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When you shop for a car harness, seat, or other restraint, the most important consideration is safety and fit. Your dog needs well-fitting protection to stay safe when you hit the road. But not all products are created equally. Even though they are made for the car, that doesn’t mean they are safe, says Lindsey Wolko, founder of the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety, which conducts independent crash tests of dog harnesses, carriers, and crates.
The group performed crash tests in 2013 and 2015 using a dog crash test dummy which allowed it to create safety standards and requirements to evaluate pet travel items. So far, only a few products have received the center’s crash test certification, but others are working to be certified.
The safest products are typically more expensive than other car restraints, but they are well worth it, says Wolko, who has seen the results of the crash tests and heard so many accident stories.
“We recommend that they look at this as an investment. These are going to be more expensive because there's more due diligence conducted on the products,” she says. “Something is better than nothing to prevent distraction, which can prevent a crash in the first place. However if you are in a crash, and your pets are in the wrong products, there can be serious consequences.”
Ahead, we recommend the best dog car seats and restraints, according to the experts.
Best Overall: Sleepypod Clickit Sport Dog Safety Harness
Dimensions: 22.5-28 inches (around dog’s front legs) | Materials: Nylon and neoprene padding | Weight Range: For dogs 18-90 pounds
Distributes pressure and lowers forces in an accident
Three points of contact
Doubles as a walking harness
Not ideal for sighthounds
Some dogs can wriggle out
One of the only dog safety harnesses that passed crash tests by the Center for Pet Safety, the Sleepypod Clickit is also recommended by the veterinarian we interviewed. It has three points of contact to help your dog from being tossed forward or side to side in a sudden stop or crash. There’s a thickly padded vest, stress-tested buckles, and seat belt-grade straps that distribute and lower forces that can lead to injury in a collision.
The harness is for dogs 18 to 90 pounds and comes in four colors. You simply use your car’s rear seatbelt and no additional straps. It can also be used as a walking harness. It’s not ideal for wispy sighthounds like greyhounds and Afghan Hounds.
"Because my dog has a very lanky body type, he does better in a Sleepypod Terrain [view on Amazon], which is a little more substantial. It has padding around his legs and torso to make it much harder for him to perform any kind of Houdini move to escape."–Mary Jo DiLionardo, Dog Foster Parent and Spruce Pets Writer
Best for Small Dogs: Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed
Dimensions: 17 x 13.5 inches | Materials: Nylon, mesh, foam | Weight Range: For dogs 15 pounds or less
Works as a carrier, bed, and car seat
Smaller versions can be taken on planes
Only for small dogs
This attractive and safe product lets your pet feel comfortable on the road. The Sleepypod is a combination bed, carrier, and car seat, so it takes away some of the stress that can be associated with travel. It’s crash-tested and certified by the Center for Pet Safety for pets up to 15 pounds and can be taken on an airplane. It's also vet recommended.
The pod secures into the car seat with a seatbelt. There’s a mesh dome on top and removable, machine-washable plush bedding inside. The Sleepypod comes in eight colors and there are also three smaller sizes: Air, Atom, and Mini. They can be taken on airplanes and they all work for cats, too.
Best Kennel: Gunner G1 Kennel Intermediate
Dimensions: 29.5 x 20.5 x 23.5 inches | Materials: Aluminum | Weight Range: For dogs up to 45 pounds
Can withstand 4,000 pounds of force
Has lifetime warranty
Yes, this kennel is expensive, but it has a lifetime warranty. It has a five-star rating from the Center for Pet Safety and has been tested to withstand up to 4,000 pounds of force. It has an escape-proof door built to contain your pet before, during, and after an accident. There’s a wider base to help prevent it from rolling over and built-in tie-down pins to help anchor it in your car or SUV. The crate weighs 36 pounds, so it's considerably heavier than other options.
This is a great option if you put your dog rides in your hatchback or you’re worried about your dog getting out of a harness. Some dogs with anxiety might also feel safer confined in a kennel. The manufacturer also makes larger crates that have wheels for bigger dogs.
