Dog in front of Discovery.

Dog Car Safety: Preventing Disaster

January 11, 2019 6:37 pm Published by 14 Comments

There is a lot of talk about child passenger safety among parents, but we often overlook the safety needs of dogs when traveling with us. In a car accident, not only can your unsecured dog get seriously injured, perhaps even thrown from the vehicle, but he might also become a projectile that harms you or someone else in the car. Protect your pet with proper restraints.

When I was working as a CPST (Child Passenger Safety Technician) through with various community organizations, I learned a lot about common mistakes the most loving and caring parents make when it comes to car seat safety. As I began to do more work with pet safety and emergency planning, I realized that this was a big problem because the industry is so unregulated. Dog car safety should be a big topic!

Basic Travel Guidelines for Dogs in Cars

The best practice for your canine pal when riding in the car is to keep him tethered in one place. Keeping your dog tethered in the back seat could save his life. Make sure they are comfortable with some room to move but don’t let them roam free. Best practices keep dogs tethered and secured with a certified product from the Center of Pet Safety (CPS).

Common Mistakes Pet Owners Make with Dogs in Cars

Pet owners usually bring their dogs with them in the car because they love to have them around. Yet few pet owners take the time to properly secure their dogs while traveling. Here are the most common things pet owners shouldn’t but often do:

  • Letting a dog roam free
  • Tethering dog in the front passenger seat
  • Sit little dogs on laps
  • Let dogs run in the flatbed
  • Leaving dogs in a hot car
  • Letting dogs stick their head (and half their body) out the window.

Here are the potential dog car safety issues through common mistakes.

Letting Dog Roam Free

There is no control here. In an accident, the dog could end up flying through a window, tossed around several times damaging internal organs against car seats and doors or become a projectile and hit a driver or other passenger.

Tethering Dog in Front Passenger Seat

We get it, you love your dog and want him close. You think him being tethered makes it okay. But just like a little child in the front seat, the front seat airbag could injure or kill your dog. Even car manufacturers will tell you that the setting to turn off front airbag doesn’t always work. Be safe and put Fido in the back.

Sitting Little Dogs On Laps

A million poodles, chihuahuas and terriers spend road trips on the driver’s lap with their head out the window. In an accident, the dog could fly out the open window, fly through the front window or get crushed between the driver and steering wheel. The airbag is another big problem in this scenario.

Letting Dogs Run in the Flatbed of Trucks

It seems like a good idea, even if you tether them in. Of course, a non-secured dog could leap out of the flatbed on a freeway if so inspired. Another big problem is if the car is hit and starts to roll, a tethered dog in the flatbed has nowhere to go with no protection. A crate is a better option for the back of trucks.

Leaving Dogs Locked In Hot (or Cold) Cars

Dogs die every year from heat stroke after being left in a hot car for even just a few minutes. Temperatures in cars are easily 20-30 degrees (or more) hotter than outside. Even a cool 70-degree day could be 104 degrees in the car after only 30 minutes. Freezing temperatures can lead to frostbite. If you can’t take Fido with you to everything, leave him home for the day.

Letting Dogs Stick Their Heads Out of Windows

It only takes one bump in the road that your dog wasn’t expecting to set him off-balance and toss him out the window. Plus, even the most behaved pets can find something so interesting that they just leap out leaving them tucking and rolling and then ducking and diving from oncoming traffic. If the window is down, keep them tethered in safely.

Center for Pet Safety: Certification Programs for Dog Car Safety

The Center for Pet Safety is a non-profit organization devoted to animal safety advocacy. They have not just advocated but implemented testing requirements and standards on pet products such as carriers, harnesses and crates. Certifications are voluntary which demonstrates how much any given company wants to care for your pets.

In partnership with Subaru, they have also created this infographic to help pet owners determine the best spot for your dog or cat when in the car with three-row seating. It takes into consideration the dog’s weight and whether or not there are children in the car as well. It’s a wonderful tool to properly set up your family safely in the car.

Approved products maintain the CPS certified logo: 

While CPS certification is voluntary, it is quite rigorous. The manufacturer must meet and demonstrate independently developed safety standards and guidelines. They must also have a system in place that monitors quality control of all products made. It is also required that manufacturers follow a “truth in marketing” commitment, helping pet owners get the right information to make informed decisions.

Currently, CPS has three approved dog car safety harnesses:

The current pet travel carriers approved by CPS:

  • Gen7Commuter Carrier (the company now sold to Petmate who is not certified. Products manufactured after the company acquisition date of 11/19/18 are not CPS certified): Rated 5 Stars to 20 pounds
  • Gunner Kennel G1 Small with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
  • Sleepypod Carriers
    • Sleepypod Air: Rated 4 stars to 18 pounds
    • Sleepypod Atom: Rated 5 stars to 12 pounds
    • Sleepypod Mini with PPRS Handilock: Rated 5 stars to 7 pounds
    • Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock: Rated 5 stars to 15 pounds

The CPS certified travel crates are:

What Does Crash Certified Mean for Dog Carriers?

