Riding in Cars with Dogs: Car Safety 101

Riding in Cars with Dogs: Car Safety 101

Whether you’re hitting the town or planning a day at the beach, taking your dog along for the ride makes the experience even better. No matter the destination though, the journey there is just as important. Ensuring your dog is safe on your car ride is one way to prevent unwanted road bumps along the way. When you’re riding in the car with your dog, proper safety procedures are key. That being said, here’s what you need to know when you’re driving with a four-legged passenger in tow.

Car Safety Equipment

When riding in a car with your dog, you might want to invest in car safety equipment. Three of the safest options include:

  • Carriers
  • Crates
  • Safety harnesses
Carriers or Crates

In a crate or carrier, your dog may enjoy more freedom of movement due to its ample space. The carrier should be suitable for the size of your dog or large enough for it to move around comfortably. Whichever sized carrier you purchased, it must always be secured when your dog is in transit. Small carrier may be secured by a seatbelt or supplied anchor straps, whereas larger crates may be placed on the floor of the backseat or in the trunk of your car—provided, of course, it isn’t an enclosed trunk compartment. 


If your car cannot accommodate a carrier, consider using a full-body safety harness. It buckles into your car’s seat belt, keeping your dog comfortable and securely in place. With a safety harness, it may be tempting to buckle our dogs into the passenger seat. However, it’s safer to situate them in the backseat. This will safeguard them against the dashboard and from passenger-side airbags, which, as mentioned, pose a threat to a dog’s life by the mere force at which airbags deploy in the event of an accident.

Choosing a Car Safety Restraint

When shopping for dog car restraints, you’ll be inundated by options. But, it’s important to keep in mind that not all are made equal. Ideally, they should be tested by a reputable organization like the Center for Pet Safety (CPS). On their website, the CPS lists approved restraint systems, crates, and carriers to verify whether they are crash-safe in the case of an emergency.  CPS-approved car restraints are typically more expensive, but when it comes to your dog’s safety, it’s a worthy investment. 


Car Safety Restraints Training

While car safety equipment works to keep your dog safe, your dog doesn’t always know what is best for it and might resist the idea. Fortunately, you can train your dog to associate it with a positive experience using, well... positive reinforcement. When your dog enters his carrier or crate, or wears its harness, reward it with praise or better still, a treat. Once it becomes accustomed to the procedure, you may wean it off the treats and take longer drives. If your dog is particularly fearful of car safety equipment, you might want to train your dog ahead of time, whether or not you’re planning a trip. 


Steer Clear of These Car Seats

On the other hand, here are car seats you want to steer clear of—and the one you want to avoid at all costs. 

On your lap

Maybe your dog is small enough to fit on your lap, or you own a puppy and think if it sat with you in the car, that it would reduce its anxiety. But, and we hate to break it to you, your dog should never be on your lap when you are driving. No matter how well-behaved your dog is, it can distract you from the road at a moment’s notice—which is often how accidents occur. Should an accident happen, an unrestrained dog may be thrown out of the car window or windshield or even become injured by the airbag. Your dog may also interfere with the view of the road or use of the driving pedals. 

In the passenger’s seat

Allowing your dog to ride in the passenger’s seat of your car is no safer than seating your dog on your lap while you are driving.  If there are passenger-side airbags in your car, this is already a potential threat to your dog’s life. Since most are designed for adults, any human or pet that is smaller in size may become injured or asphyxiated when the airbag deploys. The sheer force at which an airbag activates is already enough to hurt a child—and the same may happen to your dog if it rides shotgun in your car.  

A quick note: If you have a two-seater car and there’s no choice but to sit your dog in the seat next to you, make sure it is safe for your four-legged passenger beforehand. Ensure your car has no passenger-seat airbags (or you know how to disable them) and that your dog is restrained properly. 


What to Avoid at All Costs

There’s no denying that dogs love to ride a car with their head sticking out the window. But as much joy as the simple pleasure elicits, it’s not an act without potential dangers. The worst that may happen is your dog’ll fall out of the window or collide with another object or car outside. While these are worst-case possibilities, there are other dangers that often go unnoticed. Debris, like dirt, dust particles, and rocks, or insects may fly into your dog’s eye—and when you’re moving at 60 mph or faster, the impact is much stronger and can cause major damage. 

Less obvious, but just as dangerous, the wind may damage your dog’s ear tissue when frequently exposed to gusts of air. It goes without saying, then, that if your dog shouldn’t ride your car with its head out the window, it shouldn’t ride in the back of a truck. This will place your dog at risk of the same dangers, or worse. The only time you should allow your dog to ride at the back of a truck is if, one, it is supervised and, second and more importantly, it is confined inside a secured carrier or crate. 


Car Safety Kit

If you already know where to seat your dog, you are on the right track. Using car safety equipment though is just one way of keeping your dog safe in transit. There are other items you should always have on the road when you are traveling with your four-legged companion:

  • A collar and identification tag containing your information
  • A leash for pit stops
  • Food and fresh water
  • A medical aid kit, in case of an emergency
  • And if you are traveling on a long trip, your dog’s medical records


A Last Note

As a final note, car safety isn’t limited to what happens on the road. You must also ensure your dog remains safe off it. When you are in transit, you are bound to have pit stops every now and again. If you plan on taking your dog with you, make sure it is always leashed and it has access to food and water, particularly on long-haul trips. Another important thing to remember is to never leave your dog unattended in the car. Even if it is confined in a carrier or crate or secured with a harness. This is not only illegal in some states across the US, but it can also lead to asphyxiation if your dog is kept in an enclosed vehicle with no air circulation. With these in mind, you can ensure all your car rides are a pleasant experience for both you and your dog. Safe travels!