You have a seat belt, your kindergartener has a booster seat, and your littlest has an infant carrier. But what does Fido have to protect them in the event of an accident? If you're like 84% of pet parents in the US, your pup probably doesn't have a vehicle restraint system at all.
Like humans, unrestrained pooches are at risk of being injured or ejected during a collision, but the dangers don't end there. Many pet parents don't realize that a free-roaming woofer can inflict injuries on other passengers.
Even so much as a sharp curve could send Fido flying, injuring them and other passengers too. Paws to Click, a vehicle safety advocacy group for pet owners, states a hard stop at low speeds will propel a free-roaming 75 lb dog with 2,250 lbs of force. An impact of this magnitude can seriously injure or kill your pet and any person in their path.
Why invest in a doggy car seat?
There are many benefits to installing a safety seat for your pet, besides the obvious. Wiggly woofers commonly perform distracting behaviors that interfere with our driving or visibility.
One of the most common doggy offenses is knocking the shifter out of gear when moving from one seat to another. Some dogs even try to get on the floorboard while their parent is behind the wheel.
Having a dog on the gas pedal is obviously dangerous, but it's equally as risky to redirect them to a more appropriate seat while driving. The right car seat will contain Fifi and allow you to keep your attention on the road.
Safety seats serve for comfort and cosmetic purposes too. Booster seats give curious puppers a lift, allowing them a window view while keeping their eyes and nose clear of flying debris. Pod or crate-style seats may minimize travel anxiety in nervous dogs. Car enthusiasts will appreciate all safety seats and hammocks for shielding their upholstery from sharp claws, pet hair, and dirty paws.
Safety seats protect pooches in the aftermath of an accident, as much as they do during one. Dogs may become agitated after a crash, especially if they are in pain or pinned inside the vehicle. Fear can cause even the most docile of pooches to snap, and it's not uncommon for overprotective dogs to become aggressive with paramedics. Alternatively, timid dogs may exhibit the "flight response" and make a run for it.
Facts about dog car seat safety
More than half of the participants in an AAA and Kurgo survey of pet-owning motorists said their canine co-pilot distracts them while driving. Many in this survey confessed to feeding, petting, and playing with their dog while operating a vehicle.
While these actions seem innocent, it's important to realize that nearly 400,000 people were hurt or killed in crashes caused by distractions in 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 1 in 10 deadly wrecks in 2019 involved a distracted driver.
17% of people surveyed by the AAA and Kurgo also stated their dog frequently sits with them in the driver's seat. Even though this seems like a minor offense, lap puppies can interfere with steering, visibility, or cause their owners to jerk the wheel if they nudge their hand for pets. Doggies in the front seat are also in danger of airbag injuries, like small children.
The backseat isn't much safer for dogs without a safety seat, since a crash or sudden stop can turn your precious pup into a projectile. Remember, a hard stop can propel a free-roaming 75 lb. dog with 2,250 lbs of force, even at low speeds.
What to look for in a dog car seat or safety harness
Crash-test certification by the Center for Pet Safety
Secures appropriately to your vehicle
Durable fabric and straps
Made for your dog's weight range (especially for booster seats which come in multiple sizes)
A removable cover that’s machine-washable (particularly if your pup is prone to motion sickness or accidents while in the car)
Easy to install and uninstall
Booster seats with straps and clasps that clip to a safety harness
Harnesses with multiple points for adjustment
What type of car safety seat is right for my dog?
Many factors go into choosing the right safety apparatus for a pet. Nowadays, there are just as many (if not more) types of seats for dogs as kids! Let's explore the different kinds of dog safety hardware on the market.
Vehicle harness and seat belt attachment systems
Price range: $20 – $50
Medium and large dogs
Dogs who roam around the car
One of the few options for giant and large breeds
The most secure and durable in crashes
Compatible with most booster seats
Keeps pets steady during hard stops
Attaches to all seatbelts
Some tethers attach to the vehicle LATCH system
May be uncomfortable for small dogs
Some require your pup to sit upright at all times
Restrict the ability to lie down
An important note on seat belt systems:
Seat belt systems can be bought separately but cannot be used with a regular harness. Only use tethers with a harness meant for car safety. Attaching a seatbelt tether to a standard collar or harness can cause asphyxiation.
Price range: $150 – $200
Anxious or aggressive dogs
Dogs who find comfort in their crate at home
Pups who get motion sickness
Low-energy or older dogs
Dogs with medical or mobility issues
Secures to a seatbelt
Breathable mesh top
Convenient zip top
Works for cats and other small animals
Some models have an optional heating element for maximum comfort
Only suitable for tiny breeds
Most models have a weight maximum of 15 lbs
May not be machine-washable
Price range: $40 – $150
Small and medium dogs (depending on the weight specifications)
Dogs who will stay in one place while riding
Compatible with front and back seats
Many can be used with a harness safety kit
Typically have a removable cover
Has an opening at the base where you can feed the seatbelt through for stability
Relatively easy to install
Only made for small and medium-sized breeds
Can be challenging to clean the internal foam
Won't keep your pet secure in a crash when used alone
Elevated pet bed / convertible booster seats
Price range: $100+
Dogs 25 lbs or under
Dogs who like to sleep on trips
Older dogs with arthritis, mobility issues, or who can't sit upright for long periods
Will keep your Corgi cozy
A great alternative for long road trips when a carrier pod might be uncomfortable
Some models include heated seats and fold out into strollers or carrier bags
May have adjustable straps so you can position your pup for the best view "pawssible"
Most can be used with a safety harness for added safety
Not as secure as upright harnesses
May not prevent ejection in a high-impact crash (if used alone)
Typically only made for small breeds
Backseat doggy hammock
Price range: $100+
Large or giant breeds
Pooches who like to ramble or pace
Dogs who tend to crawl in your lap while driving
Canines with sharp claws that tend to pick or dig at your seats
Easy to clean
Protects the car interior
Will keep your dog out of the front seat
One of the few options for giant breeds
Simple to install
Secures to the headrests with cords or straps
Many fabric options and color patterns
Won't offer your pet any protection in the event of a wreck
Most models significantly limit visibility for small dogs
May worsen separation anxiety
May not be compatible with safety harnesses
Tips for using a doggy car seat
Always refer to the weight specifications when choosing a seat.
Never use a seat belt or LATCH tether with a neck collar.
Never attempt to create a makeshift harness by feeding a seatbelt through a regular harness.
When picking a harness, make sure you can slip 2 fingers inside the collar, back, and underarm area.
Don't install a car seat in the front seat of cars with airbags.
Opt for crash-test approved models.
Research different brands of seats before purchasing.
Pick a style your pet will actually use.
Read the instructions carefully when installing a dog safety seat.
Pick safety apparatuses with durable materials.
Pull over if you need to adjust your dog's seat during trips.
Your dog's love is often a welcome distraction, but those adorable behaviors could cause havoc on the road. Next time you're thinking of hauling your hound around town, remember to buckle up your pup. Check out our guide on how to travel safely with your dog for more travel tips.