Restraining Your Dog with a Harness as You Drive

As dog lovers, we spend a lot of time wondering and worrying about what is best for our four-legged members of the family. We think about the food we are feeding them, the collars we have them wear, the length of the leash being used on our daily walks, and any other aspect of what our pets experience regularly due simply to the fact that they are domesticated. Today, however, we are focusing primarily on doggy seat belts and whether or not they are worth investing in.

The Discussion Over Dog Restraints in Cars

For the past five years or so, there has been a lot of discussion and debate about the efficacy of restraints or harnesses that act as seat belts to keep them securely in place and safe from harm should a collision or harsh driving conditions occur while in a car. 

For some people, the notion that their dog should be buckled in for their safety will probably seem like it’s a given. Conversely, reports from the early days of dog car harness left a particularly sour taste in the mouth of those who were keen on the subject back then.

The Early Days of Car Harnesses for Dogs

seatbelts for dogs

Five years ago, which is the time states started passing legislation making dog harnesses in cars mandatory, there were a handful of harnesses available. They all offered promises that they would keep your dog safe in case of an accident. Likewise, all of these products made claims that they had done testing to ensure that their product was safe.

As you might have guessed from the tone here, many of those claims were patently false and those products did little to secure a harnessed dog nor keep it firmly in place. Of all those harnesses at the time, only one passed the Center for Pet Safety’s (CPS) minimum standards. Even worse was that a few of their failing harnesses failed on a level so bad they were deemed “catastrophic”. If you’re wondering what could lead to the CPS using a word that seems like an exaggeration to describe products’ failings, it’s because not only did those restraints not hold the test dog (similar to humans’ crash test dummies) in place during an accident, but the test dogs were ejected to the point of becoming a projectile.

We wouldn’t blame you if you read those reports only a handful of years ago and you have continued assuming that dog seat belts are not worth your attention much less the cash you would need to spend to buy one.

Thankfully, though, things have changed.

Which Dog Car Harnesses are the Best?

Every year the CPS conducts dog harness safety tests to determine which of the available harness models on the market are worth buying and using to keep your dog (and your family) safe. From their most recent round of harness tests, the following products are the only ones deemed “crash test certified” by the CPS:

  • ZuGoPet The Rocketeer Pack
    • Sizes: Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large
  • Sleepypod Clickit Sport  
    • Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large
  • Sleepypod Clickit Terrain  
    • Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large

Note: if your pet is 18 pounds or less, your only current option is the ZuGoPet Extra Small harness.

States With Dog Harness or Restraint Laws

For the majority of you, putting your dog in a restraint while you drive is a choice left entirely up to you. However, there are a handful of states that have made dog restraints while driving a requirement. These include:

  • Connecticut
    • Dogs in open truck bed must be secured from falling/jumping out
  • Maine
    • Must be protected from falling/jumping out if not in enclosed section of vehicle (e.g. in a truck bed)
  • Massachusetts
    • Only mandatory if exposed (e.g. truck bed)
  • Minnesota
    • Crate or suitable restraint required if in open area of truck
  • New Hampshire
    • Dogs in truck bed must be properly restrained
  • New Jersey
    • Seat belts required for dogs not in a crate
  • North Dakota
    • Transporting live animals without suitable carrying container is considered cruelty to animal
  • Rhode Island
    • Animals must either be in enclosed part of vehicle or secured in a crate
    • Animals must be restrained either by harness/belt or held by a passenger (specifically not the driver)

Benefits of Dog Car Restraints

It might seem a little obvious, but one of the primary -if not the most important- benefits of a dog harness is that it will keep pooch safe in the unfortunate incident of a car accident. By keeping the dog in a stationary position, your pet won’t be thrown around on impact, which often leads to tragic injuries to dogs where they can end up suffering for the rest of their lives or need to euthanized just to ease the pain.

What many people don’t seem to consider when it comes to these harnesses is that they offer you and your family a significant amount of safety as well. Especially if you have kids riding in the car with you, keeping the dog in place with a harness should be very important to you. This is because anything unrestrained in a vehicle during a collision has a chance of becoming a projectile capable of severely injuring anyone in the vehicle. But unlike other items that might get launched during a crash, your dog has nails and sharp teeth which are themselves capable of only adding to any potential injuries.

Whether or not you’re in a state that requires restraining your dog while driving, we recommend for your dog’s sake and yours that you still crate or harness your dog.