Zeal of the convert: Canine seat belts

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Just over a week ago, I was in one of those car accidents that remind you to slow down and not take life and health for granted. Not that I was speeding; a crash happened about 10 or more car lengths in front of me, and I managed to stop the car without hitting the mess in front – and so did the guy behind me – but the car behind both of us didn’t. We were hit from behind fairly hard. My car was banged up, and my passenger and I definitely felt some aftereffects of whiplash, but afterward, all I could think of was that I was so glad I didn’t have any dogs in the car. (Virtually all of my friends: “You didn’t have a dog with you??!”)

Not only do canine seat belts prevent dogs from being thrown through the car like a dangerous projectile in a car crash, they keep dogs from being flung out of the car onto the roadway – or escaping in a panic through broken windows immediately afterward. The accident was somehow confined to the middle lane of five lanes– and this being a big city on a Saturday afternoon, traffic continued to pour past the damaged and disabled cars on both sides, at least until the Highway Patrol came and stopped the traffic on the right two lanes so an ambulance, a fire truck, and several tow trucks could attend to the hurt drivers and disabled vehicles. If a dog had been thrown out of any of the crashed cars, or had escaped from one, the dog’s death under a passing car would have been the next horror to happen. Again, I didn’t even have a dog with me, but I can see that happening as clearly as I can see what actually did happen.

There are many online groups that have Facebook pages where members can share information about lost dogs, and at least a couple times a year, I see a post from someone who lost dogs in the chaos of a car crash and is hoping beyond hope that the dog will be found unhurt. But there’s nothing like your own crash, or one that happens to a friend, to remind you that protecting your dog is just as important as protecting your children and other loved ones in a car.

Let me be that friend. Buckle up those pups!

(And, yes, I’m gathering products for an updated review of canine seat belts and other car restraints.)

55 COMMENTS

  1. Absolutely. Every time. Just as you wouldn’t allow your kids to ride unbuckled, neither should you allow it for your dogs.

  2. Unfortunately I had a friend whose dog died in a car accident, thrown thru the car and died from internal injuries. It happened long before I even owned my first dog. As you can imagine, from the moment I brought my first pup home to this day I am fanatical about dog seat belts. I’ve converted my husband and many friends to always use restraints for their dogs. Sure it takes a few extra minutes to get everyone buckled in but so worth the peace of mind while driving.

  3. we’ve been crating or buckling our dogs, and cats in crates, since about 1997. nj finally made it law around 2012…harness buckled up or crated AND no dogs hanging out windows or in back of pick up trucks (wow, can not get over people doing that)….sadly many people break the law…the fines are stiff, $1000., cruelty charges and possibly six months in jail…if caught…
    a couple years ago i was talking to a shelter volunteer who did not know it was law. i was surprised the shelter doesn’t know the law and therefore doesn’t tell the adopters…

    • Lynn, I used to live in FL and we tried so hard to get a similar law passed. I CRINGE when I see a pick up truck going by with dogs in the back. As far as I know, they haven’t outlawed it but I moved from there so maybe it changed.

      This should be a law in every state!

  4. Last time I looked, crash tests of dog seatbelt restraints showed that most or all caused horrendous injuries to dogs in a crash.That’s right, the RESTRAINT caused the injury–strangulation was one of the injuries to the dog dummy.

    I HOPE dog car restraints have improed since then.

    I use crash-tested crates and am fanatical about using them. But they won’t fit in any of the electric cars currently available, so I would love to find harnesses that help and don’t harm.

    • I use an Allsafe harness, which is the only successfully crash tested harness I could get in France. I also have a hammock type seat protector, because my dog gets car sick, which also ensures he couldn’t fall into the foot well if the harness or seat belt stretched. Because he’s a funny (slim) shape, he has to use the medium size, which is only for dogs up to 12kg, though he’s 20kg. I phoned the manufacturer in Germany and they were really helpful and posted me an extra steel carabiner for free, to reinforce the attachment to the seat belt.

  5. I would love to see some reviews on the best doggy seat belts. Particularly if they were crash tested and the results. It would also be helpful to have some guidance on the recommended proper way to use the seat belts. How much length do you give them to keep hem safe but still allow movement for comfort (particularly for those long car rides).

    • You can see reviews, go to the Center for Pet Safety. They have crash tested harnesses and crates. One item to look out for when reading about products, a lot will say crash tested but that doesn’t mean it passed the test. As you mentioned belts, those straps that tether a dog are not safe. You need a harness and to anchor it with the seat belt. We use the Sleepy Pod. It’s a great harness but in my view, I’d rather see a V neck than U. The material is solid so when my dog laid down, the harness ‘rode up’ and pushed into her neck. I pulled the stichting from the top seam and trimmed the material – NOTE I can see the safety webbing and have not touched it – the harness is much more comfortable now.

