Dog Car Restraint Types to Keep Your Pup Safe

Updated November 4, 2021
Staffordshire Bull Terrier dog using Dog Car Restraint

Dogs make terrific car companions, unless they leap in your seat with you while you're driving. Even if your dog sits comfortably in the back seat, it's best to keep their activity to a minimum for their and your safety. In a car accident, dogs are just as vulnerable to harm as you are, and a dog that is not secured can fly uncontrolled through a passenger cabin and harm other occupants in the car.

Choosing a Dog Car Restraint

Similar to choosing other pet-related products, it's important to shop around and take some factors into consideration. Not all products are created equal and some are better than others. Keep the following in mind while choosing one that's best for your individual dog:

  • Size: To guarantee a good fit, choose the appropriate restraint based on your dog's chest, neck, and length measurements rather than their weight. Before you go out and buy something, make sure you measure your dog.
  • Comfort: Look for features like a padded chest plate, cushioning to prevent chafing, and durable stitching and materials, when buying a harness or any item that will go around your dog while in the car.
  • Crash-Tested: Only a few restraints have passed the Center for Pet Safety's crash tests. Crash-tested dog restraints may provide further assurance that the product will hold up in the case of a collision. A crash-tested product will be on the more expensive side of the spectrum.

Restraint Types

There are several restraint types to choose from when searching for one that suits your dog. Choosing a restraint type for your dog is an important decision to make along with your dog. What works for one dog may cause severe anxiety in another. Choose a product that will keep your dog safe, while ensuring they are comfortable and happy while riding in the car. On that same token, if your dog has never been in any type of restraint and is not leash trained, keep in mind that any restraint could take some getting use to.

clipping her dog into the car with a safety harness

Harnesses

One safe option to restrain your dog in the car is with a car harness. Car harnesses are similar to ordinary harnesses in appearance, but they are designed to endure the impact of a car crash. Look for a harness that fits your dog nicely and is securely fastened to the seat belts in your vehicle.

Several options are available, including the SleepyPod ClickIt Harness, which connects directly to the seatbelt, is crash-tested, and uses three-point construction to prevent forward and sideways movement. The ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack Harness requires that dogs be fully buckled in with this restraint, sitting up with their bodies fully off the seat. Other types of harnesses work as well, though you likely need to find the correct solution for your dog based on their size, body type, and disposition.

Direct-to-Seatbelt Tethers

These often connect to your dog's harness or collar. They snap into the seatbelt, just as your normal car restraint would. To reduce the distance a dog may travel during an accident, the tether that connects the harness or collar to the car's seat belts should be as short as possible. It's also important to add, while a collar will work, it could cause more harm to the dog than good when used with a direct-to-seatbelt tether because it's wrapped around the dog's neck. A harness is recommended rather than a collar when utilizing this system.

Several manufacturers offer products that use this method of restraining the dog's movement in the vehicle. Kurgo makes an all-steel carabiner clip that tethers your dog and attaches to their harness. The URPOWER tether is made of durable nylon fabric, and is designed to spin around without getting the seat belt tangled. These types of restraints offer various advantages and drawbacks, so consider your dog's needs and temperament when making a purchase.

Booster Seats

Booster seats for dogs work similarly to booster seats for children. These are designed to have the seat belt strapped beneath the booster, which is then secured with a latch plate. You then place your dog on the booster and secure them in with the safety harness. Some booster seats have restraints in place, whereas others are simply areas that your dog can sit comfortably.

These products help limit your dog's movement within your vehicle. The Kurgo Car Seat Booster also offers elevation to help reduce car sickness. The booster seat attaches to the front or rear of a bucket seat, or the smaller side of a 60/40 split bench seat. Pet Gear Booster Seats use various methods of attachment, with some fully enclosing dogs, and others designed to work as bucket booster seats. Without using a harness or other restraint system that attaches your pet to the booster seat or otherwise secures your pet, booster options do not serve to protect your pet in the event of an accident.

Crates

Some vehicles have plenty of space for a dog crate, whereas others may not have sufficient room, especially if you have other passengers in the car with you. Crates do provide an additional option for safe travel, though. A crate goes a step further in terms of containment, as it will work even if the back glass is broken in the event of a rollover. Although plastic crates work for confinement, they aren't recommended by the Center for Pet Safety. They could easily break in the event of an accident or be thrown around and cause further injury to the dog.

One option is the Gunner G1 Crate, which was tested by the Center for Pet Safety. It has impact protection with double-walls, has a reversible door that opens from either side, and features an aluminum frame. Other crate options are available, but keep in mind that a crate should be secured within your vehicle according to the manufacturer's instructions to operate correctly.

Girl Putting a Harness on Her Dog

Are Restraints Required By Law?

Vehicle restraints for dogs are required by law in six states:

  • Minnesota
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island

Even if restraints are not required in a moving vehicle, by law, there are some additional regulations that may cause some trouble if you were to get in an accident with your dog. For example, while Alabama does not have a statute requiring dogs to wear seat belts or be strapped in while being transported in a vehicle, animal cruelty laws may be enforced if a police officer believes the mode of transportation violates animal welfare regulations or puts the dog in danger.

Don't Leave Your Dog Unattended When Restrained

It's important only to utilize the car restraint when you, or another person, are in the car with your dog. If your dog is left alone in the vehicle, be certain to remove your dog from the restraint first. If left alone, your dog could panic and easily become tangled or injure themselves attempting to escape.

Choose What Works for You and Your Dog

Conduct your own research and determine what would work best for your dog. Look into each of the recommended products and figure out what you, and your dog, would be most comfortable -- and most safe -- with. If you don't have space for a crate, or your dog experiences severe anxiety in a crate, that may not be the option for you. If your dog is comfortable in a harness, choosing a high-quality harness along with a durable tether seatbelt can keep your dog happy and safe in the vehicle. Or, if your dog is one that constantly jumps up to look out the window, a booster seat could offer a better, safer view.

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Dog Car Restraint Types to Keep Your Pup Safe