• By: Vujinovic Nebojsa
  • Date: August 2, 2021
  • Time to read: 13 min.

If you’re anything like us, chances are you’re taking your dog to many places with you, or at least to the dog park. A lot of this involves having your pooch jump into the backseat of your car and speeding off to your destination. Dog’s don’t come with car seats though, so how can we ensure our furry friend is safe in the back seat of your car?

There’s not much better than going for a drive with your favorite furry friend, so we want to ensure you both arrive back home safe and sound, so you can go on many more adventures together.

How do you keep a dog safe in a car? You can’t exactly tell them to sit quietly and listen to the Frozen soundtrack for the 5th time in a row.

We don’t recommend sitting your dog like a person and strapping a seatbelt around their tummy, I don’t think they’d like that very much. There are many other ways to ensure your dogs’ safety throughout their time in the car.

Let’s start off with the most common mistakes which are made by dog owners when driving with their best friend.


Driving when the dog is not used to the car 

nervous dog in car

[my extremely nervous french bulldog on his first car trip up above]

First of all, before you set off to your location, how accustomed to the car is your dog? If this is their first time riding in the car, they might be a little nervous, which can result in a dangerous situation. You don’t want to be traveling down the freeway when your dog freaks out and tries to jump onto your lap while you’re driving.

Allow your dog to get used to the car, let them sit in it while it’s stationary, and take them for short rides around your town. Don’t jump straight in with a 2-hour road trip to the beach. Give them lots of treats for being a good boy or girl and ensure the destinations they’re going to are rewarding. If your dog’s first experience in the car ends at the vet, they may associate car rides with going to the vet, and that’s no fun for them. You’d much rather have your pup associate the car with a beach walk or a trip to the dog park so they’re excited and happy when it comes to hopping into the back seat.

Keep in mind a dog can get car sick too, and being stressed in the car will make this a much higher possibility. So will drinking a large amount of seawater, and this one is talking from experience..

Allowing the dog to stick the head out of the window

dog in car

I’m sure there’s nothing your dog loves more than sticking its head out the window and smelling the endless smells whooshing past its nose. This is actually incredibly dangerous for your dog. We have windshields in our cars for a reason. Stones and dust fly up all the time, and there is nothing stopping this from hitting your dog if their head is stuck out the window. Imagine the damage that could be done if the truck in front of you flicked up a rock that just happened to hit your dog while its head is out the window? This could be fatal.

On a less tragic note, it could just be an expensive vet bill. From sand and debris in their nose and eyes, this could cause anything from discomfort to loss of vision. So as much as your pup loves having its head hang out the window and tongue flapping in the wind, it’s best to leave the sniffs to when you arrive at your destination. Your pup will thank you when it arrives to and from the park safely, rather than being rushed to the vet.

Using the front seat for your dog

dog front seat

You might have noticed how in the intro of this article, we wrote back seat, and didn’t mention the front seat. This was for a reason. Having your tail-wagging buddy sit next to you in the passenger seat might seem like a great idea, but here are a few reasons why you should keep them in the back. First, they’re so close to you they can very easily become a distraction and second, if an accident was to occur, the front seats are fitted with airbags, and one of these being deployed could very easily kill your dog. Much like children, they’re much safer in the back seat of your car.

If your dog is right next to you in the passenger seat, they’re also a much bigger distraction than if they’re sitting in the back. Chances are your dog is such a cutie you won’t be able to help yourself reaching over to have a pat, put this distraction out of your mind by keeping them in the back. The front seat also stops your dog from being as comfortable as they can be. It’s much harder for a dog to lie down on one front seat than it is for them to lay across the three back seats. While a short drive may not bother your pup, a long drive might be too much.

Dog in the back of the pick up truck

car harness dog

This next mistake is very similar to the head out the window, but this is having your pup ride in the back of your truck (we’re talking pick up truck style)

This is no different from your dog sticking its head out of the window, it is exposed to everything flying around and can damage many parts of their body. The back of the pickup truck has no windows or doors to stop your pup from jumping out if it gets excited by something it’s seen (harnessed or not, this can be deadly!) If you’re taking your pup for a day out, let them ride in style. In the car that is, and if this isn’t possible, do your research on the best possible harness to keep your pup safe back there, and try not to slam on the brakes.

Leaving your dog in a car when it’s hot [or cold]

dog alone in a car

Your dog is basically just a fluffy toddler. And you wouldn’t leave your toddler in the car on a hot day while you run into the shop for some milk.

