Us humans buckle up in cars to stay safe, but should our pets wear seat belts, too? Learn about dog car seats and how they can help keep your dog safe when you’re on the road.

By Sarah Gerrity
August 24, 2020
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Alexa Nicole Hill / Getty

We all understand the importance of seat belts for our human counterparts, but when it comes to our canine companions, we tend to let them loose in the car. As much as we love seeing the joy on their faces when they stick their heads out the window, letting them loose in a moving vehicle can actually be very dangerous—and that’s where dog car seats can help. Read on to learn how car seats for dogs can help keep your furry family members safe on your next road trip.

What Is a Dog Car Seat?

There are several different ways to secure your pup in a car ride, ranging from harnesses that simply connect to your car’s existing seat belt, to booster seats and crates designed for keeping your dog safe when you’re on the road.

Emily Stoddard, founder of Chicago-based Canine Sports Dog Training and the Midwest Working Dog Rescue, stresses the importance of some sort of safety restraint when traveling with your dog by car, and looking for a crash rated option. “A dog seat belt is a specially designed harness that has been crash tested to provide safe restraint during a car crash,” says Stoddard. “Proper restraint in a car is important for all dogs, no matter the size or breed.” 

In the event of a collision, an unrestrained dog can turn into a projectile force. Tests show that an 80 lb. dog turns into a 2,400 lb. flying projectile during a crash at just 30 mph. So buckle your canine companion up to keep them and others safe!

Choosing the Right Car Seat (or Restraint) for Your Dog

There are three core systems pet owners can use to restrain their dogs while in an automobile. Pick the one that best fits your dog's size and your needs.

Dog Seat Belt Harnesses

One of the most common methods of restraining your dog during a car ride is to attach a harness that connects to the seatbelts already in your vehicle. Some models simply require you to slip the car’s seat belt through a loop that sits on the dog’s back, and buckle the seat belt in. These limit your dog’s movement to the single seat area, so they’re great for calm and well-behaved dogs of any size.

Other models use a “zipline” feature, which also uses a harness to limit your pup’s movement. Rather than keeping them to one seat, a zipline-like strap is secured to your back seat area, and the dog is able to move around the back seat. These are great for younger, more active dogs that might get too excited to settle down in a car.

Dog Car Seats & Booster Seats

Another option involves box-like “seats” that attach to the seats and seat belts in your car, giving your furry friend a defined area to sit in during your car ride. Car seat boxes keep your dog at seat level, while booster seats allow your pup to sit a bit higher, which can be helpful for monitoring them in your rear view mirror while driving. Car seat boxes and booster seats are best for smaller and medium-sized dogs, especially if they experience some travel anxiety. Many boxes and booster seats are comfy and plush, so they might find it easier to settle into them!  

Car Crates

One of the safest options for your pet is the crate—and crate-trained dogs are likely to feel more comfortable in their space anyway, so this could be a great option if your furry family member is already familiar with a crate. Stoddard says that crates are the safest option for traveling with your pup, and in the event of an accident, first responders can easily identify a crate and remove it from the vehicle quickly. “Dogs often get scared and can act aggressively or bolt,” Stoddard says, noting that crates keep your dog restrained and out of danger, no matter the situation.

Crates should be secured in the back of a car, or in the back seat. You can put a blanket and a few of your dog’s favorite toys into the crate to make them feel extra cozy on the road.

How to Install a Car seat, Seat Belt Restraint, or Crate in Your Car

First, ensure your dog’s harness is properly fitted.

If using a seat belt restraint, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the seat belt you have. Usually, they involve slipping the vehicle’s seat belt through a loop on the back of the dog harness, and plugging the seat belt buckle in to secure.

If you have a car box or booster seat, the specific installation instructions may vary according to your car seat model, so be sure to read the provided instructions. These will usually involve using your car’s seat belts to secure the box or booster seat to the seat of the car.

Before hitting the road, ensure that your pup is properly restrained and buckled in—and drive safely!

Is a Dog Car Seat or Seat Belt Really Necessary?

Stoddard answers with an emphatic “Yes! Subaru and the Center for Pet Safety conducted a full crash test with popular crates, restraints, and seat belts. It’s a real eye-opener.” More than ever, pet owners consider their pets to be members of their family—so if your family members buckle up in the car, having your pets click in is just important for their safety, too!