Safe car travel for your dog

Safe car travel for your dog

Your dog should not travel loose in the car. A high quality crate, carrier or harness will help keep him safe from harm in the event of an accident.

Many dogs love riding in the car. Whether it’s a trip to the park, a visit with your family or a playdate with some canine buddies, safe car travel is as important for your dog as it is for your human passengers. Even a relatively minor fender bender can be potentially fatal for a dog who’s loose in the vehicle. A sudden stop can pitch him into the back of a seat, or worse, into the windshield.

This issue is so widespread that many jurisdictions in North America have added “loose dogs in vehicles” to distracted driving laws. South of the border, in New Jersey, for instance, tickets range from $250 to $1,000 for dogs riding on the driver’s lap or otherwise distracting him or her. In Canada, drivers could be charged under sections in the provincial Highway or Motor Vehicle Acts. In British Columbia, for instance, you could pay $167 and receive 3 demerit point penalty for “distracted driving” or $368 if you are charged with “driving without due care”. In Ontario, a careless driving charge could apply, with penalties ranging from $400-$2000. The solution is simple, say the experts: dogs need to be in a secured crate, carrier or pet safety harness whenever they’re in a moving vehicle.

Purchasing a crate, carrier or harness

Like most things in life, not all crates, carriers and harnesses are created equal. Finding one that will truly protect your pet takes a little research.

That’s where the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization dedicated to companion animals and consumer safety, comes in. The goal of the CPS is to establish test standards so that a manufacturer’s crash testing claims will perform as promised. The CPS uses crash test dummy dogs to test crates and harnesses for safety. Designed by NASA engineers, the dog comes in various weights and sizes to simulate what might happen with a real canine in an actual crash.

Common quality problems

Some common weak spots to look for on crates, carriers and harnesses include plastic buckles or latches, faulty stitching, weak latches and fasteners. When it comes to using a crate (usually for large dogs) or pet carrier (small to medium dogs), buying the right anchor straps is just as important. Securing the crate with passenger seatbelts is a bad idea.

Dos and don’ts

Crates and carriers

  1. Do choose a carrier instead of a pet harness for very small dogs. Full containment is safest for the little ones.
  2. Do look for quality steel latches and handles.
  3. Don’t buy a wire crate for use in the car, since they’re not safe. Instead, purchase a carrier constructed of heavy duty plastic or polymer, similar to materials used in the kayak or boating industry.
  4. Don’t connect your dog’s collar or harness to the inside of the crate or any other tether in the car.
  5. Do check with your car’s manufacturer to determine the connection strength in the cargo area for large breeds. Anchor large crates with rated anchor straps.
  6. Do acclimatize your dog to his harness, crate or carrier — slowly.


  1. Do choose a product that will spread impact over a wide area of the dog. Harnesses with padded construction across the chest are safest. Narrow nylon construction or cotton can cause injury in a sudden stop.
  2. Do look for solid construction; automotive-grade seatbelt webbing has the strength to hold up in a crash.
  3. Don’t choose harnesses with plastic buckles, since they often fail in crash testing. Go for steel buckles instead.
  4. Don’t use zipline or other forms of tethers to secure your dog in the car. They may prevent your dog from distracting you, but they will not keep him safe in a crash.

Which devices are airline approved?

Travelling by air? Safety still applies! While guidelines differ between airlines, all require that your pet be secure in a crate if he’s flying in the belly of the plane. Air Canada, for instance, follows IATA standards, which indicate that crates must be large enough for your dog to stand up completely, turn around and lie down, and must be structurally sound enough to prevent the animal from escaping during flight.

If you’re planning to bring your pup with you in the cabin, the first step is the make sure he’s the right size. Typically, dogs over a certain weight aren’t permitted to be checked in as a “carry-on” item. If your pooch meets the requirements, check your airline’s website to make sure his carrier fits the bill.

Taking a road trip with your dog is just plain fun. Once you know you’ve done everything you can to keep him safe in the event of an accident, you can relax and enjoy the ride!