Should dogs wear seat belts in the car?

Should dogs wear seat belts?

In this post:

  • Should dogs wear seat belts?
  • Dogs as distractions.
  • What if there is an accident?
  • Are dog seat belts safe?

Should dogs wear seat belts?

I couldn’t believe it when I saw a guy driving around with what looked like a full-grown springer spaniel in his lap. I wasn’t worried about the dog, but I was worried about the driver causing an accident.

It irritates me when I see drivers with dogs of any size in their laps. It’s not so much the obvious distraction that bothers me. It’s the relationship these drivers must have with their dogs.

Are these owners completely unable to tell their dogs no? Are these dogs really unable to obey a simple sit/stay command? I asked this question on That Mutt’s Facebook page, and I appreciate the honest responses.

Dog seat belts are becoming more common, and some areas are requiring or considering requiring all pets to be restrained while riding in vehicles. I’m not sure what I think about this, as my dog always rides loose on the back seat of my car.

Dogs as distractions

Obviously if we’re only considering the distractibility factor, all pets should be restrained in vehicles for the sake of safety for the humans in and around the vehicle.

You could argue that your dog is well behaved and does not distract you while driving. That’s probably true. My own dog curls up on the back seat and really is not a distraction at all. But …

What if there is an accident? Will my dog be safe if he’s not restrained?

Most of the time, an unrestrained dog will be fine in the car. It’s not like we’re all getting into accidents every day. However, think about what could happen to your dog if an accident does occur:

  • The dog could panic and become a distraction by pacing, trying to get out or barking.
  • The dog could be thrown around in the vehicle and injured, or the dog could cause injury to a person.
  • The dog could be thrown from the vehicle and injured.
  • A fearful dog on the run is more likely to bite.

Dogs are safer in the car if they are restrained, according to Dawn Ross of “Restraints can include a dog seat belt or a pet travel crate that is secured in the car.” is a retailer that sells car safety products for pets, according to its web site. It also provides free info about keeping pets safe while traveling in vehicles.

Maya (top photo) and Pierson (below) are owned by Ross, and they wear dog seat belts in the car. They are modeling their Kurgo Go-Tech harnesses.

“When a dog is involved in a car accident, they have no idea what has happened and they will panic,” said Ross. “I hear time and time again about a dog that escapes the car after an accident and runs away. Sometimes they run off only to get hit by another car. Sometimes they run away and are never seen again.”

Still, there are reasons to question the actual safety of dog seat belts.

Are dog seat belts safe?

A 2011 study by the Center for Pet Safety found a 100-percent failure rate on the dog seat belts used in the study (Read about it here). The center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to companion animal and consumer safety, according to its web site. Results of a 2013 study have yet to be released.

According to the center’s web site, “None of the harnesses were deemed safe enough to protect both the dog and the humans in the event of an accident.”

The center chose not to reveal the specific harnesses it tested in the study, so keep in mind there are other brands available that were not tested.

There are currently no measurable safety standards in place for manufacturers of dog seat belts, according to the center’s web site. The intention of the study was to address this issue and not to attack specific products.

According to the center’s web site, the study used a 55-pound crash test dog model (not a live dog). Each test was designed to simulate what could happen to the dog if it had been wearing the tested dog seat belt during a collision at 30 miles per hour. Some problems included:

  • An extremely low survival rate for the dog.
  • Danger to the humans in the vehicle when the dog becomes a “missile.”
  • Choking or other bodily harm to the dog where the harness tightens upon impact.
  • Extensive damage to the vehicle caused by the projectile dog.

This study alone has been enough to convince me not to spend money on a dog seat belt as of now. However, improvements are continuing to be made to dog seat belts as more research is done.

Dog seat belt companies are “always looking for ways to make their products better and safer,” according to Ross.

“Seat belts for dogs have come a long way over the past several years,” she said. “Continued improvements are always being made as research continues on the best way to protect your pet in the vehicle.”

Are kennels a safe alternative to dog seat belts?

My own conclusion is that dogs are at least equally as safe riding in a kennel as they would be wearing a dog seat belt, especially if the kennel is tied down.

Of course, a kennel is not always an option if you have a larger dog and a smaller car as I do. While I can fit a wire kennel large enough for Ace on my back seat, it is a huge hassle to set up and the kennel blocks my view a bit. Driving my dog around without a restraint is a risk I’ve chosen to take for the last six or so years.

I’m curious, what do the rest of you do?

