According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), potentially tens of thousands of vehicle accidents occur every year because of unrestrained dogs. Sadly, those accidents may result in the escape, serious injury, or even death of the dog. . Unfortunately, only 16% of dog owners restrain their dogs during travel by using a crate, seat belt, car seat, or by keeping them behind a vehicle barrier.
If you don’t think your dog is a hazard during an accident, consider this: if a vehicle crashes at only 30 miles per hour, a small dog will be projected forward at a force of 300 pounds. Large-breed dogs weighing around 75 pounds and traveling in a car at 25 miles per hour will take on 3,000 pounds of force—a lethal blow to the pet or anyone else in the car.
Hopefully, these frightening facts have motivated you to buckle up your pup. Check out our guide on shopping for a dog seat belt.
Why Choose a Dog Seat Belt?
Crates can be cumbersome, challenging to secure, and impractical for large-breed dogs or dog owners with small vehicles. Seat belts are more economical than certified crash-tested crates, which range from $700 to $1,000. Dog seat belts allow better ventilation than plastic or solid-sided crates and may be more comfortable for dogs who fear enclosed spaces.
What to Look For in Your Dog’s Seat Belt
Quality seat belts are more than body harnesses, but separating inferior belts from reputable models can be difficult without knowing the necessary features. Do your research before purchasing and investing in a reputable, thoughtfully designed, crash-tested seat belt. This way, you can enjoy complete peace of mind on your next road trip—and your dog can enjoy comfort and safety.
- Crash-test certified — While many seat belts promise to protect your furry copilot, they often do little in a real accident. The Center for Pet Safety is a great place to start, although some reputable products sold in the United States that are not CPS-certified conform to rigorous European crash test standards. Consult the manufacturer’s website and look for crash test safety reports that convey a “Passing” score or the testing company’s approval.
- Quality construction — Your dog’s seat belt should resemble your own: tightly woven, durable belt material, reinforced stitching, and strong connection hardware (i.e., carabiners, clips, snaps, and latches). The harness should be comfortable, with soft padding for your pet’s sensitive, hairless areas, such as their armpit, neck, and abdomen.
- Multiple sizes for an ideal fit — If your dog’s seat belt does not fit properly, they may wriggle free and become a hazard tangled, entrapped, or otherwise uncomfortable. Poorly fitted seat belts do not provide adequate crash protection—and an incorrectly worn or attached seat belt harness will invalidate some products’ safety guarantees.
When selecting your dog’s seat belt, follow the manufacturer’s measuring guide carefully to determine the best size. Then, adhere to all directions about adjusting the seat belt to a snug but comfortable fit on your dog. If you’re unsure, send pictures to the manufacturer for one-on-one guidance.
- Thoughtful attachment points — While overhead tethers and tie-lines can allow your dog to roam more along a bench-style backseat, they do not adequately protect your dog during a crash. The safest seat belts clip directly to the lap portion of a buckled seat belt or to the child car seat attachment straps. For the former design, consider using a childproof seat belt buckle cover to prevent accidental detachment.
- Overhead or side-clip design — Some dogs are uncomfortable when anything goes over their head. If this is the case, look for a seat belt that can buckle around the neck rather than over the head.
- Comfort and versatility — Although seat belts will never be the world’s coziest accessory, a well-designed dog seat belt will help your pet ride comfortably. Look for soft edges and a durable but pliable—not stiff—body or chest piece, with no loose dangling attachments or straps that could impede movement. Many crash-tested seat belts also double as walking harnesses, making loading and unloading your dog for “puppy pit stops” more manageable and safer. Other beneficial features may include reflector strips, identification tag attachment points, and small pockets for pick-up bags.
Tips for Successful Seat Belt Travel with Dogs
Dog seat belts are an easy and convenient way to ensure your dog—and each passenger—rides and arrives safely. However, like any safety equipment, a proper introduction and regular adjustment and maintenance are essential for trouble-free travel. Once you’ve purchased your dog’s seat belt, keep the following tips in mind:
- Introduce the seat belt at home — Although some dogs immediately take to their seat belts, others may need time to adjust. So, introduce the belt at home in short sessions (i.e., a few minutes) and with lots of praise, tasty treats, or play. Feed your dog their meals wearing the seat belt to create a positive association, or let them wear the belt around the house.
- Driving Miss Daisy — If your dog isn’t accustomed to riding restrained, have an adult passenger ride next to them in the back seat on their first trip. The human presence can be reassuring—especially if the dog tries to move around too much or panics.
- Check the fit when you “make it click” — Straps can loosen with time and dog movement, so always check that your pet’s seat belt fits properly before loading them into the car.
- Look for wear and tear — Backseat boredom can inspire chewing, so always check your dog’s seat belt for damage—canine or otherwise—and replace as needed.
The next time you rev up for a road trip with Rover, hitch up your pup with a well-fitted, crash-tested dog seat belt. And remember, keep your eyes on the road, not on your dog—no matter how cute they are.