Most Comfortable: PupSaver Crash-Tested Car Safety Seat
Dimensions: 28 x 18 x 16 inches | Materials: Nylon, polyester fiber filling, polyurethane foam | Weight Range: For dogs 10-30 pounds
Designed to cushion and protect your pet on impact
Doubles as a pet bed
Need an additional harness
This plush rear-facing car seat doubles as a pet bed when traveling. It uses five plastic clips to keep the seat positioned in place. The Pupsaver is designed to cushion your pet upon impact and to act as a barrier against any hard surfaces in case of an accident. It’s very comfortable and would be helpful for dogs that have anxiety when they ride in the car. The seat weights 7 pounds.
The Pupsaver is made by a family-owned company and was independently crash tested. The company suggests using only a Pupsaver harness which was also crash tested, but you need to use an additional harness with the seat.
Best Seat Cover: Orvis Grip-Tight Quilted Hose-Off Hammock Seat Protector
Dimensions: 66 x 51 inches (large) | Materials: Polyester | Weight Range: All size dogs
Can be hosed off
Covers backseat, floor, and backs of the front seats
Can be attached to a car restraint
People can’t sit in the seat too
When your pup jumps in the car, there’s a good chance there’s some fur flying, and sometimes your leather or upholstery can take a beating. A good protector can save your seat and offer a less slippery spot for your dog (or car seat) to sit.
This quilted hammock seat from Orvis protects your car from moisture, hair, and dirt. It’s designed to protect the entire backseat as well as the back of the front seat and passenger seat and the floor. There are slots for the seatbelts so you can still safely attach a car restraint. If things get messy, just take out the protector and hose it off.
Both of our favorites are made by Sleepypod. The Sleepypod Clickit Sport Harness (view at Amazon) has three points of contact that distributes pressure and lowers forces in an accident. The nifty-looking Sleepypod carrier (view at Amazon) is a versatile product that works as a car seat, carrier, and bed for smaller dogs.
What to Look for in Dog Car Seats
Many harness and car seat makers claim that their products have been crash tested, but there are no industry standards for pet car restraints. That’s why it’s a good idea to look for crash testing that’s been conducted by independent third-party groups, such as the Center for Pet Safety which has set.
Always pay attention to size and weight guidelines to make sure a seat or harness will fit your pet correctly. If a restraint doesn’t fit right, your pet might be able to escape, which could cause a distraction or be dangerous if you were to have an accident.
Dr. Jamie Richardson of Small Door Veterinary says the most important element to keeping your dog safe is ensuring your dog is “secure and as immobile as possible” to avoid them becoming a projectile if an accident were to occur. That means proper fit is key.
What is the best way to keep a dog car seat or other car carrier clean?
Wipe down your harness or car seat regularly. Most can be kept clean with a damp cloth but some have linings that can be machine washed or—like the car cover—that can be hosed down. Always check the manufacturer’s directions.
Is it safe for dogs to ride in the front seat?
“Never, ever, never ever,” says Wolko. That’s because airbags that can deploy and hurt them, and also because dogs can become a major distraction while you’re driving. Then you’re paying attention to your pet instead of the road.
Are dog car seats or restraints required by law?
Most states don’t have laws that require dogs to be restrained, but some do so it’s always a good idea to check. Rhode Island, for example, requires pets to be secured with a harness, crate, or in some other way. In other states, drivers may be charged under existing distracted driver laws if a loose pet is the reason they get into an accident.
“Those are consistent across the country,” says Wolko. “If you've got a dog that's climbing over your shoulder while you're driving and you get pulled over, the police officer will ticket you for distracted driving no matter where you are.”
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
Mary Jo DiLonardo has been writing about pets and animals for several decades. She has a rescue dog and has fostered more than three dozen dogs and puppies. Pet health and safety is very important to Mary Jo and she’s always researching the latest products to keep the dogs in her care healthy and safe.
For this story, we consulted with respected safety expert Lindsey Wolko of the Center for Pet Safety. We also interviewed Dr. Jamie Richardson of Small Door Veterinary for background on the dog car seats she likes, what to look for in a car seat for your dog, and why dog car seats are important to own.