Could a dog seat belt or kennel trap a dog in an accident?

This is an argument I hear as a reason not to restrain dogs in vehicles.

Yes, a dog could become trapped, and depending on the situation this could be worse for the dog than if she had been loose in the car. For example:

  • The car could be on fire.
  • The car could be stuck under water.
  • The driver and passengers could be unconscious, and it’s possible first respondents would be unaware of the dogs in need of rescue.

But how often are these scenarios really going to occur? Thankfully, not often.

Other safety tips to consider for traveling with dogs

Should dogs wear seat belts?

It’s important to get dogs used to vehicles early on so they get used to traveling, said Dr. Thomas Watson, owner of Carolinas Veterinary Medical Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.

“Put limits on them,” he said. “Teach them where they need to be to ride safely in the car and how they need to behave while in the car.”

Other tips:

  • Be aware of airbags. Do you really want to hold your dog while driving? The front passenger should not be holding a pet, either.
  • Always keep ID tags on each pet.
  • Make sure you have a leash handy for each pet.

What do the rest of you think?

Do you restrain your dog in the car? Why or why not?

27 thoughts on “Should dogs wear seat belts in the car?”

  1. Interesting blog post!

    My 65 lbs dog always wears his safety harness in the car, and he is always in the back seat. With the steep and curvy roads around here I think it keeps him more secure than being loose back there. Both our cars are coupes so no room for a crate. Maybe we will consider that one day if we buy an SUV.

    On a daily basis I see people driving with their dog in their lap or hanging out the window. That can’t possibly be safe?

  2. I have never restrained a dog in the car. I pride myself on having a dog well-behaved enough to not need restraining. However, you bring up a good point; is this safe? This is an interesting question, and I really don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.

    My parents took a road trip with their dog recently, and he was unrestrained in the back seat the whole time. At one point they had to slam on their breaks, and the dog flew into the back of the passenger seat and ended up on the floor behind the seat. He was unharmed, but he probably could have been.

    I know one person who uses a dog seat belt. She began doing so after her small dog crawled up against her back window and began barking at the cars behind them as she drove. She was afraid to break because doing so could cause the dog to go flying forward.

    I think a seat belt would have been good to prevent the situations stated above, but I also know two people who are alive today because they were not wearing a seat belt in a crash (two separate accidents). They were both in situation in which the car went off a cliff, but they were thrown from the vehicle beforehand. Had they been strapped in, they probably wouldn’t have survived the fall.

    You’re probably right when you say a crate would be the best bet, but let’s be honest; who wants to bother? Unless you have the space in your car to keep the crate in 24/7, who want to drag a kennel into their car every time they want to take their dog to the park? I think my dog would go a lot less places if I committed to doing this, but I’ll be the first to admit to my laziness!

    If you have a well-trained dog, I think the risk is reasonably low whether you use a crate, seat belt, or the dog relaxes on your back seat. Plus, I’m gonna go out on a limb here, but I really think that if my dog died suddenly in a crash on his way back from Big Bear, he’d die the happiest dog on earth. 😀

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I know, who’s going to take the time to set up a crate every time in a smaller care with a Lab-sized dog? Since I wrote this, I actually wonder how safe a wire crate would be in an accident anyway. I would think a plastic kennel would be much safer. For me, that is just not an option due to the size of my car and the size of my dog.

  3. I try not to be too judgmental, but when I see dogs hanging half out of car windows, you really wonder what the people are thinking.

    My dogs ride in the back of the CUV, and no, it’s not the safest option. It’s better than a lot of other options.

    I did some research on this, and I think this company makes good restraints:

    But I admit to being too lazy to use the harnesses and restraints like I know I should.

  4. My girl has been on at least one car ride per week for her entire life (just shy of 5 years), in 99.99% of those instances she has been in a crate on the floor. It’s safer for all concerned – she can’t become a projectile and go flying through the cabin; if there’s an accident and *I* need first-responder attention, they won’t let me bleed out because there’s a fearful dog blocking their path. The few times she hasn’t been restrained have been the result of emergencies – after we were mauled, I was transpo’d in ambulance and she in a friend’s car; after another attack, my friend didn’t want to let me walk home so we got a ride.

    She is a perfect angel in the car, so it’s not a question of being well behaved or not. In fact, she loves her car crate so much that she whines to jump in when I’m just washing the car in the driveway!

