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Lots of dogs go wild for a ride in the car. All we have to do is jingle the keys, and they race to meet us at the door. If these dogs could call shotgun, they would. So why ruin the fun by strapping those joyriders down with dog seat belts?
In the past, most dogs have freely roamed when riding in the car, encouraged to hang their heads out the windows, ears flapping adorably in the breeze. However, there are some real dangers for dogs who are not secure in a seat when in the car. As PetMD points out, at only 50 mph, an 80-pound dog can become a 2,400-pound projectile. Oy.
Really, Dog Seat Belts?
Certified dog trainer Nicole Ellis and member of Rover’s Dog People panel says, “One of the first things I tell pet owners to get is a car safety harness.” Yes, we’re talking about dog seat belts.
Most dog car harnesses work in concert with your car’s existing seat belt strap (which is definitely not designed for dog safety). These harnesses are designed for restraint, and a good one will be much more heavy-duty than your dog’s harness for walking. Combining your human seat belt with a well-designed dog harness will provide the ultimate dog safety and more fun car rides for you and your pup.
Dangers Dogs Face When Riding in Cars
It’s no fun pondering these frightening scenarios, especially when, for so many of our dogs, a ride in the car is a joyous occasion. However, many of us are simply unaware of the dangers that riding in cars present to unrestrained dogs and their drivers:
- Enthusiastic or anxious dogs can leap out open windows.
- Dogs who hang their heads out the window can be injured by external debris.
- Airbags deployed in the event of an accident can injure dogs sitting in the front seat.
- Using a tether such as a leash or a zipline combined with a dog collar could cause severe injury in a car crash or even in the case of a sudden stop.
- A loose dog in the backseat during a collision can become a dangerous projectile.
No Dog Seat Belts = Distracted Driver
Dog seat belts help to prevent driver distraction. A study co-sponsored by Volvo and The Harris Poll determined that driving around with an unrestrained dog more than doubles a person’s minutes of distracted driving—plus it stresses out both human and pup.
Dog distractions cause us to take our eyes off the road and can lead to serious accident and injury. Dog seat belts keep your pup in place, minimizing distraction so you can focus on the drive.
Dog-as-passenger distractions include:
- Attempts to escape the car.
- Barking or lunging for windows or doors.
- Wandering nervously into the driver’s lap (which is illegal in some states).
- Moving restlessly around the car cabin, blocking mirrors and sight lines.
- General adorable—or nervous—antics that you can’t help but take your eyes off the road to watch.
We may miss the sight of those adorable flapping jowls in our side view mirror, but the peace of mind that comes with practicing safe dog travel makes for a great substitute. We reach to fasten our human seat belts every time we get in the car—why not do the same for our dogs?
Okay, How Do I Choose the Right Dog Seat Belt Attachment?
An effective dog seat belt should maintain your dog’s stability in the car and restrain their movement.
Unfortunately, there are not yet standard regulations and requirements for dog car restraints the way there are for human restraints. As a result, third-party consumer reports and product tests—in other words, tests and reviews not conducted by the company that manufactures the product—are your best resource for finding the safest harness.
Bad News: Most Harnesses Haven’t Been Crash-Tested or Have Failed Testing
According to Consumer Reports (our favorite non-profit source for consumer awareness and product ratings), The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) properly conducted third-party tests on 11 car safety harnesses for dogs. The results of the safety tests were staggering.
Of the 11 harnesses that claim crash protection, only seven passed the initial strength portion of the test and therefore qualified for the crash test evaluation.
That harness with the high customer ratings? Safety harnesses that try to be as lightweight as a walking harness? Harnesses such as these failed the independently conducted crash test conducted by CPS. With many of these unreliable harnesses, CPS found the construction was not strong enough to withstand the velocity strains of a crash impact. The harnesses essentially fell apart in testing.
Trainer Nicole Ellis sums it up, “A lot of the harnesses on the market say ‘crash tested’ or ‘made for the car’ but have failed these tests.”
Good News! Three Dog Seat Belt Harnesses Certified By a Third Party
That’s right, of the harnesses that made it to the crash test, only three were certified by CPS standards, which are based on the same standards used to test child car seats. (Side note: the CPS test videos are both terrifying and adorable.)
The outstanding choices for dog car safety:
Sleepypod harnesses work with your seat belt to easily secure your pet in the car and can also be used for walking. The harnesses come in four sizes and will fit dogs up to about 90 pounds. Trainer Nicole Ellis is a big fan of this brand. She says, “My favorite harness is by Sleepypod, as all their products have passed the Center for Pet Safety testing.” Sleepypod designed this harness with safety in mind, with everything from force-reducing webbing to lessen the impact of a crash to reflective stripes for nighttime visibility. These straps have a sleek design with multiple options for color, and they’re also machine washable.
The Sleepypod Clickit Terrain harness comes with more features than the Sport. This model is built with more durable straps and D-rings. It also offers removable or changeable reflective strips for service dogs and, to purchase separately, a pack that will fit over the harness for wilderness adventure dogs to carry their own supplies. This harness might be the best choice for those looking for versatility in a harness as well as for outdoorsy types.Find on Sleepypod
Made for smaller dogs up to 19″ from head to tailbone, this harness is nothing short of hilarious—and effective! While some have mocked the image of a small dog essentially strapped upright into a car’s backseat as if it’s about to be rocketed into space (the name is apt here), no one should laugh at safety. (Okay, laugh a little.) But this could be a great option for smaller dogs who are nervous in cars, keeping them in place with great sightlines out the windows. Also, this seat belt for dogs probably feels quite secure.Find on ZuGoPet
What About Using a Pet Car Seat, Booster Seat, Carrier, or Crate?
If a car harness isn’t an option for your dog’s needs, once again, the testers at the Center for Pet Safety have your dog’s safety covered. They found in a 2015 test that not a single one of the pet car seats for small dogs performed well in an impact.
For larger dogs who do better in the car with a crate instead of a harness, CPS gave the thumbs up to travel crates made by Gunner. Gunner Kennels are designed for use outdoors and are popular with outdoor enthusiasts; they are super sturdy and include many reinforcements that keep dogs safe in an impact. This quality comes at a high price: upwards of $320. For some dog owners, this may be a worthwhile investment, especially if you frequently drive long distances and venture backcountry with your dog.
Getting Your Best Friend Accustomed to a Seat Belt for Dogs
Some dogs find a car seat belt harnesses uncomfortable at first, or they’re a bit offended by having their movement restricted. You’ll want to introduce the harness gradually. Make sure your introductory sessions involve plenty of treats.
- First, let your dog wear the harness around the house for short intervals.
- Take your dog on a short, familiar car ride to somewhere they enjoy (the park, maybe?).
- Offer lots of treats and praise, and be sure to introduce the harness before taking long trips.
Before you know it, putting a seat belt harness on your dog will become second nature for both you and your dog, and you can hit the asphalt safely and distraction-free. Enjoy the ride!