car restraints for your dog

Your dog should not travel loose in the car. High quality car restraints such as harnesses, crates and carriers help keep pets safe from harm in the event of an accident.

Many dogs love riding in the car. Whether it’s a trip to the dog park, a favorite hiking trail, or a playdate with some canine buddies, just rattle the keys and they come running. Even if your dog is more of a homebody and only gets in the car to go the vet or grooming salon, car restraints are something you need to consider. In fact, car safety is as important for your dog as it is for your human passengers, so purchasing a crate, carrier or restraint harness and using it properly is crucial.

Why dogs shouldn’t be loose in the car

Even a relatively minor fender bender can be potentially fatal for a dog that’s loose in the car. A sudden stop can pitch him into the back of a seat, or worse, into the windshield. In a 2012 American Automobile Association survey, 56% of respondents said they’d driven with their dogs at least once per month in the last year, but only 16% used any sort of restraint for them.

Even a relatively minor fender bender can be potentially fatal for a dog that’s loose in the car.

That’s a problem, according to safety expert, Lyndsay Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization dedicated to companion animal and consumer safety. “Not only can your dog be injured if you have to stop short, but he may injure other passengers. Though it’s hard to think about, even a ten-pound dog becomes a flying missile in a car crash.”

This issue is so widespread that many states have added “loose dogs in vehicles” to distracted driving laws. In New Jersey, tickets range from $250 to $1,000 for dogs riding on the driver’s lap or otherwise distracting him or her. The solution is simple, say the experts: dogs need to be in a secured crate, carrier or pet safety harness whenever they’re in a moving vehicle.

Purchasing a crate, carrier or harness

Like most things in life, not all car restraints are made alike. Finding one that will truly protect your pet takes a little research.

Lyndsay notes that in the United States, there are no performance standards or test protocols for pet travel products. That’s where the Center for Pet Safety comes in. Lyndsay founded the center after her dog, Maggie, a blue-roan cocker spaniel, was injured in a car crash.

Maggie loved to ride in the car, but Lyndsay worried about her safety. So she purchased a safety harness for Maggie at her local pet store and trusted it to protect her dog in the event of an accident. “During rush hour one morning, a car cut me off. I had to slam on the brakes. It was awful. When the car stopped I could hear Maggie crying in pain. The harness tether had wrapped around her back legs, but she’d been thrown into the back of my seat. The harness had done nothing to protect her.”

Thankfully, Maggie recovered from her injuries and became the mascot and inspiration for the Center for Pet Safety. The goal is to establish test standards so that when a manufacturer claims its products have been crash tested, dog owners can be sure it will perform as promised. Similar to human crash testing, the CPC uses crash test dummy dogs to test crates and harnesses for safety. Designed by NASA engineers, the dog comes in various weights and sizes to simulate what might happen with a real canine in an actual crash. “We now have ten or 12 sizes of crash tesat dummy dogs, ranging in weight from 25 lbs to 110lbs,” says Lyndsay. Sleepypod is one CPC-certified company that uses high-tech canine crash test dummies to ensure the safety of its carriers and restraint harnesses.

Some common weak spots to look for on car restraints include plastic buckles or latches, faulty stitching, weak latches and fasteners. When it comes to using a crate (usually for large dogs) or pet carrier (small to medium dogs), buying the right anchor straps is just as important. Securing the crate with passenger seatbelts is a bad idea. The checklist below will help you make an informed purchase.

Some common weak spots to look for on car restraints include plastic buckles or latches, faulty stitching, weak latches and fasteners.

Acclimatize your dog to his harness, crate or carrier slowly, especially if he’s used to riding loose. “I recommend having someone ride next to the dog at first,” says Lyndsay. “Take him on a short trip and have your helper reward the dog with praise. I don’t recommend rewarding with treats in the car because many dogs may get a little motion sick.”

Dos and don’ts of car restraints

Crates and carriers

  1. Do choose a carrier instead of a pet harness for very small dogs. Full containment is safest for the little ones.
  2. Do purchase a carrier constructed of heavy duty plastic or polymer, similar to materials used in the kayak or boating industry. Wire crates are not safe for use in cars.
  3. Don’t connect your dog’s collar or harness to the inside of the crate or any other tether in the car.
  4. Do look for quality steel latches and handles.
  5. Do check with your car’s manufacturer to determine the connection strength in the cargo area for large breeds. Anchor large crates with rated anchor straps.


  1. Do choose a product that will spread impact over a wide area of the dog. Harnesses with padded construction across the chest are safest. Narrow nylon construction or cotton can cause injury in a sudden stop.
  2. Do look for solid construction; automotive-grade seatbelt webbing has the strength to hold up in a crash.
  3. Do choose harnesses with steel buckles. Plastic buckles often fail in crash testing.
  4. Don’t use zipline or other forms of tethers to secure your dog in the car. They may prevent your dog from distracting you, but they will not keep him safe in a crash.

Taking a road trip with your dog is just plain fun. Once you know you’ve done everything you can to keep him safe in the event of an accident, you can relax and enjoy the ride!