product with multiple uses)
- Animal-Friendly Design
- Additional Safety Provided with Reflection Strips
- Adjustable Tether with Rotating Carabiner for Safety & Comfort
Prices range between about $150-$200 depending on size.
The comfort harness comes with a short tether, but if you want one a little longer there is one available for extra purchase. The KleinMetall AllSafe Tether comes in a short fixed 6 inch size or an adjustable 7 to 17 inches.
Pet Seat Cover
If you choose to use a tether and harness for your dog, it will really save your car seats by having a seat cover. The Kytely Dog Car Seat Cover is designed for the backseat.
It’s waterproof, has a non-slip backing, and most importantly, a space for the seat belt buckles so you can attach a tether. It has four sets of adjustable plastic clips that attach around the headrest in the front and the back to secure the cover.
The seat cover is 54″W x 58″L, so it works for cars, SUV’s, and most vehicles. Side flaps help protect the sides of your seats also. The price is around $30.
We have one similar to this in the backseat of our car. Another reason I like this style is it prevents the dogs from slipping off the seat and into the area between the front and rear seats. Our 13 year old Casey is a little less steady than she used to be, so this is a big plus.
If you have a pup that will be in the front seat, check out this front seat cover from Meadowlark.
Meadowlark Front Seat Cover with head rest cover and dog seat belt
It’s easy to install with straps that wrap around the back of the seat and got very high ratings. It’s also waterproof and nonslip. The cost is around $40.
Dog Car Seat / Dog Booster Seat
This K&H Pet Products Bucket Booster Pet Seat is an elevated seat for smaller dogs that gets fantastic ratings on Amazon.
It has an area in the back for the seat belt to go through to hold it in place. It also has two restraints in the booster seat if you have two small dogs.
The booster seat will fit in either a front or back seat. The front of the seat dips down so your dog can get in easily, and has higher sides for added safety.
It comes in two sizes: small for one small dog, or large for two smaller dogs or one medium dog. Both sizes include two fully adjustable security leashes that can latch to your pets harness to ensure they remain safely seated in the booster on your trip.
The price at Amazon at last check was around $90.
Cargo Barrier and Gate
Our next item is a cargo barrier for virtually any station wagon, van, or SUV. It comes in sizes small, medium, and large, as well as a headrest barrier that fits on the second row of headrests in an SUV.
It’s called the MIM Safe Variobarrier, a car crash tested universal dog cargo barrier. According to the manufacturer, “MIM Safe VarioBarrier has been tested & approved by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden using Crash Standard ISO 27955 to assure the safety of all vehicle occupants (both pets and humans).”
The MIM VarioBarrier is designed to work perfectly with the MIM Variogate (sold separately), to make a safe and secure cargo area for your beloved pets.
Depending on the size, this barrier runs about $300 to $400.
The VarioBarrier described above is designed to work with the MIM Variogate (sold separately), which is a gate you put at the back of your SUV to basically make a crate out of the back of your vehicle. It would be a great safety feature for dogs who tend to jump out of the back of your car before you are ready.
LIke the MIM Variobarrier, the MIM Variogate fits most models of vans and SUV’s. It provides ventilation when the back door is open, and provides extra security in case the back would pop open in an accident. Just like the barrier, the gate requires no modifications to your vehicle.
I really love the safety this gate provides. Our pup Finn doesn’t always want to wait to jump out of the back of our SUV and this would let us control when it was safe for him to get out.
The barrier and the gate together offer a way to keep your pet contained in the rear of your vehicle while still getting plenty of ventilation. This could be an important factor if you live in a hot, humid climate or have a large breed dog, a dog with long fur, or if your pup has a medical condition like Laryngeal Paralysis where they need to stay cool and have good ventilation.
The Variogate price is around $1000, with smaller sizes costing a bit less.
Crates To Keep Your Dog Safe In The Car
Traditional Dog Crates
Let’s start with the type of kennel many of us have, and can be found at any pet store or big-box discount store. This one is the Aspen Pet Traditional Kennel from Amazon. It comes in a 20″, 24″, and 28″ size. There are also other sizes for larger dogs, which I’ll post below.
These kennels are affordable and easily available. It’s a good way to keep your pet contained, especially for short trips. Reviews on them are generally good.
Complaints about them to look out for are:
- The door is a weak spot. It’s held closed by two pins, one at top and bottom. This could easily break in a car crash. I have a small bungee cord that I use to attach from the door to one of the plastic side vents to help prevent this, at least in most situations.
- If your dog is a major chewer they can start working on the plastic on the side air vents. I think this would be more of a problem if you crated your pup at home without supervision versus in the car.
- There isn’t a way provided to tie the kennel down in the car. In the case of an accident, the kennel could go flying. You need to find a way to strap the kennel down in your vehicle.
Petmate Kennel (in sizes for dogs up to 90 pounds)
Aspen Pet Traditional Kennel (good for small to medium size dogs)
Once you consider those issues, a hard-sided crate can be a good and affordable option. Prices vary by brand and where you purchase, but in general, you can find crates for small to medium-sized dogs in the $35-$65 range. Prices go up the larger the kennel is. Crates for large dogs are generally at or above $100.
Molded Plastic Crate
The next step up in a crate would be something like the Ruff Land Kennel. It’s molded from a single piece of high quality plastic, and has a reinforced door that won’t rust.