      • That’s the test site where I found the Allsafe harness test report. It didn’t do as well as the Sleepypod, but it performed very well when I had to do a low speed emergency stop and my dog seems comfy and loves car rides. I keep the attachment strap as short as possible and always check the seat belt is firmly locked.

  6. How about a bumper sticker with a clever phrase to remind people to buckle up their pups? Every time I see a dog riding loose in the back of a pickup truck I want to rant at that driver.

  7. I would love to see a seatbelt review from WDJ. I’ve been using canine seatbelts for my dog for many years. I think I’ve purchased just about every type on the market. That includes the new ZugoPet, which is designed for small dogs only. ZugoPet performs excellent in crash tests, which is what drew me to purchasing it. However, I’ve heard conflicting information about the safety this style of seatbelt for the spine. It would be great to have someone dig deep on it. My favorite is RC Products Canine Friendly Vest Harness. I prefer the old fashioned harness they discontinued, to the newer model, but luckily I have several of the older ones too!!

  8. I’m also looking forward to an article reviewing car seat restraints for dogs!

    A family friend was involved in a car crash coming home from a dog show several years ago. She had three dogs with her, and the only one who survived was in a crate. Our friend also died, as did a passenger, and my parents inherited the surviving dog, who had to have a pin put in her hip, but is otherwise fine.

    Keep your dogs safe— in a crate, if possible. Unfortunately, I have a large dog whose crate doesn’t fit in our car. I always wonder if the harness I use is really that safe.

  9. My 60 lb dog rides in the way back of my SUV. He would get carsick when I used a crate, so I stopped. Any of these belt systems work In cargo space behind back seat?

  10. But what about very large breeds? I have three Borzois and there’s no way I could fit three crates large enough for Borzois in the back of my vehicle (all seats stowed under the floor). I’ve always had a barrier behind the driver’s seat to stop any forward movement and my vehicle has side air bags that go all the way back. I wouldn’t try to harness my Zois back there — I even remove all leashes because I don’t want them to become entangled. I’d like to hear from others who transport multiple large breed dogs…?

  11. Several years ago, I attached my dog’s harness to the seat belt only a few minutes before a car made an illegal turn in front of us. I saw her body pop toward the windshield and then pop right back down. She was unhurt but it literally scared the crap out of her. A canine officer happened to witness the accident and ran over. He was amazed that she was in a seatbelt and said he’d seen accidents in which every human in the car was fine but the dog was dead, having broken its neck on the windshield. Now I prefer to crate them in the car.

  12. Recently on a highway near me a dog was thrown from the car during an accident. They were lucky- after only a FEW DAYS they were able to find the dog and be reunited with him.

  13. I have a Sleepypod Utility harness for my Dobermans and it is HARD to use correctly! No dog I’ve used it on has been comfortable wearing it. I think the only option for me and my dog is a crate in the way back of an SUV, van or hatchback. Note: not every crate is safe for this use, just as not every product sold as a dog seatbelt or seatbelt harness is safe. And, if you have more than one dog, things get even trickier as you look for a way to keep all of you safe. It’s a lot like car seats for babies and small children: they take up a lot of space in a car; they are a hassle to move from one vehicle to another; you can’t just all hop in the car and go when you’re traveling with someone who uses one—it takes time and attention to use it properly and be safe. We’ve all seen the Facebook ads for dog seatbelts that make safety claims with no proof at all. Now we know how involved and expensive it is to actually prove that a dog restraint system provides some degree of safety, PLUS we can see how easy it is for product sellers to get around or subvert those claims. All I can say is, “Buyer beware!” That’s not much help when you get into an accident!
    I’m very eager to read more on the subject from WDJ.

    • I use the Sleepypod with my dog and yes at first it is a bit tricky to get them hitched and settled. Now he cooperates with ease. The trick is to give them enough room to move a bit but still be restrained. I do that by putting a heavy metal paper clip at the point where seatbelt is coming out and adjustable to keep it from contracting back and tightening around dog too much or you can buy their clip.

      • We have Sleepypods for our girls, the Clickit Sport model. Our problem was that when the dog laid down, the material at the neck pressed into theirs. I contacted Sleepypod and was assured the fit was correct. Appreciated the confirmation but it wasn’t usable for long trips, only if the dogs were sitting up. Tried to get a seamstress or cobbler to alter it, ended up doing so myself. I removed the stitching at the neck to expose the straps that are used to hold the dog in place and trimmed the outer material to just above them. My husband wasn’t thrilled with my altering expensive harnesses until I showed him how it was made, that I hadn’t touched the safety straps and that we would not be using something that put pressure on their necks for 5-8 hours. Interestingly, I saw an old Sleepypod online and it had a V neck.

