Many dogs love riding in cars, as it gives them a chance to check out the scenery, enjoy novel odors, and bark at the motorists in adjacent lanes!
Owners often love having a canine co-pilot too, so you’ll see plenty of pooches riding down the street on any given day.
But while car rides are usually fun for dogs and their drivers, few people understand that four-legged passengers can make driving much more dangerous than normal (and, let’s face it – driving is pretty hazardous in even the best of circumstances).
In fact, dogs not only raise your risk of having an accident, they can make accidents more dangerous too.
Fortunately, there are ways you can help mitigate these dangers and keep your beloved bestie safe when riding around town.
Crash-tested car crates and dog car seats (which are more for canine comfort than actual safety) are both good solutions, but today, we’ll discuss harnesses designed to keep your pup safe during car trips.
Quick Picks For Safest Dog Car Harness
No time to read the full article? Here are our top picks. Keep reading for more details!
Pick #1: Sleepypod Clickit Safety Harness
Pick #2: Sleepypod Terrain Harness
Pick #3: ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack
Understanding the Danger For Dogs in Cars
Driving or riding in a car is a dangerous practice in any situation, and it is probably the most dangerous activity in which most people engage on a regular basis. But adding a furry four-footer to the mix makes you more likely to have an accident, primarily because dogs have a tendency to distract drivers.
In fact, 65% of drivers in one survey, who bring their dogs along in the car admit to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity – and that’s only the ones who admit it! Many others probably become distracted without having the courage to admit it.
These types of distractions can occur if your dog simply moves around while the car is in motion, or if you pet her or give her a treat. And because taking your eyes off the road for as little as two seconds doubles your risk for having an accident, this is a serious problem, which must be avoided as much as is possible.
But dogs aren’t just a distraction that increases the chances that you’ll have an accident – they can also cause additional damage and injuries if you are in a fender bender. That’s because unrestrained dogs may fly through the cab of your car or truck if you are in a wreck.
In a best-case scenario, your dog will only slam into you and give you a few bruises; but in a worst-case scenario, your dog may crash into you with enough force to cause serious bodily harm. Even a 10-pound dog will create 500 pounds of force in a 50-mile-per-hour accident. Big dogs are even more dangerous: An 80-pound dog in a 30-mile-per-hour crash can impart 2,400 pounds of force.
These types of forces can certainly injure you, and they’ll likely hurt your dog badly too. But, it is also possible that your dog will hit a window instead of you. This could effectively launch them from the vehicle, which will certainly lead to catastrophic injuries.
Crash-Testing Facts and Misconceptions
Unfortunately, a lot of car harness manufacturers use deceptive marketing practices when advertising their products. This can lull you into a false sense of security and give you the impression that your dog is safer than you think she is.
For example, many manufacturers label their harnesses as having been crash tested. However, this does not mean they passed such tests – only that they were put through the testing procedure (I know, crazy, right?). Instead, you’ll want to find a harness that specifically is labeled as having passed crash test studies.
Other manufacturers may get their harness to pass a crash test, but the test was performed by their own employees or subsidiary – this is hardly a way to get accurate or non-biased results. These types of studies are rarely published in detail, so it is impossible to determine if they were valid studies or not.
Instead, you want a harness that has been tested by a 3rd party group, and has passed the test – hopefully with flying colors. Fortunately, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) conducts exactly these types of tests and publishes their testing protocols and results so that pet owners can make informed choices.
Things to Look for in a Good Car Harness
Aside from being crash-test certified by the CPS, you’ll want to look for a few additional characteristics and features when selecting a good dog harness for your car. Some of the most important considerations include:
- Look for harnesses that are easy to adjust. A proper fit is imperative for safety, so you want to select a harness that provides several different places for adjustment. This will help ensure your dog fits well in the harness, no matter her size and shape. This is especially important for thin, lanky breeds, such as greyhounds and a few others.
- Look for harnesses that have dual functionality. Some of the best car harnesses are easy to take out of the car, allowing them to be used as a normal harness. This makes it much easier to get your dog strapped in, especially if you must let her hop in and out several times over the course of a single trip.
- Look for harnesses that have comfortable, wide straps. Although safety is the most important aspect of a car harness, you’ll also want to make sure it fits your dog comfortably and doesn’t cause discomfort. Wide straps help spread out the forces on your dog and provide a much more comfortable fit than narrow straps do.
- Look for harnesses that are available in the appropriate sizes. Unfortunately, some of the best car harnesses for dogs are only made in sizes suitable for small dogs. Big dogs are at just as much risk of injury during an accident (and, as explained previously, they represent more of a danger to you), so a good harness is just as important for them as it is their smaller counterparts.
Buckle Your Dog Up: It’s the Law (In Some Places)
In some states it’s actually against the law to have an unrestrained dog in your car.
States that have laws stating that your dog must wear a canine-specific retains in a vehicle:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- Hawaii (which also specifically forbids drivers from having a dog in their lap).
Hawaii actually forbids drivers from having a dog on their lap. Several other states have regulations regarding unrestrained pets in truck beds.
Where Should Your Dog Ride In The Car?
In many ways, you’ll want to treat your dog like you would a baby or small child. This means not only using an appropriate harness but also making sure that they ride in the safest part of the car. Generally, this means the back seat.
The back seat of a car provides the most protection for your dog, as she’ll be contained between and shielded by both rows of seats. Additionally, by being secured in the back seat, you can prevent your dog from crawling around the cab and distracting you.
