Your guide to dog car safety
June 4, 2021
When we travel by car we know the golden rule, which is seat belt on. It’s the first thing we do when we get in, and we always make sure our children are strapped in and safe in their car seats. But what’s the safest way for dogs to travel? To help you choose the right safety equipment, pet travel expert Claire Harris from Pets 2 Places has put together this useful buyer’s guide to dog car safety.
What does the law say about travelling with a dog in a car?
Did you know it’s actually been the law since 1991 that all people in a vehicle must wear a seat belt? For dogs, the Highway Code states that dogs must be suitably restrained in a car so they can’t distract you while you are driving, or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. In fact, you could be fined up to £2,500 for driving without due care and attention for failing to do so.
However, the Highway Code doesn’t make it clear what ‘suitably restrained’ means for dog car safety. This means that many people may not be travelling with their dog in a way that, in the event of an accident, will keep them or other passengers safe.
Crash tested dog car safety equipment
Check that the equipment you plan to buy has been crash tested. This means that the equipment will have been tested in a vehicle that has been crashed in a controlled environment. It helps to properly assess the safety of equipment before it can be sold to make sure your dog – and passengers – are protected as much as possible in the event of an accident.
Options for dog car safety
The best way for your dog to travel safely in a car is with equipment suited to their size. The size of your dog will determine if you use a harness or a dog guard.
Travelling in the boot of the car is ideal for larger dogs that don’t have the space on the back seat to sit comfortably or lie down. For larger dogs, a dog guard is the best safety option.
In addition to a dog guard, which sits between the boot and back seat, a tailgate will also stop your dog from jumping out of the car until it’s safe for them to do so. If you have more than one dog, a boot divider is a good idea to give each their own space.
Small to medium sized dogs
A harness is a good option if you have a small to medium size dog. A car harness is very similar to a walking harness. In fact, most crash tested car harnesses also double as a walking harness, so a great way for your dog to get used to the car harness is to use it as a walking harness first.
A harness will allow your dog to sit up or lie down but restricts their movement to one seat. Dogs that can walk around on the back seat are not restrained correctly and can easily distract the driver.
How to measure your dog for a harness
The right harness for your dog will depend on their preference for stepping into a harness or having one put over their head. When doing your research, look at how the harness needs to be put on and taken off. Some can be quite fiddly, which may not work for you if you struggle with your hands or have a particularly wriggly dog.
It’s important to make sure your dog’s harness fits correctly. Each brand will have their own measuring guide on their website. As a general rule, you should measure around the widest part of your dog’s chest but you should refer to the manufacturer’s guide to make sure you buy the right size for your dog.
How to choose a dog guard or harness
Here’s some options for different sized dogs, with recommendations for products which have been crash tested to make sure they meet the highest safety standards.
Dog guards for large dogs (e.g. Malamute, Great Dane, Mastiff, German Shepherd, Retriever, Greyhound)
A dog guard, tailgate, and boot divider if needed, are the perfect solution for a large dog to travel in the boot. Travall is a fantastic brand. You can find the right one for your car here:
Harness for large/medium breeds (e.g. Labrador, Collie, Springer Spaniel) and small breeds (e.g. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Shitzu, Bichon Frise, Cockapoo)
A harness is the best option for dogs that will be travelling on the back seat.
Tiny/extra small breed (e.g Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Teacup Yorkie) and puppies
At present, only Kurgo Tru Fit offers an extra small size in crash tested harnesses. This is fitted over a dog’s head, which may not be suitable for all.
An alternative for small dogs and puppies is a crash tested carrier. Sleepy Pod has a couple of choices.
Don’t forget to have water in the car on longer journeys; and plan stops along the way for your dog to go to the toilet, stretch their legs and have a good sniff around.
Claire Harris is a leading expert on pet transport and founder of Pets 2 Places, the UK’s first pet taxi franchise. She started the business in her home town of Milton Keynes, helping to take pets and their owners to the vets, groomers, kennels or on holiday. Pets 2 Places now operates in a number of cities, including London, Birmingham and Manchester.