    I cannot comprehend why anyone would let a dog loose in the car. Not to pull the dogs vs children car but I can’t imagine anyone allowing a well-behaved child to ride around without a seatbelt. As for dogs on laps…that’s just 8 kinds of stupid. I have one word for those people…airbag. Think about it.

    And it’s also not a question of whether or not *you’re* a good/safe driver. Safe drivers aren’t immune to being hit by idiots, having a blowout, etc.


  5. Thanks, Lindsay, for asking me about dog seat belts! :0) Your article covers several great points and I’m glad to see you put a lot of research into it. At the end of July, my dog Maya and I were in a collision where my car was rear ended. Ironically, it happened while we were on our way to the humane society for a pet event where I was going to display some pet travel products and Maya was going to show off her new Go-Tech harness. It was bad enough to send my boxes of stuff flying and to make me sore for the next couple of days, but Maya was harnessed in and was perfectly fine. My car was considered totaled by the insurance company, but I am working with the repair shop to see if it can still be fixed. As of today, I still don’t have my car back!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So glad you and Maya were OK. Sounds like the Go-Tech harness is a good option. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. My 11 month old pup just went on an 8 hour car ride, slept/looked out the window the whole way. I worry about a dog not being able to save themselves and feeling/being trapped during an emergency.Too many ‘what if’s’ for me such as… What if a crate were mangled so bad during a crash it couldn’t open or be taken out?

  7. My boyfriend did some research after we lost our puppy. Although she died from parvo virus, he went through a period of learning how to keep our dogs safer and we learned about the safety of both seatbelts and kennels. In a bad enough accident, everything has a failure rate so I’ve decided to focus on me.

    I know that I can’t control others and I was staring at a huge red truck who was playing chicken with a friend and jump back over before hitting us head on (us = me and our three dogs). That was when I realized that I can’t control what others are doing, but I can pay attention. When I’m driving with our dogs, I’m careful, no one gets in my lap, they know the drill about staying seated, and I’ve become a much better driver (I suck at it) when our dogs are in the car.

    I pray that we’re always safe and I will always keep an eye out for better, safer products and/or cars for our family.

  8. We had to brake suddenly the other day and our dog flew, slap the front seat and landed at the bottom of the backseat. No injuries luckily. We have always have someone seated at the back with the dog, ready to hold her should we need to break suddenly but sometimes, things just happen too suddenly. We are exploring some form of harness for our dog after the incident and found that even if the harness is specifically designed for car use, the dog will still fly a little because of the momentum. My current conclusion now if at least with a car harness, we are trying something to help our dog in the case a horrific car accident occurs. i.e. we may prevent her from becoming a flying missile. But for normal jam breaks that are more likely too happen, we would want to find ways to slowly encourage and train our dog to rest on the car seat in a more stable position, while still having a human at the back to make sure she remains on the seat rather than flying to the bottom. It is disappointing to read that there is a 100% failure rate for car seat belts though. Thank you for sharing!

  9. My dogs are always crated when being transported. I have used seat belts in the past (about 5+ years ago), and, for whatever reason, my dogs always managed to get twisted around them and would end up with their front legs all munged up in it. It was a huge distraction when I had to untwist my dogs constantly!

    When transporting rescue dogs, they are either crated or, if too big for a crate, they are generally (unfortunately) restrained by a collar. It’s just not practical to have car harnesses available for all the types of dogs I transport.

    For large dogs that I know are well behaved, I don’t restrain them. Most of the greyhounds I transport fall into this category.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I transport rescue dogs either in an awkward crate or (as you said unfortunately) by tethering their leash and collar to something in the back. Obviously not ideal but safer than having a dog crawling all over the car.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        By “awkward crate” I mean it works but it’s a little difficult to fit a large crate in my car, so I use it on a case-by-case basis. I have smaller crates for small dogs that work perfectly.

  10. We used a harness for training purposes, not for safety. Every time the car changed speed or turned, Tarski would walk to the other side of the backseat. I felt like he wasn’t able to relax, so we used the harness to keep him on one side. Sometimes we’d do active training (the person in the passenger side would give him treats every time he stayed on his side), but sometimes that wasn’t possible, and using the harness gave him lots of practice of having to stay on his side during car rides.

    Now that he’s trained he rides loose. Perhaps a kennel would be safer (though I’m not convinced), but I’m not willing to deal with that hassle.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, that’s how I am too. I just don’t want to deal with the hassle, and I’m not sure if a kennel would be safer or not.