  14. I have a 286lb English Mastiff. Any seat belts or restraints that would fit her?
    Haven’t found one yet. Can’t even find a harness to fit her.

  15. I read an article a year ago of harnesses crashed tested and those harnesses that PASSED the crash test. Only one passed and I’ve been using ever since. It’s pricey but you can also use it as a walking harness as it has a clip for a leash. Sleepypod made them but there may now be more that have passed the test.

  16. I have seatbelts for my dogs, and yes, they are a real pain to put on and my dogs really don’t like them. I wonder, for those of us who have large breed dogs and drive small cars (I have golden retriever mixes and drive a Honda Civic), are seatbelts even effective? The tethers are short, but the space + size of my dog is such that if I slam on my brakes, my dog is going to slam into the seat back in front of her. I am assuming that this would be deadly, probably breaking her neck. When I see crash test videos, there is a huge amount of space between the back seat and the seat back in front of the dog. Also in these videos, the test dummies always seem to be propelled far enough forward that, in my car, they would hit the seat back. In short, the seatbelt wouldn’t have a chance to slow down their forward movement before impact with the seatback. I would love it if you could include some research about seatbelts for large dogs in small cars when you write your upcoming article!

    • No restrain system is perfect. Humans can get injured by seat belts.
      But attaching the dog to the vehicle with reasonable harnesses clipped to the seat belt system keeps the dog from being ejected from the vehicle. (I personally know of several car crashes that the dogs either were thrown from the vehicle or escaped out broken windows or doors. A friend just witnessed such a crash a month or two ago — the dog was very frightened and ran off despite my friend’s attempts to secure the dog.
      I was in a crash decades ago and my 50# dog was in the passenger seat with his tracking harness secured to the seat belt and the dog was hurt much less than I was (shoulder scrape). And a dog friend was in a serious rollover crash years ago and again, her dogs who were secured in SleepyPod harnesses, were hurt way less (or not at all physically) than their owner.
      Nowadays I have a non-folding metal crate and a one piece “plastic” (Rough Tuff) kennel in my van for my dogs. Friends have also gotten crash-resistant crate like RTK and Vario (looks like a gorilla cage — with the length adjustable) to haul their dogs around in. But we’re crazy dog sports women. 😃
      So secure those dogs. And make sure your cell phone # is prominent on your microchipped dog. (No need for tags other than a license — they should call you, or lacking a collar, scan the dog for microchip. Finders don’t really need your dog’s name or your address — Call. Me.
      Happy travels.

  17. If you are going to do a review of products, could you see if there are any you think are good for a dog that is large and needs to be in the back of an SUV? My dog lays in the back and I am not sure how to keep him secure.

  18. I too would love to see an article on this topic. I’ve used sleepypod harness (dog kept getting tangled up in it), the airpupsaver (leaked after 6 months) and now I use the Gunner crate. Seems the best option thus far….

  19. Can’t wait for the updated reviews of restraints, I found out recently about safety testing for crates and was horrified to see how few can actually survive a crash. It’s also harder as a big dog ages to get them safely and comfortably in and out of a crate so I’d like to find a harness option that would allow them to lay down in the backseat.

  20. I have researched seat belts for my dogs but repeatedly but always run into the same problem — the designs only contemplate that you have one dog in your car. Please include in your article seatbelts that can accommodate two dogs in the back seat area. A crate or crates big enough for my 2 dogs would be too big for my vehicle. Currently I have a very sturdy barrier between the back of the car (seats folded down in small SUV because of dog anxiety) and the front. I also wanted to comment that dogs in the front seat of the car can be injured or killed if they are hit by an airbag. Even children and smaller or frail people are at the same risk.

  21. Being both a CVT and one of those unlucky people who lost a dog in a crash, I will never ride with an unrestrained dog again! I was in a vehicle rollover in 2007. Both dogs were thrown from the vehicle. One sustained a broken neck and needed to be euthanized at the ED, and the other went running down the highway but was picked up within minutes by a Good Samaritan and taken to the ED. We couldn’t even go with them because we (2 adults and 2 children) were being transported to 2 separate hospitals.
    I use SleepyPod, and it is worth every dollar I spent and every extra minute I take.