The good thing about your fluffy toddler is that it can be left home alone. If you’re running errands on a hot day where you know there’ll be periods of time where your pup will be left alone in the car, leave them at home instead. Don’t stress their bodies out with the extreme heat they could face in the few minutes it takes you to run in and out of the shops.

Not giving enough thought to the harness

dog car harness

Understand that not every car harness is a good harness, you’ll be amazed at what your dog can wiggle out of if they put their mind to it. Do your research before you purchase a harness for your dog, this is essentially their car seat and could be the difference between life and death if a crash were to happen.

A harness will go around your dog’s midsection and hold them in place, rather than having them thrown around the car.

Seatbelting your dog by its collar

dog collar car

While yes, technically they’re now strapped in, in the event of a crash this isn’t going to help at all. Your dog will be flown forward and then ripped back by its neck, and that sounds absolutely awful. If they’re attached via a harness they will be pulled in by their midsection, which is much, much stronger than their neck.

It takes a talented dog to wiggle its way out of a harness (but trust us, it can be done!) it doesn’t take much effort for a dog to pull against its collar and get it off over its head, especially if your dog feels restricted by the seatbelt being attached to its collar.

Feeding your dog toys or treats while on the move

dog toys in a car

Looking to keep your pup entertained while on this road trip? a bone or a chew toy should suffice, right? This isn’t recommended. The back seat of your car in the middle of the freeway is the last place your want your dog to start choking. Think of a child with a lollipop, what’s going to happen if you slam on the breaks?

Many dogs are reported to have choked when trying to eat in a moving vehicle. Avoid this possibility altogether by pulling over first.

If you’re avoiding these common mistakes, then you’re already a great dog parent, but what are some best practices to maintain your dog’s safety while in the car?


Restraining your dog

dog car restrained

Now we’re not talking about tying them up, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Restraints can come in many different forms, but most will be a harness around your dog’s chest and back with a loop for you to connect a dog seatbelt. This essentially stops your dog from jumping around the car. They’re restrained to the length of their ‘seatbelt’.

This is good for your dog’s safety as if you were to slam on the brakes, your dog is not going to go flying as the seatbelt and harness will keep your dog on the back seat, much like a seatbelt and a child. You can also put your dog in a carrier that has been strapped to the seat via a seatbelt or anchor. This is good for dogs who don’t do well in harnesses, as they’re still confined to that area on the backseat, they just don’t have anything wrapped around their body. If you choose to do this, ensure there is enough room in the crate for your dog to sit, stand, lay, and turn around so they’re comfortable throughout the car journey.

Stopping for food & toilet breaks

dog toilet break

Depending on how long your car trip is, you may need to stop for toilet and food breaks. If this is the case, always stop for feeding, don’t feed your dog while driving. You want to eliminate any chances of your dog choking while eating. In terms of toilet breaks and leg stretches for your dog, it is quite similar to humans. It’s recommended that you stop for 15-30 minutes to let your pup run around and do its business every 2-4 hours. Whether you stop for gas or a toilet break yourself, let your pup out for a stretch too!

For your own peace of mind, don’t feed your dog a large meal right before getting in the car, or you might be cleaning dog vomit mid-trip.

Along with this comes other important items, Don’t forget to pack a bowl that your dog can drink out of, they need to be kept hydrated too!

Investing in a barrier

dog car barrier

If your dog is a very excitable pooch and can’t contain itself from giving you a kiss midway through the drive, you can invest in a barrier. This can be installed between the front and back seats, or back seats and cargo. As much as we love our pups, it’s not safe for anyone if they’re surprising you with a lick when you least expect it. The barrier also keeps your dog from flying forward in an accident (although if you’ve read this far, you’ll hopefully have already invested in a seatbelt of some kind) But an extra layer of protection is never a bad thing. If you were to get in an accident, this also acts as an extra layer of protection in keeping your dog safe and finding ways to escape the vehicle and run away scared.

Ensuring your dog is vaccinated and micro-chiped

dog vaccinated

Make sure your dog is all up to date with any vaccinations and micro-chips. While they’re safe strapped in your car, you never know when they might wander off at the park. Make sure they’ve got a collar with all your details so if they do manage to escape when found you can be contacted immediately.

Blocking the doors

dog door block

The chances of this happening are low, but never zero. Ensure the child safety is on so there is no possibility of your dog opening the door, While they may not have thumbs, they do have great chewing teeth and padded paws that can do many things. Or maybe they’re just very, very clever.

