Properly restraining your dog can be the difference between life or death for the passengers and the dog in the case of a sudden stop or car crash.
Alyssa whom I met through my Instagram account, messaged me recently:
“My husband has a truck and I have an SUV. The dogs can go in my SUV trunk, although they aren’t secured to anything. And I’m realizing in my husband's truck there wouldn’t be anywhere for them to go besides right next to the car seat. My dogs have been amazing with the little one, but my anxiety just can’t help but think WHAT IF? I already feel like my trunk isn’t “secure” enough, but right next to the car sear is even worse!”
That WHAT IF question is the one that prompted me to look into it as having a 60 pound loose dog next to 6-pound babies didn’t feel safe at all.
No unrestrained dogs in the car, ever!
Unrestrained dogs can:
- interfere with pedal operation
- interfere with the effectiveness of airbags
- become incredibly forceful projectiles and injure other passengers
- in fear, run away after a crash.
Ideally, your dog is:
- In a separate row than the child, safely secured.
- In the same row as your child but safely secured at a distance.
- In a pet safety harness, carrier, or kennel that has been crash-tested at the U.S, Canadian, and European child safety restraint systems standard organizations.*
*In the U.S., visit www.centerforpetsafety.org (CPS), a non-profit organization that conducts rigorous product evaluations on commonly available pet safety products using realistic, specially designed crash test dogs. It is an unregulated industry, and many dog restraints, harnesses, and crates marketed as "crash tested" have not passed the CPS rigorous crash tests.
Some companies test their products independently, to the same or more enhanced testing protocols CPS uses
Type of products
- Harness: CPS recommends employing the seat belt lock with a crash protection dog harness. When buckling in your dog with the car safety harness without a seat belt lock clip, the seat belt should only be extended long enough to buckle in your dog. Pulling the seat belt to the fullest length can activate the seat belt locking mechanism, which is not recommended.
- Kennel: A crash-tested kennel with strength-rated anchor straps. CPS doesn’t recommend using elastic or rubber bungee cords.
- Carrier: A CPS-certified carrier secured in the back seat. Otherwise, CPS recommends placing them on the floor behind the front driver or passenger seat for all other carriers.
- Barriers are not required to meet any standards. Aftermarket grates may become projectiles in a crash. They also do not prevent ejection or escape if a window breaks during a crash. CPS recommends that pet owners avoid barriers marketed by pet product manufacturers that secure with spring-loaded bars or attach to the front seat headrests.
Expert Tip: If you want to avoid having the dog and baby in the same row:
Many parents of newborns and infants choose to have the dog secured in front with the airbag turned off* while one of the parents is in the back with the baby.
*Many cars have sensors that will turn the passenger airbag off if the proper weight isn’t detected. There may also be a button to turn off the passenger airbag. Check your car manual for instructions.
Your dog is a projectile.
Before I had my kids, I knew nothing about projectiles or babies and dogs in the car. Lola used to ride in the back seat, loose. I know!
I asked Holly Choi, a CPST-I and the founder of Safe Beginnings, about the most significant risks:
“Anything that isn’t restrained in a vehicle has the potential to become a PROJECTILE in a crash, meaning the person, animal or object will move towards the point of impact in a crash, at the speed the crash occurred at.
Of course, the point of impact can be different in each crash (front, rear, side-impact), but since we don’t know, we want to, at all costs, avoid the possibility of a dog being able to fly toward a child.
- Aftermarket grates are not recommended as they may become a projectile in a crash. Use a factory-installed grate. This is typically seen in Volvo and Subaru vehicles.
- Use a crash-test-certified kennel with strength-rated anchor straps. For all other crates, secure them with bungee cords or ratcheting straps to the cargo hooks in the hatch as best you can!
- Note that this does not guarantee that the dog and crate won't become a projectile, but it can lower the risk of the dog entering the passenger cabin through the open hatch in a crash.”