  22. YES PLEASE do a review of safety harnesses and safety crates. As far as I know there is only one organization that does crash testing, and it is sponsored by Suburu : The Center for Pet Safety. Last time I looked there were only 3 harnesses that passed. Other comments mentioned here refer to harnesses that ‘passed crash test’ but don’t mention who performed the testing (if at all). It must be very expensive to perform these tests correctly. I don’t know how WDJ could adequately perform these crash tests. I wish you well because ALL of us dog lovers need this information ASAP. You can go to FB or Center for Pet Safety to watch the crash tests with the dummy dogs. Horrifying. We need more companies doing testing as the number and variety of harnesses is vast.

  23. I would very much like to see a safe system to buckle up the giant breed dogs. I have Danes and Wolfhounds and have yet to find a system that is safe for them to be buckled into the back of a van or mini-van. And a crate? Uh, we have a minivan and our crates don’t fit in the mini-van (too tall and the are wide enough that you simply cannot assemble them in the van–fully assembled there is (according to our measurements) about 1 inch to spare in total in terms of width. You can’t fit one crate in there, much less two if you need to transport more than one dog at a time. If anyone knows of a system, please let me know. Most of the systems I’ve found are way too small (either they won’t fit around the dog at all, or they cut into the dog making them very uncomfortable, or they hit the dog in an unacceptable area of the body). I’d love to find a system that we could use to buckle up our giants.

  24. It would be great to see an article that addresses these kinds of variations. Here are mine:

    Sometimes our 68# dog sits in the footwell of the passenger seat. (sometimes there’s a person in the seat, and sometimes not.) He lies down or sits up. There’s not much extra room around, so I don’t think he could be thrown unless the car flipped or rolled. He’s below where an airbag would deploy. This wouldn’t prevent him from escaping, I realize, but I would like to understand more about the footwell as a somewhat protected space.

    In addition to items intended as dog car restraints, it would be helpful to understand what makes something effective or not. Some folks can’t readily buy something new and/or already have things that might be good. What to look for or be aware of? One example is the Ruffwear webmaster harness, which has distributed support and is strong. One could run two seatbelts through it (like the sleepypod recommendation). I attach a strong webbing loop to the seat belt and clip it to both the d-ring and the handle, for stability and less risk of a single point of failure.

  25. I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured and that you actually didn’t have a dog with you. Working in rescue, we had someone who applied to adopt a dog from us who lost their dog in an auto accident. These were wonderful people who took excellent care of their pets. I know she wished she’d buckled her dog up. Unfortunately (for us), this family adopted another dog from another rescue group. I was hoping she’d take one of ours, as (despite the accident), they were a wonderful home.

  26. I don’t understand all these negative comments about the seat belts. I use one every single time I leave the house with one or more of my six dogs. I saw what happened when I didn’t. I saw how a close friend lost two dogs when he didn’t secure his dogs in the car in either a crate or by using a seat belt. His small car was t-boned by a bus. One dog was thrown and died at the scene, the other broke his back, had surgery and died two days later. Not to mention that if a dog survives the actual accident, but bolts from the scene you may never see them again.

    Here in Atlanta a man was in an accident on our major interstate. His service dog was not secured, bolted from the scene and was found several days later- a casualty of Interstate 85. Seat belts are super easy to use. They merely clip onto the back of your dog’s harness and click in where the car seat belt goes. Even if I am driving a block up the road with my dog I don’t leave it to chance, I belt her in. I also talk about this and my experiences in my dog training workshops every month.

    Please, be careful out there and be careful with your dog out there.

  27. Nancy, we’re glad you’re ok! Scary! I use a Sleepypod crate for my 13 lbs. dog because it was crash tested and it was my understanding, that there was no safe harness for small dogs. Would love some updated information. We travel a lot with some long days in the car so it would be nice if she could be seatbelted and enjoy looking out the window. That said, she loves her Sleepypod because it predicts happy trails ahead.

  28. In your review of products, PLEASE include restraints for larger dogs. I’m having trouble finding a reliable harness/seat belt for my Great Dane. Everything seems to be for smaller dogs. Thank you

  29. I look forward to a product update. I tried the Sleepypod harness but since my greyhound doesn’t sit (like most greyhounds), there was no way that we could clip her into the harness the way it was designed. We use a tether strap and other harness in the hope that it will provide some protection.

    In your review, I think it would be ideal to cover what the pet products industry is doing to develop a better harness and other restraint measures. With respect to the Sleepypod designers (it’s a good product – just not that widely useful), dogs are not children. The principles of design must be different since many dogs will lay down, sit or otherwise want to stand in vehicles and want some ability to enjoy the view.

    I also agree with some earlier comments – that it seems much easier for restraints for smaller dogs than larger breeds.

  30. I cannot find a good safety harness for a small dog, 9.5 lbs. All of the good ones are for larger dogs. My understanding is they have not crash tested any harnesses for the small dogs?

