What's The Safest Way To Transport Your Dog In The Car?

By Ryan Sigler

OH MY GOSH. Did you see that dog with his head outside the window? Isn't it just the best to watch their happy little faces, while their lips flap in the wind? It might be cute, but it's also really heckin' dangerous.

puppy looking out the car window
credit: LuckyBusiness/iStock/GettyImages

So let's talk about safety. It's not boring — it's important! Before you can figure out the best way to transport your dog, you have to think of all the ways. There are really only a few different ways of transporting your dog:

1. Without any restraint: think wild and free.

2. With minor restraints: think wearing a seatbelt.

3. Fully restrained: in a crate.

But which of these methods of transportation are safe? Are there benefits of each or is one the winner hands...ahem, paws down? Which one does your dog like best?

Your dog is probably happiest when he or she is free to move about the car during trips. Now if you've ever let your dog run free while you're driving, you've probably gotten a paw or two in your latte. The most obvious issue when it comes to letting your pooch have free reign in the car is that your dog is a huge distraction. According to the Official US Government Website For Distracted Driving, distracted driving killed 3,179 people in 2014 and injured 431,000 in the same year. So what if you have to slam on the breaks or make a sharp turn? Your dog has absolutely no protection. This crash test video of a 30 mph car containing an unrestrained child, makes the case for just how detrimental a crash can be to anybody, pet, or human.

Ok, so letting your dog run free in the car is clearly not safe even though it might seem fun for your dog. So what works for humans, like seat belts, definitely should work for dogs, right?

Kind of. Pet products made for harnessing during commutes are great because they can help your dog stay put by buckling or tying them into the seat. This gives your dog a little bit of freedom, but not enough to cause distracted driving.

Small white dog inside a carrier in the car
credit: humonia/iStock/GettyImages

Ok. So your dog will be restrained enough to keep them from jumping all over you when you're driving. But what about during a crash?

In 2015, an independent scientific inquiry group, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), recorded video of crash tests featuring numerous car safety products for dogs (with funding from Subaru of America, yay, thanks guys!). CPS is unaffiliated with the pet industry and actually worked along with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to ensure that pet product manufacturers aren't misleading customers about the safety and effectiveness of their products.

When one pet parent learned the awful truth about overzealous safety claims, she did something about it. Lindsey A. Wolko told CBC News that she founded the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) after her beloved dog, Maggie, passed away because Maggie's safety harness failed to restrain her when Lindsey had to swerve to avoid an accident. Maggie's harness was sold at a major store and marketed to be safe.

But Lindsey Wolko's tragedy inspired her to take things into her own hands. She began working with professional crash testing research facilities like the Center for Crash Safety in Flint, Michigan to test car pet products. Actually verifying the claims from the product's creators was unheard of so Wolko had to create the world's first crash test dummy dog, who is definitely the best boy or girl of all time for helping to keep dogs safe all around the world. (evidence below)

Dummy dog being set up
Dummy dog being set up
credit: Dummy Dog

When CBC News checked in with CPS, the team looked at five car harnesses that were widely popular and sold in Canada at the time. The first harness, failed. The second harness FAILED, again. Ummm. Wait, two in a row? Ok, well, actually CPS founder Wolko called it an "epic fail." As you can imagine, the next two harnesses also failed. But, before you decide that your dog will just never ever go in a car ever again, and that's cool because he likes walks anyway. Just realize that there have been successful harness crash tests, like this one:

But wait, are these harnesses really the safest options? What about car crates?

Well, our heroes at the CPS once again did us a solid by showing us that just because your dog is in a car crate with walls, doesn't make it any safer than a harness. Unfortunately almost every type of transportation crate that CPS crash tested broke in a way that hurt the pet and probably whoever was around them, since they basically became projectile at a certain point. So don't be fooled; more material does NOT mean a safer ride.

Dummy crash test dog breaks through fabric car crate.
Dummy crash test dog breaks through fabric car crate.
credit: Center For Pet Safety

The good news is that CPS continues to investigate different safety and transportation options for dogs. Since new products are coming out every day and vary by location, it's best to research each product individually. CPS has their test results listed online, for free, so now you literally have no excuse for driving in an unsafe way with your dog.

And if your dog hates riding in cars, try these tips to help him fix his car anxiety:

Unfortunately, the bottom line is that there is no regulations that manufacturers of pet restraint systems must follow, leading to a wide variety of quality in build material and overall crash performance. Luckily, the great folks at the CPS work diligently on providing us with valuable data allowing us to make the most informed choices when choosing our automobile pet restraint systems.