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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. 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?


Tuesday 6th of February 2018

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.


Thursday 15th of August 2013

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.

Joanne Spurr

Wednesday 14th of August 2013

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:


Thursday 15th of August 2013

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!

Sandra Fuller

Tuesday 13th of August 2013

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

Sandra Fuller

Tuesday 13th of August 2013

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?