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Dog Car Harness: Keeping Dogs in Cars Safe [2023 Guide]

If you’re anything like me, you love to take your dog with you wherever you can. Whether I’m going to the park, popping out for lunch or visiting a friend, my Bichon Frise Rocky will be along for the ride. No matter how short or long the drive is, it’s vital that you keep your dog safe in your car. Cars aren’t built for dog safety, like they are for humans, so you need other means of protecting your pooch.

A dog car harness will not only protect your dog from harm while on the road, but they protect you too. Driving with your dog on your lap or unrestrained in your back seat can be as distracting as texting or talking on your cell phone. In fact, driving with an unrestrained dog is actually illegal in the whole of the UK, Australia, as well as many states in the US. Dog car harnesses are a safe and comfortable way to restrain your dog, but you need to ensure it is good quality, and the right fit for your dog. 

In this article, we will guide you through exactly what dog car harnesses are, how to use them and how to get your dog used to being in one. Additionally, we will outline the law on driving with dogs in the car and how to choose the best car harness for your dog.

What is a dog car harness?

Image result for dog car harnessDog car harnesses are designed to restrain dogs in an upright or sitting position in the back seat of a vehicle. Most harnesses work with use of a car’s existing seatbelt strap for extra security and protection. Dog car harnesses look like standard dog harnesses, but they have extra components that allow you to attach them to the car seat belt. Additionally, quality dog car harnesses are usually stronger and more robust than standard harnesses. This is because they need to withstand potential high forces in the event of an accident.

Normally harnesses fit over the dog’s head, attaching around the chest and upper torso. The car’s seat belt then slips through the dog’s harness to secure your dog to the car. Combining your human seatbelt with a well-designed dog harness will provide the ultimate dog safety in the car. A good dog car harness will restrict movement of your dog. This is to ensure that they are not a distraction to the driver, and to protect them during an accident. Some allow dogs to sit up right where others will hold your dog in an upright position.

What’s the difference between a dog car harness and a dog seat belt?

Dog restraint comes in a few different styles but the premise is the same – they attach your dog’s collar or harness to your car’s seat. Some dog seat belts clip into the seat belt buckle while others loop around the car seat’s headrest. Additionally, dog car harnesses have loops for the car’s existing seat belt to slip through. Most of them can be adjusted in length to accommodate different sized dogs.


A dog seat belt functions largely in the same way as standard seat belts for humans. They usually plug directly into the receiver/buckle in the car at one end and clipping onto a harness or collar at the other. A dog seat belt is quick and easy to use.

Dog seat belts can normally be adjusted to an extent to suit dogs of varying sizes. The leads for dog seat belts should generally be long enough to allow a dog to remain upright during a car ride, but not so long as to allow them to tumble around the back seat.

Belts allow dogs a degree of freedom while they’re in the back seat. Dogs can move enough so they can sit, lie down, or stand freely, but still without distracting the driver. This is why seat belts are often preferred over dog car harnesses for active and fidgety dogs.


Although harnesses do not give dogs the same freedom of movement in the back seat as a dog seat belt, they’re safer. In the event of a crash, while wearing a harness your dog is more likely to escape uninjured. A dog car harness is safer because they spread the impact force of a sudden jolt to the dog’s body. Because the force is spread, there is less of a strain on a single part of your dog’s body. Local strain can be very dangerous for a dog. For example, a seat belt attached to a collar, could damage a dog’s neck in the event of the car coming to a sudden stop.

Do you need a dog car harness?

So many dogs love going out for a ride in the car. Usually because it means something fun on the other side – playing ball in the park, going for a swim in a lake or visiting one of their friends. Just a jingle of the keys, and many dogs run straight to the door with a grin on their faces. So why ruin the fun by strapping your dog down with a dog car harness?

Or, in contrast, maybe your dog suffers from travel anxiety when in the car – fearing the car worrying that they’re on their way to the vet or groomers. Why make car rides worse by introducing a dog car harness?

Because they will be so much safer – and what is more important than that? 