Using rewards strategically

rewarding a dog

Give your dog a reward when you get to where you’re going. Whether that’s a run at the park or a big belly rub, they deserve it! Keep the car as being a fun, rewarding experience. Before you know it your pup will know exactly what to do every time it jumps into the backseat. It’ll learn to love its harness because that means they’re going for a ride in the car!

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, so keeping a chihuahua safe and keeping a German Sheppard safe in the car is going to look different.

Here are things to consider for breeds of small, medium, and large dogs.


Use transport crates for smaller sized dogs

dog crateTransport crate tends to work best for smaller dogs, but is also great for anxious dogs or dogs who tend to soil themselves in the car (this makes clean-up jobs easier!)

If a transport crate is what you’re going to use, make sure your pup is comfortable getting in and out of it before the car ride. Leave the crate inside with the door open for your dog to explore freely. Give your dog treats when it gets in the crate so it associates being in the crate with good things. As mentioned above, ensure the crate is big enough for your dog to sit, stand up, turn around, and lay down in.

If a hard crate doesn’t work, there are options for soft-sided, collapsable crates. This makes for easy storage when not in use.

The best place to put the crate and pup is on the backseat, or if it’s small enough on the floor behind the front seats is even better as this gives the crate nowhere it is able to fall.

Always use a seatbelt / harness for medium and large dogs

dog harness in car

A seatbelt/harness can be used for any size dog, but it does work best for medium and large dogs who enjoy sitting on the seat (and let’s be real, putting a large dog in a crate is going to require a big crate, and then dangers of blocking your view out the back window start to arise!)

A harness is much safer for your dog than a collar, as the harness covers a wider range of their body and will absorb more of the shock than if they were belted in via their collar.

Most harnesses will have some sort of loop or attachment that you can connect a dog seatbelt too. This will keep your pup securely on the seat, unable to roam further than the length of their seatbelt. Take note of what harness you’re buying, do a little research first as some are much safer than others. Dog safety has different regulations to human safety and lower quality harnesses may be being sold and marketed as high quality.

If you insist on having your furry buddy riding shotgun, ensure they’re strapped in properly as you don’t want your pup jumping onto your lap. If they try, they won’t be able to if they’re properly strapped in. This is increasingly important if your pup is riding in the tray of your truck. The seatbelt holding them in needs to be short so they have no chance of trying to jump out.

Buy a doggy booster seat for a small dog

doggy seat booster

This one is for my smaller pups out there. The doggy booster seat. Yes, you can get a booster seat for you dog. This is not only a comfortable seat for your dog, it does as it says and boosts them up. This means even the smallest of pups can look out the window during the car ride without having to jump up unsafely. Booster seats will also have a clip that you can attach to do your dogs harness that will act as a seatbelt keeping them safe. But where else would they want to go when they’re sitting in comfort and looking out the window?! Sounds like a doggy dream.

Consider a barrier for large breeds

dog car barrier

A barrier can be useful for any dog, no matter it’s size but is most commonly used with larger dogs. The barrier will keep your dog in the area it’s been designated, be it the back seat or the boot area of your car. While this should be accompanied by a harness and strap this is definitely the safest way to drive if your dog is loose in the back seat. A large dog deciding it wants to jump through the seats and sit in the front with you could be quite alarming if caught off guard, and being caught off guard while driving is never a good idea. Keep your doggies in the back until you get to where you’re going.

Barriers can come in all different forms, from properly installed metal barriers to bought material barriers. As long as your pup isn’t able to clamber into the front seat, then it’s doing the trick.

How about a hammock for older / sick dogs?

dog car hammock

How about a backseat hammock? This is a piece of material that stretches across the front of the back seats and the back of the front seats, essentially creating a hammock shape. This is a great alternative to putting up a barrier. Not everyone can just get a barrier installed into their car, we understand that. This puts a slight wall up between the back seats and front seats and will stop your dog from both climbing into the front seats and climbing down onto the ground below the seats. A hammock is great for any sized dog, and can be paired with harnesses and seatbelts, but it does come in handy for older dogs who would much prefer to lay down on the car journey than sit up and look out the window.

What you use to keep your dog safe is up to you. You know your pup best and what would work for them. At the end of the day, they’re a living creature that deserves just as much safety as you’d give a child. While you may not put your child in a crate (definitely don’t do this) doing so with your dog is putting their safety first, and that is what’s most important.

Just because it may be legal in your state to have your dog wander freely around your car or sit on your lap doesn’t mean that you should let them. You’ll be thankful you’ve taken all these safety precautions if you ever do find yourself in an accident and your pup comes out unharmed, all thanks to that little extra effort you put into finding the proper way to keep your dog safe.



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