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Dog Car Safety: Do You Need a Dog Car Seat, Dog Seat Belt, Barrier or a Carrier?

Image via iStock.com/Jodi Jacobson

By Diana Bocco

A March 2018 survey conducted by Volvo and The Harris Poll showed that a frightening 48 percent of owners who travel with dogs in the car do not own any safety gear for their pups. In addition, 41 percent of drivers allow their dogs to sit in the front seat, and only 5 percent have a pet safety system set up in their vehicle.

"Dogs should be safely and comfortably restrained during all car trips to protect everyone involved—no one plans on having an accident, but accidents occur," says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, an integrative veterinarian and owner of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic. "Dogs roaming around in your vehicle can inadvertently cause an accident, and you can both be injured as a result." And even if a dog doesn’t cause an accident, they can be severely injured or injure others if they become airborne.

And although it’s hard not to let your canine ride in your lap with his head hanging out the window, in the event of an accident, you’ll both be glad to have dog car safety gear, Dr. Osborne says.

Here are four dog car safety options for your dog and tips on choosing the most appropriate one for your furry family member.

Dog Seat Belts

A dog seat belt is an option for both small and larger dogs, provided that the seat belt is attached to a the back of a safety dog harness using a clip, explains Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, DVM, adjunct associate clinical professor of emergency-critical care at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists in Stamford, Connecticut. “A seat belt should never be passed through a [regular] harness or collar to prevent the pet from moving around the vehicle,” says Dr. Mazzaferro.

Dr. Mazzaferro further explains that the dog harness should securely fit around your dog’s body. “Safety harnesses should be fitted so that two fingers can easily be slipped around the collar, under the back and around the armpits,” says Dr. Mazzaferro.

If you already have a dog car safety harness, you can get something like the Kurgo direct to seat-belt tether to secure him to the back seat. Otherwise, you can get the full package with something like the Kurgo Tru-Fit smart harness with steel nesting buckles.

When choosing a dog seat belt harness, Dr. Osborne says you should make sure you pick one that is durable and can withstand a bit of wear and tear.  She explains that chewing helps many canines to relieve anxiety, and this can take a toll on the dog harness. “Generally, higher quality harnesses are made to endure mischievous canines.”

While seat belts work for most dogs, they might not be the best option for tiny dogs. “If you have a toy breed, the seat belt may work, but it could be uncomfortable for your dog, as they may not be able to overcome the tension in the seat belt,” says Dr. Osborne. “If you have a toy breed, a carrier or crate is the best way to travel in the car.”

Dog Crates and Dog Carriers

If your dog is tiny or too active to remain seated, a dog carrier might be the way to go when it comes to car safety for dogs, according to Dr. Osborne. “If your dog can comfortably fit in a carrier and you can secure the carrier in your vehicle, then that’s generally your best choice,” she says.

Dog carriers like the K&H Pet Products travel safety pet carrier can be securely fastened to the seat, so there’s no chance of them shifting around during the drive.

A dog crate that can be secured in the back of an SUV or secured to a seat is also a safe choice for transport of larger pets riding in vehicles, according to Dr. Mazzaferro. “The cage should be just large enough for the pet to stand up and lay down and turn around,” says Dr. Mazzaferro.

“Crates and carriers are also preferred for animals with any back or neck injury to help avoid sudden pressure on the back or neck from a harness in a sudden braking situation.”

Dog crates come in all sizes and materials, but options such as the Pet Gear Travel-Lite soft pet crate and the Cool Runners Pet Tube soft kennel car crate offer padded comfort and protection during a trip in the car. 

Dog Car Barriers

A dog car barrier works especially well for larger cars such as SUVs to keep your dog all the way in the back of the vehicle, but it can also be used to separate the front seat from the back seat in any vehicle.

“The barrier option gives your dog a secure space in which they can feel secure and want to relax and lay down,” says Dr. Osborne. “If you have a ‘nervous Nellie,’ keeping her secured behind a barrier is also good idea.”

Dog car barriers such as the MidWest wire mesh universal car barrier and the Walky Dog guard adjustable car dog and cat barrier are also good options for large dogs that cannot be safely restrained on the seat or in a crate.

Great Pyrenees, for example, would be hard to restrain without a barrier, although they may be able to lay across the back seat if they are calm,” Dr. Osborne adds. “Some dogs that are escape artists may also benefit from a barrier.”

Booster Dog Car Seats

Booster dog car seats can work well for securing your dog, provided that the seat belt attachment is adjusted to not allow your dog to move out of the booster seat, according to Dr. Mazzaferro. 

Dog car seats may be better for smaller dogs that are more likely to allow restraint, but only if you don’t end up getting distracted by having your pet in the front seat. Dr. Mazzaferro adds, if the pet is in the front seat, “the passenger airbag should be turned off to avoid it from being deployed and injuring the pet during an accident.”

Front dog car seats like the HDP Deluxe Lookout dog, cat and small animal booster car seat allows your pet to look out the window without being able to jump out of his safe space.

If having your pet in the front seat is likely to be a distraction, Dr. Osborne recommends moving the booster seat to the back. “Ideally, booster seats should be placed in the back seat like a booster seat for a child, as the front seat is far less safe in the event of an accident,” says Dr. Osborne. Options like the Solvit car seat cuddler are perfect for the back and still help your pet get a better out-the-window view than usual.

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