Unless you have the RIGHT CAR to fit everyone safely, it is a “weigh your risk situation.”
There is a lot we can’t control. We can control how everyone rides in the car. Sometimes that might mean:
- leaving the dog home
- investing in a crash-test-certified harness, carrier, or a crate
- renting a bigger vehicle for road trips with the dog
- upgrading the vehicle (to a three-row car) to fit everyone safely.
We have learned from our mistakes. After years of driving a small SUV, we upgraded to a minivan. Now, Lola has her seat with the Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness, and there is enough room for a crash-tested kennel.
If you are in the market for a new family car, check out The Car Mom. Kelly Stumpe reviews and tours cars for moms and families and offers car buy consultations and courses.
A comprehensive list of crash-tested harnesses, kennels, and carriers is included in the Preparation Course. The car safety handout has a helpful Frequently Ask Questions section.
Below are examples of crash-tested products.
- Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Dog Car Harness
This harness has been tested at an established university testing facility using the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for child restraint systems. It has been tested for dogs up to 75 pounds. Available in 5 sizes.
- Sleepypod Clickit Sport Plus (certified by CPS)
The bundle includes: Clickit Sport Car Harness, S-CLIP and Buckle Shield
Available in 3 sizes. Certified for dogs from 18 to 90 pounds.
- EzyDog Drive Harness
It’s been crash-tested at the Automotive Safety Engineering in Australia, recognized by the American, European, and Australian regulatory agencies responsible for child-restraint standards. It has been tested for dogs up to 75 pounds. Available in 3 sizes.
- Big Dog Seat Belt Company
Testing was done to the exact protocol CPS uses. Strength Testing was performed at Michigan State, and Sled Test was done at UMTRI. It has been tested for dogs up to 110 pounds. Use code: DOGMEETSBABY for $10 off.
Dog Meets Baby follower: “Our +80lb fur baby is always buckled in with his crash-tested harness! He sits in the same row as our 9mo son and behaves very well. I had to slam on the breaks, and I quickly learned how important it is to have him buckled in!”
The difference in price between crash-tested kennels certified by the Center for Pet Safety is less significant than harnesses.
1. Gunner Kennels come in 4 sizes: small, medium, intermediate, and large. The website has a sizing guide with useful kennel and vehicle fit finders. The large Gunner Kennel is not certified by CPS.
The Gunner Kennels are crash-tested, double-wall rotomolded, and made in the US. All kennels have a lifetime warranty. 5-star safety is ensured when paired with Gunner Strength Rated Anchor Straps. Use code: DOGMEETSBABY for free shipping.
Dog Meets Baby follower: “We have the baby in the second-row middle seat and our mini Aussie in a Gunner kennel in the third row/trunk. It was a hefty investment but absolutely worth knowing they are both safe. We had to upgrade to a three-row SUV from a sedan, but I have zero worries we are all safe.”
2. Lucky Duck Kennels come in two sizes and are patented one-piece rotomolded kennels.
- The Lucky Kennel Intermediate with Lucky Strength Rated Anchor Straps is certified for dogs up to 75 pounds.
- The Lucky Kennel Large with Lucky Strength Rated Anchor Straps is the only kennel certified by CPS for dogs up to 110 pounds. The Lucky Kennels hold a 5-star crash test rating with Lucky Strength-Rated Anchor Straps, are made in the USA, and have a lifetime warranty.
Currently, 6 carriers (4 from Sleepypod) for dogs up to 18 pounds have successfully passed the Center for Pet Safety Certification Testing.
As one Dog Meets Baby follower said: ” Never thought we would need a 3-row vehicle for 2 adults, 1 baby, and a large dog.”
I never thought I would be driving a minivan. The main reason for upgrading the car was the lack of space for Lola if we wanted her buckled in or crated.
If you are like me not so long ago, with your dog loose in the car, now you know what to do and that there are options. It is an adjustment, often pricey, but knowing I did everything I could to keep my family safe is priceless.