This kennel is available in sizes small through extra-large. Prices vary from around $140 for a small kennel to more than $400 for extra-large. In my opinion, a reduced amount of ventilation for dogs with breathing or overheating issues would be a concern in very warm climates. It could be a great choice for cooler climates. There is an option for an extra charge to add extra vent holes.
There are a ton of great features to this kennel:
- It’s light weight so easy to move from car to car
- Available in five different sizes
- Designed by dog trainers and outfitters
- Made in the USA
- The door is a composite that won’t rust
- Some of the sizes can be stacked for transport of multiple dogs
- The single piece construction makes it very sturdy and can withstand 350 pounds of weight on top of the crate
- You can add order all sizes with extra vent holes
Crash Approved Dog Crate
Our next crate is great choice for safety, and meets costs about half way in the middle between inexpensive crates and the most expensive crash-tested crates.
The Proline Pro 4 Condor Crate – TÜV crash approved crate for large dogs comes in small, medium, and large sizes. The large size is big enough for large dogs such as Bernese Mountain Dog, Rottweiler or Irish Setter.
The Proline Pro 4 Condor Crate has been approved by the rigorous inspection of the TÜV SÜD (a third party organization that tests products for safety).
According to the manufacturer, this ProLine Condor crate performed outstandingly in the crash test and also in every other area covered by the comprehensive test, and provides certified safety for you and your dog.
Some of the great features about this crate are:
- Aluminum frame
- Strong corner connectors for stability
- Maintenance-free hinge of the door which is self-lubricating
- Good air circulation
- Rounded interior parts for dog safety
- Tie-down straps and anti-slip strips for good grip
Small – 27″ Tall X 32.08″ Wide X 28.93″ Deep
Medium – 27″ Tall X 32.08″ Wide X 32.87″ Deep
Large – 27″ Tall X 32.08″ Wide X 36.81″ Deep
This crate currently costs in the $500-$550 range depending on size.
Crash Tested Dog Crates
Our last crate is also the most expensive, but with good reason. The MIM Variocage is as safe as you can get for your prized pup. According to the company, it’s the only crash-tested dog travel kennel for SUV’s, vans, minivans, trucks, and station wagons.
The company states, ” Variocage is the only dog cage in the world crash tested and certified for front, rear, and rollover impacts that protects BOTH human and dogs alike in the car.” In the event of an accident, the company will offer a free replacement of the kennel.
The manufacturer further says, “Variocages were designed and engineered by MIM Construction, a Swedish based ISO 9001 certified manufacturer and maker of high quality and heavy-duty crash safety equipment for the automotive industry since 1986. Each Variocage is constructed of industrial grade stainless steel designed for optimal durability, and is finished with a sleek powder coating for a great look.”
This model is the single model, designed to provide protection for one animal while leaving space for luggage or other items. The kennel can easily be tailored to the dog and the vehicle by the owner. The Variocage comes in a total of 4 adjustable models and 14 sizes; there is sure to be one that fits your vehicle and the needs of your dog.
These are some of the key features of the Variocage travel kennel per the manufacturer:
- The ONLY Crash Tested Cage Rated Using Government Safety Standards – ISO 27955 | ECE R-17 | ECE R-44
- SPCT System Crash Tested
- Perfect Track Record of Safety Since it was Introduced Over a Decade Ago
- 14 Adjustable Sizes to Best Fit Most Cats, Dogs and Vehicles
- Locking Doors with Gas Hydraulic Motion Springs
- Built-In Key Lock for Security
- Padlock Mounting Tabs for Added Protection
- High-Quality Powder Coated Steel Construction
- Emergency Escape Hatch for Added Safety
- Built-In Crumple Zone Absorbs Impact
- Leash Hooks & Spill Proof Water Bowl Available as Accessories
- Installs Easily in Car with Load Tested Straps to Anchor Points
- No Modification to Vehicle Required
The price on this single model starts at about $800 for a small size to about $1400 for max size.
Crash Tested Double Dog Crate
The MIM Variocage Double is crash-tested and safe for two dogs. So if you have two pups who love to be together, this would be a great option.
It has a movable center divider, so if you have one dog that’s larger than the other and needs more space it’s easy to accomodate.
It offers all the same safety features and testing of the single version above.
If you have two bonded dogs who always want to be together then the Variocage Double is a great choice.
The Variocage Double offers all the same great safety features as the single, but accommodates two dogs. It comes in sizes small through max (one size larger than XXL+).
Okay, let’s get down to price. The price for safety of two fur kids is not cheap my friends. The small size starts at about $1150, and the max size runs about $2000.
Maybe if your pup becomes an Instagram star she can pay for her own travel crate?! 🙂
There’s obviously a lot to consider when choosing a safety system for your pooch. As we looked at earlier, some of the major considerations are your budget, how much you travel, climate, and dog breed and health status.
For many pet parents, using a restraint with a good quality harness or a plastic or mesh kennel is an economical way to keep pets safe without breaking the bank.
If you travel with your dog frequently and for long distances it’s worth considering investing in a crash-tested crate or barrier system. While obviously accidents can happen anywhere, constant travel puts you and your pup at a higher risk for accidents, making the cost of the safety rated products more feasible.
We would love to hear from you about what kind of dog car restraint works best for you!
Alright, now who wants to go for a ride?
Be sure to check out some of our other posts to make your pup bark with joy!