By contrast, the rear cargo portion of most SUVs is a crumple zone, which is specifically designed to deform in the case of an accident. This makes the cargo area a very bad place to allow your dog to ride. The front seat is also problematic, as your dog is not shielded from the windshield, and airbags can often injure dogs when they deploy – especially small dogs.
So, be sure to strap your dog in with a good harness, and have her ride in the backseat to keep you both as safe as possible.
Best Dog Harnesses for Car Travel
If you drive with your dog frequently, you’ll want to select a good car harness, which has been crash-test certified and provides all of the things you’d want in a harness.
The following three are the best available options and the only harnesses that have been crash-test certified by the CPS. These are the safest car harnesses out there!
1. ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack
About: The ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack is a complete car harness kit, which is designed to keep your dog safe, secure, and comfortable while riding in your automobile.
What’s really cool and unique about this harness is that you can take it with you upon reaching your destination and use it as a wearable dog-carrier.
Sure, it looks a bit strange, but don’t worry – your dog is comfy and safe! In fact, the ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack passed two different crash-safety tests and obtained a perfect, 5-star score in each. It’s vet-approved too!
Make sure to measure your dog carefully for the best fit – a poor fitting harness is basically useless in a crash, as your dog could slip right out!
- Secures your dog in an “upright” orientation for maximum safety and security
- High-quality metal buckles are easy to operate, yet strong enough to keep your dog safe
- Available in five sizes, including extra-small, small, medium, large, and extra-large
PROS: The four-point restraint design of the Rocketeer helps prevent your dog from moving around on car trips and keeps her from moving very much in the car. Even with all that security, this harness is still quite comfortable for most dogs, and it seems to fit a variety of breeds well.
CONS: Unfortunately, the ZuGoPet Rocketeer Pack is only certified for dogs weighing less than 25 pounds, so it isn’t a good choice for those who own big dogs.
2. Sleepypod Clickit Sport Utility Safety Harness
About: The Sleepypod Clickit Safety Harness uses a minimalist, yet effective design to keep your dog safe during road trips.
- 3 points of automobile seatbelt contact
- Wide supportive vest distributes and disperses damaging forces
- Ballistic nylon exterior construction and automotive grade seatbelt webbing
- Please Note: This harness is not suited for Greyhounds, Whippets, Salukis, Afghan Hounds, and Borzos
Specifically designed to spread and distribute potentially dangerous forces across your dog’s body, this harness is especially wide, which helps keep your dog comfortable while traveling.
The Sport Utility is one of the few crash-test-certified car harnesses available in a variety of colors. It can also function as a walking harness, thanks to the included D-ring on the back of the neck.
Sleepypod also manufactures one of the few crash-test-certified dog car crates as well, so they really know their stuff when it comes to keeping your fur baby safe.
- Automotive-grade seatbelt webbing and ballistic nylon exterior
- Manufactured in four colors, including Jet Black, Orange Dream, Robin Egg Blue, and Strawberry Red
- Available in four sizes, including small, medium, large, and extra-large
The Sleepypod Clickit Sport is a sleek and safe car harness, which is designed to keep your dog comfortable while keeping her secure. Like most other Sleepypod car harnesses, the Sport Utility Harness is designed to spread out the forces of a car accident across your dog’s entire torso, thereby helping to prevent injuries.
There aren’t many problems with this harness, but a few owners who tried out the Sleepypod Sport Utility Harness complained that it didn’t stay in place and bunched around their dog’s legs. However, these complaints were uncommon and might be due in part to improper fitting adjustments or involve the build of certain lanky dogs.
3. Sleepypod Clickit Terrain Safety Harness
About: The Terrain Safety Harness is another car harness made by Sleepypod. Built with all of the high-end features you’d want in a safety harness; the Terrain helps keep your dog secure and comfortable while riding in the backseat of your car.
- Crash tested for use as a car seat belt. Three-point design for use in rear passenger seat secures a...
- Strength tested for use as a walking harness
- Quick connection and release when used as a car seat belt
- Rear reflective patches for night visibility can be interchanged for service patches or custom...
- Three-point restraint securely grips your dog’s torso
- Shock-absorbing webbing sleeves reduce the chances your dog will suffer an injury
- Available in four sizes, including small, medium, large, and extra-large
One of the best things about the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain is its padded, energy-absorbing vest, but it also has a number of other valuable features, including high-strength metal buckles and quick-release connectors. Also, unlike some car harnesses, the can also be used to walk your dog too (it has been specifically tested for adequate strength for this application by the manufacturer).
There aren’t many downsides to the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain, but – like Sleepypod’s other harnesses – it doesn’t seem to work very well with greyhounds, whippets, and breeds with a similar, long-and-lean build.
Whether Crate or Restraint, Secure Your Pup is the Safest Bet
Restraint harnesses aren’t the only methods for securing your dog. Dog hammocks, booster seats, cage barriers, and car crates are all additional methods of restraining your dog in the car.
Most of these restraint methods are only going to be worthwhile for preventing distraction – not keeping your pet safe in the event of a crash (although distraction prevention can certainly go a long way in preventing car accidents).
Do you have a good car harness for your dog? We’d love to hear about the model you use and your experiences with it. We’d also love to know how strict our readers are about strapping their dog in when riding around.
My Rottie loves riding in the car, and she goes with her pa 90% of the time we leave the house. And while she normally rides in the back seat of our truck while wearing a car harness, I’ll occasionally let her jump in our Wrangler and ride with me up front with the top down. I don’t let her ride like this often, and I still keep her strapped in while doing so, but it is obviously not as safe as the backseat of our truck.
Point being, nobody is perfect and we all make decisions in the real world. So, don’t fear judgment – tell us about how you and your pooch ride around.