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Best Way to Secure Your Dog in the Car

How to Secure Your Dog in the Car - Dog inside a car
Steve Thompson Headshot
Steve Thompson
April 15, 2022

When you travel with your dog, it's essential to learn the best ways to secure your dog in the car. You want your furry friend to enjoy the ride as much as you do, but you don't want your dog to jump out of the window or distract drivers. Here are ways to ensure proper travel safety for your dog.

Practice Pet Safety

The most basic ways to secure your dog in the car include using a safety harness and a dog seat belt. A dog should not be allowed free reign to move around anywhere in the car, which creates unsafe conditions. If your dog jumps out of the window, he or she can cause an accident and get injured in the process. To learn more about the tools and practices involved in the science of pet safety, hit the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a non-profit organization devoted to raising awareness about the well-being of animals.

Understand the Risks

Woman securing dog in the car

While you might feel your dog is well trained, riding in the car for the first time can be an overwhelming experience for some dogs. Be aware that 15 percent of traffic accidents are caused by driver distractions, which include pets making noise or jumping around inside the vehicle.

Even though you might think your dog can handle riding in the back of a truck bed, many car accidents have resulted from drivers allowing this. If a dog isn't fastened to the truck, it might jump out into the street and get hit by a car. Then if the dog injures people in the process, it can lead to an expensive lawsuit your insurance might not cover.

Before you go on a long trip with your pet, it's advantageous to go on a few short trips with the dog to see how it behaves. If the dog gets nervous, consider putting him or her in a crate with a curtain so they can't look out the window. Some dogs might suffer from nausea, which a tablet from the vet might help with. But usually, the more dogs become familiar with the travel experience, the more they enjoy it.

Certain states have pet safety requirements while driving, which you should explore. In New Jersey, for example, it's illegal for an unrestrained dog to ride in your vehicle. You should also be aware that in some states it's illegal to leave a pet in the car during hot temperatures, which can kill animals.  In Nevada, it is a misdemeanor to “allow a pet to remain unattended in a park or standing motor vehicle if conditions, including, without limitation, extreme heat or cold, present a significant risk to the health and safety of the pet.”  Pet owners found guilty of violating this law are subject to up to 6 months in prison and a fine of up to $1000.  Temperatures inside a vehicle in Nevada, even on a mild summer day, can easily be 20 degrees hotter than outside temperatures, creating life-threatening situations for dogs.

Safety harnesses

Safety harness

It's important to distinguish between two types of safety harnesses. One is designed to prevent the dog from distracting you while driving and another provides crash protection. Ideally, your pet's harness is secured in the back seat behind you when you drive. The CPS warns you should only use a quality crash-tested harness and avoid zipline-style harnesses during travel. Be aware that certain clips, straps, and anchor points that work for securing objects may not be sufficient to secure your dog.

Dog seat belts

Dogs should remain inside the vehicle completely during travel times. Letting the dog stick his or her head out the window invites problems. The dog might bark and startle another driver or pedestrian. For the dog's own health, keep the dog inside the vehicle to avoid getting hit in the eyes with flying debris. Dog seat belts, like those made for humans, are designed to provide crash protection. For even better security, use a seat belt tether, which is a strap that connects with the dog and seat belt clips. A dog harness, however, provides the greatest security.

Avoid letting dogs ride shotgun

One of the problems with letting your pet ride in the front seat is that they cause the driver to lose focus, as all it takes is a few seconds of distraction to cause a traffic accident. A dog riding in the front seat might activate something electronic on the dashboard if left unrestrained. Instead of assuming your dog can handle any challenge, prioritize safety for yourself and others.

Even if the car gets into a minor fender bender, it can shock the animal and cause them to scare others. A frightened loose dog that jumps out of a window might run from the crash scene and never be found again by the owner.

Fasten the Leash

The safest way to travel with a dog and allow a degree of mobility is to have the dog on a leash that's fastened to a part of the vehicle's interior. The chew-resistant leash can also be fastened to a dog harness. Some leashes are equipped with a metal buckle. You simply connect the leash with two fixed points within the vehicle. For dogs that like looking out the window while cruising, consider booster seats. Modern cars built after 2002 contain tie-down points, which are effective and simple ways to secure your dog in the car.

How to Travel with Larger Dogs

Large dog inside the car

Larger dogs need to be fastened to the seat with a harness rather than just a collar. By keeping large dogs stationery, there's less chance they will experience whiplash if the car comes to a sudden stop. A large dog that isn't secured can fly inside the vehicle in the event of an accident and get injured as well as injure others. Another option for a large dog if you have a large vehicle like an SUV is to place a barrier in the back that gives the dog some space to roam around.

Study Crash Tested Solutions

Just because a manufacturer of a dog safety product claims the item is crash tested doesn't necessarily mean it will protect the animal in every situation. The pet industry is self-regulated, as manufacturers are not held to specific standards set by an independent body. The Center for Pet Safety crash tests various pet products and has given high ratings to some dog safety devices.

Give Your Dog a Comfortable Crate

The best solution for smaller dogs might be to get them comfortable with a crate at home, then bring the crate on car journeys. Keeping your dog in a crate allows for the pet to ride in the front seat. Some crates are large enough for dogs to move around inside them. Otherwise, without a crate or harness, it's best to keep the dog on a leash/harness in the back seat. Crates also work best at keeping messes contained for pets that might soil in your vehicle.


Part of your consideration for a dog harness or other pet restraint product should be travel distance and time. You may have to experiment with different dog-safe products before you find a comfortable solution for short trips and longer journeys. Most importantly, you should always consider the safety of your pet, yourself as the driver, passengers, and others on the road. 

Although you cannot control what other drivers do if you are involved in a car accident, be sure to seek the advice of a specialized auto accident attorney at to discuss what you need to get the maximum possible compensation from insurance companies.