According to Lindsey A. Wolko, the Founder of Center for Pet Safety, “crash test certified” means:

“Crash Test Certified means that the travel product has received a passing grade when compared to our safety standards and ratings systems.  We work with an independent third-party test laboratory and conduct crash testing on harnesses, crates and carriers, measure the outcome and compare the results to the specific ratings areas in the guidelines.  

If a brand passes, and they agree to the terms of certification (developed in the consumer interest) we provide them with a seal to use in marketing and on their product packaging to ensure pet owners can easily identify products that meet the marks of our stringent testing.”  

Dog Car Safety Starts with Common Sense

Like most things in life, dog safety starts with common sense. And while something bad might not have happened in the past, and didn’t happen today, you don’t want to regret not properly protecting your best friend on the one day that something does happen.

We understand the desire to keep your pet right there with you. But for your dog’s safety, a dog car safety seat or dog car safety harness is vital. Losing a pet is one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s even worse if you know you could have avoided it with basic dog car safety protocol.

Final Thoughts on Dog Car Safety

Here are some final reminders when it comes to the overall dog car safety guidelines:

  • Keep dogs out of the front seat and away from airbags.
  • Find the best dog car safety harness through CPS
  • Check to see if your current system is dog car safety harness crash tested

If you have a question about the best practices for your pooch, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us. We love helping pet owners keep pets safe. Be Safe Smart!

For questions about child passenger safety, visit our sister site Safer Family Alliance.

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  • Lynee says:

    Love this. I have an aunt whp’s Rat terrier jumped out the front window after 8 years of riding in her lap and no issues. People get comfortable in the usual and forget they are wild animals.

    I also know someone that lets her dog hang half out the car every single day. And I want to say something. Out of love. But can’t figure out how to without being a know it all. Maybe an article about how to tell people what to do with their pets 😂😂.

    But seriously. Trying to figure out how to send this to her. Great, non judge mental, advice 💕

    • kleonard says:

      Yeah, as a car seat tech I always get weird looks when I ask if I can offer some advice. Even when people come to car seat events for their kids, half don’t follow the safety standards. It’s hard to “tell” people what to do. All we can do is keep putting the facts and ideas out there. People love their animals – they just don’t always do the right thing. (You’ll see that in the post on foods to avoid that I was so guilty of it personally.) Thanks for reading!

  • Bushra says:

    I am not a dog owner but I have friends and family who own dogs and I have to agree most of the time people do make all those mistakes what you have listed above. The most I hat when I see people let their dogs head out of the window or they leave them in the back of their open truck. Without giving a second chance that they can not only hurt heir pet but also can cause damage to others. A great content put together as not many people talk about that.

    • kleonard says:

      So many pets run from the accident scene too. They get scared and by the time they come back, their family isn’t there anymore. It can really be a sad situation even when there are no significant injuries. Thanks for reading.

  • Darja says:

    I have never thought about it, but it makes absolute sense! I wonder if one day we will see these guidelines as official and as strict as for children in cars.

    • kleonard says:

      I searched for a long time before I found CPS for the dog safety. I’m so glad they are doing what they do. As a former CPST and animal advocate, it really should be something where safety standards are set. It’s really for the pets and the people in the car too. Thanks for reading!

  • Divya V says:

    This is amazing, and yes its the most important thing to consider when travelling with your little babies 🐶. We have a Shihtzu and we secure him on the back seat on any of our long trips when he’s with us. We use the pet seat cover and seat belt leash harness.

    • kleonard says:

      Way to go fur-momma! It’s hard to because they want to come up and cuddle but just like kiddos, we need to do what is best for them.

  • Waoo this is such an informational post I’ll share it in my husband’s veterinary clinic. We really need to take care of our pets safety too while driving.

  • Melissa says:

    Such good info! I must say I am guilty of occasionally letting my dog wander in the car. But I don’t like taking them often as their wandering is a distraction while I’m trying to drive. I didn’t realize the harnesses and things that are available to tether them in. Definitely worth looking into!

  • This post reminds me so much of my dog who died years ago. Currently, I have no dog but if you do please consider their safety in all you do. I am still yet to recover from the death of my baby.

    • kleonard says:

      You’ll notice the black husky mix on the banners of this site. That is Chewie (Chubakka the Wasabi Dog) – she was 16 in that photo on her birthday. It took a year before I got another dog. He is now 5. She is still my FB profile picture. Yeah, it still aches and I understand your pain.

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