How Safe Is Your Dog Riding In The Car?

by | Dog Health

There is now a certification to help you to choose the safest dog harness on the market.

Since this blog was originally published, the Center For Pet Safety (CPS) established a program for the certification of pet safety harnesses.   This is long overdue so we are thrilled that our pets may soon be as safe in our cars as we are.

There are many harnesses and some crates on the market that claim to be “crash tested” but until now there have been no guidelines for what passing or failing that test would look like.

The CPS’s Safety Harness Crash Test Protocol and Rating System outlines a consistent testing and evaluation program to ensure harnesses offer crash protection.  Their program is voluntary but we hope manufacturers will participate so you will be able to purchase a harness that has been proven to keep dogs safe in the event of an accident.  The tested harnesses will have a Safety-Certified Seal on their packaging so look for them the next time you need a harness to be sure your dog is safely buckled up! If you use a harness on your dog in your car, why not contact the manufacturer today to encourage them to participate?

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I was prompted to write this blog because of an experience I had over the weekend.

While running some errands I walked past a gentleman sitting in a parked car with Fergie, a beautiful, yellow Labrador Retriever puppy sitting in the passenger’s seat. Being drawn like a magnet to the puppy, I stopped to say hello.   We chatted while I got my puppy fix and as I was leaving I said to him, “Please be careful traveling with her that way.” He said, “Oh, no, I have her on leash. She is perfectly safe.”

People travel with their dogs loose in the car all the time without giving it a second thought.   I have talked to dozens of people about the dangers of riding with a loose dog and have been told:

  • “She’s so good in the car, she just lays on the front seat.”
  • “He hates to be in the back, he wants to be up front with me.”
  • “I know it’s not the safest thing to do, but I am just going to the vet’s office.”

You get the idea. Most people easily see the danger of allowing dogs to ride in the back of a pickup truck or on the lap of the person driving, but rarely think about the safety of their dog, assuming that because they are well behaved in the car they are perfectly safe. And of course, nobody thinks they are going to have an accident.

Here’s the cold, hard reality:

Dogs need to be secured in a car the same way children and adults do. If while driving you hit something at 50 miles an hour your car will stop abruptly but anything not secured in the car will continue traveling at 50 miles an hour.   If you have an accident, and your dog survives, she could be thrown from the car and end up roaming loose, most likely dazed and frightened, possibly making it harder to catch her if and when she is found.

I personally know of three people who have had horrific accidents with dogs in their cars. In every one of those accidents the dogs that were loose were either thrown from the car, after which they ran away and were found many days later, or were killed. There are no guarantees that your dog will survive a terrible accident, but why not stack the deck in her favor?

What can you do to make your dog’s travels safer?

Crate your dog

There are many types of crates available.  Most crates can be secured to the vehicle by bolting them in place.   You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $1,000 on a metal crate. The safest option is to get a crash-tested crate such as the Pro Line Crate or the Variocage, which come with pretty hefty price tags. But when you think about it, what price would you put on your dog’s life?


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Your next best option would be to get the best quality wire crate you can.  A few of the companies that offer wire crates are Midwest, Precision, Central Metal and Kennel Aire.  When choosing a wire crate know that the lower the number on the gauge of the wire the thicker, more sturdy the wire will be. Get the heaviest gauge crate you can.width=”300″ height=”286″ />

A third option is a plastic airline crate.  These crates are fairly sturdy but have much less ventilation and visibility than a wire crate.   Although really easy to travel with, the popular soft-sided and pop-up crates are not intended for use in a vehicle and will provide no real security for your dog in the event of an accident.


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Of course, not everyone has enough room in their car to keep a crate for their dog. So here is another option:

Strap Your Dog In With A Car Harness

Using your vehicle’s seatbelt, you can secure your dog by having her wear a car harness. Two of the many “crash-tested” harnesses are the ClickIt by Sleepypod and the Kurgo.   

If you do an internet search you will find many car harnesses on the market. Be sure to choose one that has been tested using the Center for Pet Safety’s Safety Harness Crash Test Protocol and Rating System, mentioned above.

Keep your dog in the back seat

If you insist on letting your dog ride loose in the car, the very least you can do is never allow her in the front seat while you are moving. As with children, the airbags that are installed in most vehicles these days can kill a dog if activated. From experience I can tell you that it does not take much of an accident to have an airbag go off.

The next time you ask your dog, “Do you want to go for a ride?” think about the risks she faces because of the way you have chosen for her to travel in your car. Then do your very best to reduce those risks!   Oh, and be sure to wear your seatbelt, too!


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  1. jerry interlicchia

    I use a wired crate. It is straped to the cars load hooks with a ratchet strape. Only trouble is the crate is a little small for my 80 lb golden . He don’t like it but its tough, adjust!

    • Marcy Burke


      The size of the crate was never addressed in the post. You don’t want it to be too big. It should be just large enough for your dog to go in and turn around, and lie down and sit up. You should not think of it as a condo for your dog, but rather a safe place to be contained in the car during travel. If you plan to leave your dog in the car for extended periods, getting a taller crate so your dog can sit up without touching the top of the crate will make your dog more comfortable.

      Oftentimes when a dog does not like getting in th crate in a e car people think it is the size of the crate, when it actually is other things like lack of ventilation, car sickness, etc.

  2. Rena Barnett

    Thank you for sharing the information about the Variocages with your blog readers Lise! We all really appreciate your sharing this information. Everyone here at Mighty Mite have been working tirelessly for the past three years researching and looking into the best products that have actually passed crash testing and we do strongly believe that for those who have the space and the finances for a variocage, it is the very best option currently available on the market. Please note we carry a variety of other products to fit people’s needs including the Sleepypod Clickit, the Allsafe Harness, the “PupSaver,” as well as non-crash tested but well made pet confinement products such as the Variogate and the Petego Pet Tube. All of the products mentioned above and detailed information about each, can be found on our site here: http://www.mightymitedoggear.com/mighty-mite/dog-care-travel-gear/car-accessories

    In regard to wire crates, the initial studies have been very disappointing (as have been tests of plastic airline crates and soft sided dog crates in vehicles (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyEZbcF-iVE)). There is a new video posted by the Center for Pet Safety “CPS” of the Wire Crates, and it is very scary to watch: http://centerforpetsafety.org/research/crate-testing/ Although Mighty Mite does carry wire crates, including a side by side SUV crate, we are asking customers that if one of the other options I have listed above will fit into their vehicle and budget, that they please consider other options.

    Not every solution is going to work for every dog, vehicle, or human! So we ask people to give us a call if they have questions. All of the products have been tested and/or used by people who work here. We know the products well and because they are all in our company product line-up, we can provide detailed and unbiased assessments of how the products will work for per owners. We have a toll free number listed in our site which can be called during our phone hours. A real human- being will answer the phone!

    Again, thanks so much for sharing this information!

    In addition, MIM Safe, the company that makes Variocages, tested rigid steel construction cages and found equally concerning test results. The biggest fear appears to be that the frame breaks the bag of the passengers seats becoming a danger to the human passengers of the vehicle: (watch the “deformation zone” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wogsbYaQyx0 )

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