Dog Car Safety

dog car safety

While I was in Florida recently, I was shocked to see how many dogs were riding unsafely in cars. So I thought an article about dog car safety would be a good idea …

I saw dogs riding in the back of pickup trucks … sometimes on top of the wall-to-wall toolbox, where they didn’t even have the side of the pickup truck bed to help contain them around curves. And I saw many dogs hanging out of the windows … with one toy-sized dog riding completely out of the open passenger window with his front feet perched on the side view mirror.

Are people completely stupid, or do they just not value their dogs’ lives? When many people want to take their dog for a ride, they open the car door, let the dog jump in and they just take off … with no concern for dog safety in the car.

Others take steps to protect their dogs if there’s a sudden stop or accident, car safety restraints, crates or other devices. So how do you know if what you’re doing is enough?

At Dog Scouts of America, we did some research on dog car safety. We looked at things like:

  • How to know what products will best protect your dog
  • What to do to help your dog if you get hurt and can’t speak to the emergency workers
  • How to quickly get a search going if your dog escapes (or is thrown) through a broken window and runs off

Dog Car Safety Tips

Want to keep your dog safe when she’s in the car with you? Here’s what we found out about dog car safety …

Keep Information In Your Car

Make a travel safety kit with your dog’s health records and some photos. Make sure you have a handful of “lost” posters that you can distribute in the area if your dog gets away.

You need to have instructions if you’re in a serious accident and your dog is with you or you have pets left alone at home. Put a brightly colored card with your driver’s license, listing emergency contact names and numbers. You may want to include your vet’s contact details as well, in case your dog needs emergency vet care. Add the words: “I have pets at home or traveling with me. Please contact these people if I’m injured.” This will get the most knowledgeable help to your pets as quickly as possible in case you’re out of commission for a while.

As morbid as it might sound, make arrangements for your dog in case you’re killed as well. The law in most US states views pets as property, so without written plans, their fate is unknown.

Safety Restraints

Have you considered what would happen to your dog if you were in an auto accident? There are tremendous forces generated when a vehicle crashes.

Safety products company IMMI conducted a crash test of their dog seat belt system. They tried it with a 35-pound canine crash test dummy in a vehicle traveling just 30mph. When the vehicle crashed, the dog generated 1,135 pounds of force!

If your dog is heavier or the vehicle is going faster, there will be even more force put on the restraint system … or your dog’s body upon impact with something in the car. That could be the back of your head or a window.

Some states are passing laws that require pets to be restrained with dog car safety products or crates. These laws apply even if you’re just traveling through the state. The laws are primarily to reduce driver distractions, but they’re a great start to helping pets travel more safely.

How can you tell? If there’s anything made of plastic that would need to hold the dog in an accident, it’s not safe. Plastic snaps will break. Make sure the only plastic buckles or snaps are ones to adjust the sizing or fitting of the harness on your dog. Anything holding your dog in the seat should not be plastic. Also look at the stitching, straps, snaps and other hardware. Do they look strong enough to remain intact if over 1,000 pounds of force is suddenly applied?

Unfortunately, not all pet seat belts are created equal. Only a few are accident rated. This means they’re tested to be able to withstand the forces mentioned above. The Center For Pet Safety has done tests of many different products, so it’s a good idea to check their ratings before you buy.

RELATED: Read about the best dog car restraints …


Some people forego the seat belt restraints and instead use a crate in the car to keep their dog contained. However, if you do use a crate, there are certain things to think about to ensure dog car safety in the car.

  • Will it be able to withstand those types of forces?
  • Will the crate itself go flying if there’s an impact?

Crates are good, but only if they’re secured to the vehicle so that they can’t break free in an accident.

Because rear-end collisions are so common, avoid putting your dog’s crate near the back of the vehicle. Dogs secured in crates have been crushed in rear-end collisions that did little damage to the rest of the vehicle.

Putting the crate against a solid part of the vehicle, like the back of a seat, is best. The seat adds extra support to the side of the crate.

Risk Of Escape Or Getting Trapped

An accident can really scare a dog and that comes with its own risks. If your dog is terrified by an accident, she might back out of a harness. Once your dog is loose, she may have access to a broken or open window or door and could jump out, possibly into traffic. It’s quite common for dogs to get lost after running away from a car crash.

Your dog could also get trapped in the crate or car. If your dog can only exit a crate through one door and that door happens to be damaged in an accident, getting your dog out could be very difficult. Think about how hard it would be to get your dog out in a roll-over accident if your vehicle landed upside down.

A “panic snap” like those used with 1000+ lb horses as a quick release will help you free a 100 lb dog without having to lift her. These are available for a few dollars at a farm store. The odds are greater that you’ll get into a collision that leaves the wheels on the road. But, if the worst happens and your pet is safely contained, she’ll be as protected as possible.

Thankfully there are several options available to help with this. It only takes a few dog car safety steps to help make your dog as safe as possible when she travels with you, even if it’s just to the corner store.

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