Many pet owners allow their dogs to roam freely in their cars, hanging their heads out the window with ears flapping in the wind. However, there are huge dangers involved. PetMD shared an article explaining that an 80-pound dog, such as a Labrador Retriever, becomes a 2,400 pound projectile in a car accident occurring at just 50mph (source: here). In the same way a human seat belt protects us in car accidents, a harness or dog seat belt will protect your dog.

Additionally, in many places, it’s against the law to drive with an unrestrained dog in the car. This is the case in the whole of the UK, Australia and many states in the US. We will discuss this the law on dog seat belts and harnesses in detail below.

What are the benefits of using a dog car harness?

A dog car harness will not only protect your dog, it will also protect you, other passengers and other drivers on the road. Unrestrained dogs in cars are a hazard.

Putting all of the legal requirements aside, driving with your dog on your lap or even unrestrained in your back seat can be as distracting as texting or talking on the phone.

Just a second of distraction, is all it takes to be part of a road accident. So, even just taking a picture of your dog, petting him or tossing him a treat is dangerous. Not only is this potentially dangerous to you and your pup, it’s a danger to to other drivers on the road.

Dog seat belts and dog car harnesses help to prevent driver distraction. A study co-sponsored by AAA and Kurgo found that more than 65% of dog owners engage in distracted driving behavior because of an unrestrained dog (source: here).

Dogs in cars can be distracting for a number of reasons, including:

  • Attempts to escape
  • Barking
  • Jumping around the car
  • Wandering onto the driver’s lap
  • Blocking mirrors and sight lines
  • Being generally adorable

What are the dangers of unrestrained dogs in cars?

We understand, you dare not think about all the frightening scenarios your dog may face in a car. However, many of us simply aren’t aware of the dangers a dog faces when having free roam of a car on the move.

When taking a dog in a car, there are many risk factors, including:

  • Airbags deployed in the event of an accident can harm a dog sitting in the front seat.
  • Dogs who pop their heads out the window risk being injured by external debris.
  • Excited or anxious dogs can leap out open windows.
  • Using a tether such as a leash attached to your dog’s collar could cause severe neck injury in a car crash or in the case of a sudden stop.
  • Dogs roaming freely in the backseat during a collision can be launched dangerously fast into the front window. This is true for small dogs as well as large dogs.

So, for your dogs safety, as well as yours and others on the road, you should always use some form of restraint.

How do I choose the best dog car harness?

The best dog car harnesses should maintain your dog’s stability and restrain their movement. This is why dog car harnesses tend to be safer than dog seat belts. Limiting movement means that your dog won’t get thrown around and injured. A good car harness for your dog will be much more heavy-duty than your dog’s standard harness for walking.

For maximum protection, we recommend that you use a harness specifically designed for cars. These harnesses have more of a full body coverage and connect to your car’s seat belt at more than one point. As mentioned above, this means if you had to come to a sudden stop, the force will be spread out over a larger area instead of focusing on one single point. Furthermore, multiple connection points also will help keep your dog from getting twisted around in the seatbelt in cases of rollovers.

Unfortunately, at the moment there aren’t standard regulations and requirements for dog car restraints the way there are for human restraints. Therefore for most dog car harnesses, independent reviews that haven’t been conducted by the company that manufactures the product are your best resource.


With that said, according to Consumer Reports, The Center for Pet Safety conducted third-party tests on 11 harnesses that all claim crash protection. The results of the dog car harness safety tests were shocking.

Only 7 out of 11 dog safety harnesses passed the initial strength part of the test and therefore qualified for the crash test evaluation. Sadly, many of the harnesses were just not strong enough to withstand the forces of a crash impact.

Shockingly, a lot of the harnesses on the market what said they were crash tested failed the tests.

Out of the 7 harnesses that passed the velocity test, 3 dog car harnesses are certified by CPS standards. That means that they have been tested in the same way that child safety restraints have been. Therefore, wearing one of these dog car harnesses, you can be sure that your dog is safe in your car.

Scroll down to ‘Dog car harnesses: which is best?’ to check out the 3 certified harnesses.

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