  11. On my previous dog, I used a “seat belt” solely because he was a distraction to me…he was all over the place, jumping from the back seat to the front seat and it was a major distraction. When I got Millie, she was so quiet and would just lay down in the front seat and not move. I didn’t really think about safety until I was in a car accident, without Millie thankfully. A lady ran a red light and I t-boned her going about 28 mph. Had Millie been laying in the front seat, she would’ve went through the windshield or hit the dash and that made me really think about safety. Right now, when we go somewhere, both Millie & Buster sit in the back seat without any restraints because they are pretty calm, but I’m trying to figure out what would be best for our big road trip coming up in September. A kennel for two dogs takes up a lot of room and, as pointed out above, depending on the situation, keeping dogs in a kennel may not be safe in an accident. What if I’m rear-ended and the dogs get pinned in the kennel and we can’t get them out? The chances of that are slim, but it could happen. I guess there are pros and cons with both seat belts and kennels depending on the situation. I drive myself crazy thinking about this sort of stuff!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sorry to hear about your accident. And I will be thinking about you and the pups on your road trip coming up. You’ll have to let me know what you end up doing. I didn’t use anything for Ace, as he just stays in the back like your two. But it’s hard to know what is the safest for them.

  12. I restrain my two dogs as a safety precautions for me and them.I put on a selt belt , why wouldn’t I seat belt my dogs?

  13. Think of it this way.What if your dog and what they weigh, now picture that poor dog flying through the air a as a projectile missil coming straight at your childs head or yours in the event of a car accident.Plus animals have survivec then escaped after an accident just to get hit and killed on the roadway or to never be seen or found again.Safety for them and you

  14. Initially when seat belts were fitted into cars for people, this same debate took place – in a minor accident a person might be fine without a seat belt but what about the risk ? Dicing with death needlessly. Research, tests and historical data revealed that seat belts were safer and laws were introduced to ensure everyone buckled up, adults,children and baby seats. It is much the same with dog seat belts, especially given that some dogs weigh as much as a child or adult. Failing to provide restraint for your dog, in my opinion is utterly wreckless and puts so many lives at risk should the worst happen – the dog’s, every vehicle occupant and possibly other road users. This video that shows dog seat belt failure makes a point – that there is a need for mandatory safety testing for companies who manufacture dog car harnesses to ensure these important safety products actually do live up to their claims of protecting dogs and other vehicle occupants. Surely the message mainly from the video is: ensure you get a good safety tested dog car harness and look for evidence of testing, such as the Bergan dog car harness has:

    1. I find the comment that 100% of dog car harnesses fail to restrain a dog in the event of a crash astonishing, as I did extensive research before buying mine, and found that 2 DID meet the safety criteria, . Both are approved by the ASPCA. One is the Bergan harness , and the other is American made ( i forget the name!)I If you go to the Bergan website, you will find details of their extensive testing – each harness is made to the same standards as those for us humans.To put a dog into a “crate” in the back behind the rear seats is suicide for a dog, as that area is designed to crumple in the event of a crash to protect those passengers in the rear seats ( OK, the dog won’t be traveling through the windscreen, on impact but it will be impaled on the metal spikes as the crate collapses!) I am convinced that the ONLY safe way for a dog to travel in a car is to be restrained in a properly tested harness (like Bergan) on the rear seat.,I( respectfully suggest that anyone wondering if restraint is a good idea visit the Bergan website – and I am sure they will be convinced!

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        One thing to keep in mind is that it says 100 percent of the seat belts used in the study, not necessarily 100 percent of seat belts. Four different restraints were used in the study.

  15. I am a bad doggie momma sometimes. Between my home and my parents’ home, in our small country town..I let my 55 lb lab ride in the front seat of my truck unrestrained. She watches out the window, and I often crack the window so she can smell, but I don’t let her stick her head out the window. When we go into the nearest city for vet, street fair, or Tractor Supply, she wears a dog seatbelt. I have to connect it to the seat itself and not the human seatbelt…else she will chew the human seatbelt. She has severed one of my human belts.

  16. If you have a small dog, the following link looks like it would be a good option. However, seeing some of the crash tests that were done for crates and large dog harnesses. I would be reluctant to use any kind of restrain I have seen on the market for my 35lbs dog. Now, it is true that she could endanger me as well, specially because she thinks her spot should be behind the driver. But I am one to worry more about my pets than myself so if worst comes to worst; I would rather have her slam into a padded seat then into a hard crate or being jerked around at the end of a harness and leash. I might train her to lay behind the passenger side.

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