Back in the day, I recall seeing dogs enjoying rides in the back of pick-up trucks on several occasions. At that time, I’d never thought much about how dangerous that was. But today is a different story. We’re much better informed, and although the danger hasn’t changed, our realization of it definitely has! Thank goodness for that! As a result, modern shoppers now have a ton of options when buying car restraints for dogs. But what’s the best option for our buddies?
HOW WELL DOES A RESTRAINT SYSTEM REALLY WORK?
First of all, keep in mind that car safety was designed for humans and not for our beloved pets. Unfortunately, this means that no restraint system for dogs will be as protective as a restraint system for a human. But, protecting them to any degree is better than no protection at all! This is even more important when travelling long distances with your furry buddy.
To help improve the safety of your dog in the car, you should consider a few factors when purchasing a restraint system:
- Your vehicle type
- The location of your dog inside the car
- Size and weight of your dog
- The reliability of the restraint system
- How well your dog travels while being restrained
WHY IS THE LOCATION OF MY DOG INSIDE THE CAR SO IMPORTANT?
Regardless if you have a regular car, a minivan or an SUV … just like with children, your dog is much safer in the backseat than in the frontseat. Simply put, if your vehicle doesn’t have a proper backseat or cargo area, it’s generally not a safe option for your dog.
That gives us two, relatively safe options. and many modern restraint systems include decent options for both the cargo area and the backseat.
SO WHICH IS BETTER, THE BACKSEAT OR THE CARGO AREA?
There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to both locations. Let’s look at the backseat first:
ADVANTAGES OF BACKSEAT:
- A relatively safe location
- Smoother ride than in the cargo area
- Can be used with a car seat, harness or a crate
DISADVANTAGES OF BACKSEAT:
- Less space for humans
- Side windows (Not good for dogs who get motion sickness)
How about the cargo area?
ADVANTAGES OF THE CARGO AREA:
- A relatively safe location
- Leaves more space for humans
- Can more easily travel with multiple dogs
- Less distraction for the driver
DISADVANTAGES OF THE CARGO AREA:
- Difficult or impossible to use the harness or carseat restraint options
- Much bumpier ride (than backseat)
- Dog lacks human interaction
Aside from general comfort, a smooth ride is also important for your dog if he is prone to motion sickness. (For information on how to deal with motion sickness, click here.) The bumpier the ride, the greater the likelihood of getting motion sickness. Because of this, the backseat would be a better option than the cargo area of a vehicle. On the downside, if your dog is prone to motion sickness, having a window beside him can make the situation worse. So, if you choose the backseat, I recommend covering the window to prevent him from looking out. Of course, if he is in a crate, his view will likely already be hindered.
In addition, if your dog is anything like my Paul, placing him in a cargo area would be devastating for him as he wouldn’t be able to see his people. Not all dogs do, but Paul definitely needs the reassurance from and interaction with us.
Finally, if you choose to use a harness and/or carseat restraint option, the backseat is usually your best choice. In the backseat, you have the proper seatbelt options that are required for these restraint systems.
SO, WHICH RESTRAINT SYSTEM IS SAFER?
If you’ve done much research on this subject, you’ll find that there is a bit of debate surrounding this question. However, after tirelessly researching the subject myself, I’ve determined that it doesn’t make much difference as long as you have a quality system in place. In fact, far too many restraint systems have failed miserably.
Important to note is that price is not always a factor in the quality of and how safe the restrainst system is. Look for a restraint system that has been exhaustively tested and is safety certified.
LET’S LOOK AT THE HARNESS SYSTEM:
A harness system works better for larger dogs. It utilizes the seat belt system in your vehicle. The harness is attached to a tether that is then connected to the seat belt connector. It’s designed to reduce the force on your dog in case of extreme braking or in an accident.
When using it, the strap should be long enough that the dog is comfortable but short enough to prevent him from crashing into the seat in front of him.
With smaller dogs, a car seat can be used in conjunction with a harness system. Dog car seats work similarly to child’s car seat in that it’s secured with a seat belt. The harness is then secured onto your dog and then connected to the car seat with one or more tethers.
Although some harnesses can be used with smaller dogs WITHOUT a car seat, it’s generally recommended to use it together with a car seat. At the very least, your dog will be more comfortable. A potential downside is that the car seat often works as a booster seat as well, thus giving your dog the ability to look out the side window while riding. This is only a downside if your dog is prone to motion sickness.
VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT use a tether connected to a collar!!! ALWAYS use a harness! In case of extreme braking or in an accident, your dog’s neck could be easily broken.
HOW ABOUT USING A CRATE / KENNEL?
As mentioned earlier, in case of an accident, you want to be sure your dog is as safe as possible … not only for his own safety, but also for the safety of other passengers in the vehicle.
One of the best ways to do this is to keep your dog in a travel-approved crate or kennel while he travels in the car. Not only does it help prevent your dog from distracting the driver, it also keeps him contained in case of an accident.
In general, a dog has a better chance of survival or of having fewer injuries in case of an accident when he is in a kennel. However, keep in mind that usually, the dog is not tethered (or can’t be) inside the kennel. This means that in case of extreme braking or in an accident, your dog could be injured after being forced into the walls of the kennel itself.
Unfortunately, many owners (including myself) don’t use a kennel. This could be for several reasons. In our case, Paul simply refuses to go into a kennel and if we manage to get him in, he will cry the entire trip. He’s just too old for such changes at this point in his life.
IN THE END …
Choosing a car restraint system for your dog should involve careful consideration of not only your dog’s needs and requirements, but also the design of your vehicle. But most importantly, consider the safety of the system itself. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of researching the certification and testing of the unit.
Although it can be a bit time-consuming, doing these things will ensure greater safety and comfort for your dog and for everyone in the car.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below.