  31. It would be extremely helpful to learn about any restraint systems or safety products that can be used when travelling with multiple dogs in a medium sized vehicle. We currently have four dogs: a small poodle mix, a small beagle mix, a medium sized English setter, and an unusually large English setter. They are trained to share the back seat or the way back area of a vehicle, and USUALLY do so peacefully. The problem is that there is not room in the vehicle for four crates, and there are not enough seatbelt attachment points in the vehicle to attach four dogs via harnesses and seatbelt attachments. We currently use a pet hammock across the back seat, and / or a net barrier between the back and front seats, or between the way back cargo area and the rest of the car, depending on where the dogs are. But I know these are only partially helpful in a crash. So multi-dog solutions would be GREATLY appreciated! Thanks!

  32. I purchased a crash tested seat belt for my English Pointer. It is a bit large around her neck as she has a larger chest than neck. It holds her tightly to the back of the seat. We have stopped using it because she was developing increased anxiety about getting in the car. It is the sleepypod click it. I think it would be better for a small dog.
    We tried only looping the seat belt through one side and that seems unsafe for the dog.
    I am currently checking out the ruff ware product.

  33. Reading this I could have written it. December 26th we (my husband & myself ) were coming home from spending Christmas with our family, when we were T-bone. Before we left for Christmas we debated taking our pup with us. Instead we got a house sitter. I was so thankful that we did not have her with us. I was taken to emergency . When I was released we needed to have friends pick us up. Yes, we do put our pup in a seat belt.

  34. The recommended harness does not come in a size small enough for my Norwich Terriers. I did purchase the Sleepypod carriers several years ago after doing a fair amount of research. They are borderline on the small side for my dogs. The bottom line is there are not many “safe” options out there.

  35. I, too, use the Sleepy Pod car harness, but if I hook it up the way I’m supposed to, my 60 pound dog gets out of it. She’s like a cat and can maneuver her shoulders in a certain way (which is how she sometimes gets into the cat door into their gated room) to get out of it. As a result, I just put the shoulder harness part of the seat belt through the Sleepy Pod so at least she has some protection.

  36. Unfortunately, as I mention in my (5 star) book “K9 Teams: Beyond the Basics of Search and Rescue and Recovery”… “Although some companies label their products “crash tested,” there are no industry or government safety standards for crates at this writing. Pet products are an unregulated industry.” My book was published by Brush Education in 2018. I have not had time to look into any updates on this so if anyone knows there is now regulation I’s sure like to hear about it. Thank you

  37. I too tried a Sleepy Pod Utility harness for my Labs, but the skinny field one managed to get out of the harness. For her I had to try what seemed 2nd best, the All Safe Harness. After the testing results they recommended using the shortest possible tether.

  38. I am looking forward to reading your eventual article!

    I have a tiny dog (6.5 lbs) and a “Look-out” style car seat that is really just a big foam base so he sits high enough to see out the window. I use its built-in tether to attach to my dog’s harness. Of course I worry all the time if it would actually help in a crash! (I do trust that the passenger airbag would not deploy because there’s not enough weight on the seat.) Real information on what really works would be so helpful.

    Thanks for what you do!

  39. Lots of opinions (and excuses) on this. I have a different suggestion: think of the crate (and yes, even the transport vehicle itself) as a dogmobile, not just your car. You spend money choosing the right vehicle features for yourself, but only “dog people” who go to shows and events have transport that maximizes their pet’s safety? After several years of using wire crates (and a lifetime of no crates, loose dogs, because no one even knew about crate safety), I needed a newer car. I bought a used vehicle, and thought of my new crash-tested crate (a double Vario for two 45 lb, doggos) — as a car accessory, rather than a luxury. If you think of passenger/pet safety as part of the car, and include the crate in your purchase price, it becomes far more realistic and less daunting. You wear your seat belts and use child car seats. And you’d spend on other car features…..be safe!

  40. Posted a comment on Jan 23rd around 11:00 AM on the above topic. I was just wondering WHY it was not shown? There wasn’t anything inappropriate in my comment. I now see that some owners of small dogs are looking for “what works” solutions. As I previously stated … look at PetSafer.com. They have crash tested seats for dogs under 45 lbs.
    Thank You!

  41. Dear Ms. Kerns,

    I’ve been worrying about this very issue as I have a new puppy and am trying to figure out how safely to transport him in my car. He’s almost 13 lbs @ 15 wks and has outgrown his original carry bag. Yesterday I tried him in a Vest Harness and, like my girl before him, he twisted around so badly that I cannot use it. Please, PLEASE suggest a better product!

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