Traveling on the road – car safety for dogs

Dog in car

We all love going on a road trip and it is even better if we can enjoy it with our four-legged best friend. Sometimes car trips are also necessary for transporting your dog, for example to the vet’s. However, to travel smoothly, it is important to take care of car safety for dogs.

When I was young, we had two small dogs with my family and when traveling in the car, we would always have our dogs wandering loose in the back seat. Mostly our dogs would be asleep and not walk around too much, but we never considered there was a chance they could disturb the driver and cause a hazard. We also never considered what would happen to our dogs if we had an accident. Luckily nothing ever happened.

Nowadays it is law in many countries to restrain your dog while driving. This is not only to ensure the driver remains undisturbed, but also to ensure the safety of the dog in case of an accident.

Car safety for your dog can be ensured by taking some key steps.

1. Restrain your dog


The most important way to keep your dog safe in the car, is to keep them restrained. Crates are an excellent way to comfortably restrain your dog. If you have crate trained your dog, they will feel comfortable in their own crate and happily spend time in it.

In the car the crate should be placed in a spot where it can’t move around. For example, small dog crates can be placed on the floor in front of the back seat. Larger crates can be placed in the trunk, but only if the trunk has an open connection to the main car space, such as in station wagons.

When transporting your dog in a crate, make sure they have soft bedding to make the car ride comfortable for them.

Dog with car harness

Car harnesses

Restraining your dog using a harness is another excellent alternative during car rides. A car harness looks similar to a walking harness, but has wider straps to better disperse pressure and it is attached to the seat belt buckle to stop your dog from moving around.

When purchasing a car harness, it is important to choose a good quality harness that is specifically meant for car rides. Quality car safety harnesses are generally made from the same material as seat belts or from other strong fabrics. Some car safety harnesses have dual functionality and can be also used for walking your dog.

Center for pet safety conducts crash tests for car harnesses and can be used as a reliable guide when choosing a car harness.

2. Have enough breaks during your drive

If you are doing a long car trip, it is important to have enough breaks to ensure your dogs stays relaxed in the car. Unlike humans, dogs are not able to understand what’s happening and they don’t know how long they will need to stay in the crate, which might cause stress. Having regular breaks will make the car ride more enjoyable for your dog.

Taking a break will allow your dog to go to the toilet, stretch their legs and get some fresh air. When traveling in the car with my puppy, he usually is pretty keen to jump out of the car and having regular breaks makes the car ride more fun for him. Luckily after a break my puppy is equally keen to jump back in the car, indicating that he also very much enjoys his car rides.

Beach dog walk

3. Monitor your dog’s stress levels

Different dogs can react very differently to car rides. My puppy absolutely loves being in the car as it gives him an opportunity to explore the world and I think he also enjoys being close to his mum and dad (i.e. me and my husband).

However, some dogs get very stressed in the car. I know dogs that pant or cry the whole car ride, suggesting the trip is extremely stressful for them. Having a stressed out dog in the car is also stressful for the owner.

If your dog gets stressed in the car, you can try to minimize their stress levels in several ways:

  • If your dog is not used to being in a car, you can bring someone with you for the ride to soothe your dog while you are driving.
  • Train your dog to get used to being inside a car by first making them comfortable in a stationary car with the engine off and then in a stationary car with the engine running
  • If your dog suffers from motion sickness, avoid feeding them right before the car ride.
  • Have enough breaks during a long trip to give your dog plenty of enjoyable pauses
  • Help your dog relax by giving them their favorite toy or something else with a familiar smell

4. Keep a comfortable temperature

Once you’ve got your dog nicely restrained and you are ready for your trip to start, it is important to have a comfortable temperature in the car. With the car being a confined space, the temperature can rise quickly.

If you notice your dog panting, set the temperature lower and aim air flow at your dog. This can also help with motion sickness if you know your dog suffers from it. You can also slightly open the window, but make sure your dog is not able to hang their head outside of the window as this can be dangerous.

Pug in car

Enjoy the ride!

To ensure your dog gets a positive association with car rides, drive them to exciting places such as to the dog park or to some other outdoor areas. If you only drive your dog to the vet, they will soon generate a negative association with car rides.

Make sure you have plenty of water with you for your dog and for yourself. Also, although you might love listening to loud music, our furry friends have a higher sense of hearing, so you might want to turn the music down to a low level to make the car ride more enjoyable for your best friend.

Road trips do provide us with access to many new and interesting places so they’re worth doing with your four-legged friend. If you’re planning to do more travellng with your pet, such as flying, Traveler H site has a great detailed article of all things to consider when traveling with your pet, you can access it here.

When you’ve taken care of all the safety measures, all you need to do is enjoy the ride!

To many happy barks & walks,