You don't think twice about fastening your seatbelt when you're driving or riding in a car, or putting your child in a car seat, or even tying down loose grocery bags to prevent them from sliding all over the trunk. So why wouldn't you also make sure your fur-baby is secure?
There are several different options for keeping your dog safe and comfortable in the car, whether you're driving 10 minutes to the park or loading them up for a cross-country road trip. There's no perfect method for keeping your dog buckled up, but you do need to pick one — failing to secure your dog is as dangerous to you and other human passengers as it is to the poor pup, because an unsecured dog quickly becomes a projectile in an auto accident.
The best option for you and your pup depends on a few factors —v including your dog's size (even the most impressive SUV has trouble fitting a Great Dane-sized crate in the back seat) and general disposition. Here are your options:
Putting your pup in an enclosed crate might not be your first choice — many people like to interact with their dogs while they're on the road, and a crate doesn't really allow for much interaction. But a safety-tested crate is probably one of the best options for keeping your dog safe (and happy) in the car, because it protects your dog from flying around the vehicle in the event of an accident, and you don't have to worry about how a harness or collar attached to a seatbelt might injure your pup.
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Assuming your car has enough room for a full crate setup, a crate also makes a pretty useful traveling tool that you can use as a doggie bed or to keep your dog contained in a hotel room (or Airbnb). You'll also need a crate if you ever decide to take your dog on an airplane, so a nicer airline-approved crate that also functions as a car "seat" is worth the investment.
According to the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a non-profit organization dedicated to safety testing of pet equipment, not all crates are car-safe. In a 2015 crate crash-test study (performed with Subaru of America), the organization found that most of the travel carriers came with claims of "crash-testing" or "crash protection" would not be able to withstand an actual crash.
So if you're thinking of getting a car crate for your dog, you'll want to pick up a Sleepypod carrier. The $110 Sleepypod Atom, the $170 Sleepypod Air, and the $170 - $190 Sleepypod mobile pet bed are all "crash-test certified" by the CPS. The Atom and the Air are both airline-approved and fit dogs up to 12lbs and 15lbs, respectively. The Sleepypod mobile pet bed comes in two sizes -- the mini fits dogs up to 7lbs, while the medium fits dogs up to 15lbs.
If you'd rather your pup not be crated in the car (or if your dog is too big to fit in a crate), your next best option is a safety harness. A safety harness is different from a simple dog seatbelt — a dog seatbelt is usually a short, leash-like tether that clips into a seatbelt buckle and hooks onto your dog's harness or collar. Dog seatbelts will keep your dog from jumping out of the window if they see another pup, or from crawling into your lap while you're driving, but they won't necessarily keep your dog safe if there's an accident.
A safety harness is a special car-specific dog harness designed to keep your dog safe and secure in a car crash. (These harnesses can also be used as walking harnesses in a pinch, but they're not designed as daily harnesses.)
For dogs weighing between 10 and 110lbs, the $75 Kurgo Impact harness is a good choice. This lightweight harness is made of a single piece of tensile tubular webbing with reinforced bar tacking, and is designed to integrate into the car's existing seatbelt system. Although the Impact harness isn't crash-test certified from the CPS, it has been independently tested by the company with a 130lb dog dummy.
Sleepypod also has a safety harness — the $70 Sleepypod Clickit Sport, which comes in four sizes and fits dogs with a chest size of 16.5 inches to 40 inches. For reference, my Pomeranian weighs approximately 9 pounds (and thus wouldn't be a great candidate for the Kurgo Impact harness) and has a chest size of 17 inches -- so this harness still wouldn't work for the smallest dogs, but your typical Chihuahua would probably be better off in a crate, anyway. The Clickit Sport is made of ballistic nylon and is crash-test certified from the CPS.
Dog car seats are one of the most popular ways to keep smaller dog secured in a vehicle, but these seats are usually designed with comfort — not safety — in mind. Booster seats usually attach to the car seat via the seatbelt or the headrest, feature a plushly lined interior, and offer extra height so that smaller dogs can look out the window while you're driving.
The CPS did do a 2015 pilot study of four booster seats — and all four seats failed the crash test, either causing the dog to become a projectile or becoming projectiles themselves. Your best option is probably the $160 - $180 PupSaver seat, a backward-facing booster seat that will protect your dog from erratic stops and minor fender-benders. The PupSaver comes in three sizes (for dogs up to 45 lbs), and while it didn't pass the CPS' crash-test with flying colors, it has been independently crash-tested by the company.
The bottom line here: While these seats work well if you have a small dog who likes to enjoy the view, or if you're going on a long road trip, they're not really meant to keep your dog safe in the event of a car crash.