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We love hitting the road for car trips. And we love taking our dogs with us. It just isn’t a family trip if they don’t come along. But how many of you properly secure your dogs in car seats or harnesses for those trips? (Hands up, now – be honest) If you don’t, not only is your dog at risk of injury, so are you. Luckily, pet lovers inhabit every field, including engineering. That means devoted dog lovers are working to develop, test, and provide quality dog car seats and restraints to keep your furry family members safe. These particular dog car seats rank at the top of the list – the best in safety and quality.
Dogs and Cars
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports 50% of all fatal accidents result from distracted driving. (50%!) And we can’t blame all of those accidents on cell phones. Nope, it turns out 25% of owners admit to holding their pets while braking. A further 19% confess to fending a pet away from the front of the car. Pets roaming the car is a HUGE distraction. A 2013 study found owners driving with their pets were more likely to get into an accident. Focusing on your dog takes your eyes off the road, and you might even take your hands off the wheel.
New Jersey, at least, decided enough was enough. In 2011, the state amended its anti-cruelty law, making it a violation to drive with an unrestrained animal in the car. Suddenly, a demand arose for quality dog car seats. Into that need stepped Lindsey Wolko. A poorly-designed restraint injured Lindsey’s dog. Deciding she wanted better for other animals, she founded the Center for Pet Safety (CPS). Using the same standards Federal Motor Vehicles use for children, the CPS began testing the available pet restraints on the market. Every single one FAILED. Yup, it was time for a change.
Choosing a Car Seat for Your Dog
Dog car seats and restraints have improved since then. The CPS now has certified products. (When safety’s on the line, pet owners have a way of getting results). However, there are hundreds of car seats on the market. How to choose the right one?
First and foremost, you want to protect your dog. A good dog car seat absorbs the energy in an accident, and controls possible rotation. The dog should stay in place and not accelerate forward.
As with any product, a little homework is in order. Here are some important notes to take:
- Size: Car seats, in particular, are rated for specific sizes. If a seat is too small, your dog won’t stay inside. Too large? They’ll slide around, and you lose effective restraint. Look at weight restrictions.
- Method of Securing: Not every car seat attaches the same. Some need a headrest while others don’t. Does your car have a headrest in the backseat? Some require a shoulder strap. Look at the instructions for proper installation to make sure your vehicle will even accommodate the seat.
- Ease of Use: How simple is the car seat to use? If it’s going to take you an hour to get that dog car seat into place, are you going to use it? Probably not. Practice makes perfect, but be honest with yourself on what you’re willing to tolerate. Many are collapsible for easy storage. Other seats are bulkier and won’t remain out of the way. You need to decide what will work for you.
- Cleaning: Take a look at the car seat’s materials. Can the cover be removed for cleaning? While car seats generally help with carsickness, nothing is guaranteed. Also, if you allow your dog outside on the trip, how dirty will they get? Are you willing to put up with that smell in your car? A good car seat allows for regular cleaning.
Best Dog Car Seat
Surprisingly, there aren’t many dog car seats that fall into a “generic” category. Considering the CPS has this car seat on their certified list, though, I wasn’t going to pass it up!
The PupSaver might look familiar to those with children. Why? It faces backward like an infant car seat. The logic is the same: it “catches” and cradles your dog during an accident. Even better, it acts as a shield against debris during an accident. (People compare it to a cushy baseball mitt) This car seat attaches to the backseat with a series of clips. Your dog gets secured via their harness. For dogs who get anxious with confinement – and aren’t more than 30 pounds – this car seat is perfect.
Downside? It’s not that easy to clean. It’s also really expensive.
Booster-Style Dog Car Seats
A booster seat provides an advantage for smaller dogs – namely, the chance to look out the window. Such car seats add around ten extra inches of height. Looking out the window helps calm anxiety, provides entertainment, and eases carsickness.
K&H has an excellent reputation in the pet world. The Bucket Booster is durable enough to handle even exuberant dogs. A 3-inch cushion provides extra comfort, and the interior has a fleece covering for warmth in the winter and cooling in the summer. The cushioning and cover come off and are washable. Two adjustable leashes attach to your dog’s harness to keep him secure and safe. The Bucket Booster comes in two sizes.
Downsides? It’s pretty bulky. It isn’t the most expensive option out there, but it also isn’t the cheapest.
Like the Bucket Booster, the Snoozer is available in two sizes to provide your dog with a glimpse out the window. The inside is sturdy foam that won’t deflate over time. The seat is lined with Sherpa fleece, while the cover is sturdy nylon. Both can be removed and washed for easy clean-up. A security leash attaches to your dog’s harness.
The downsides? The nylon isn’t waterproof, which means liquids sink through. It still tips the financial scales on the expensive side.
The Kurgo Skybox is a dream come true for people looking for convenience. This car seat is entirely collapsible! Constructed from ripstop material, it’s not only durable but easy to clean. The microsuede cover and removable pillow are washable. Best of all? It has two zippered pockets! This car seat comes with a lifetime warranty – not something you see a lot! Your dog’s harness attaches to the car’s seatbelt rather than the Skybox. It’s also a reasonable price.
So what are the downsides? Your dog needs to weigh 20 pounds or less. While it claims to fit 30 pounds, reviewers state otherwise. A headrest is mandatory for installation. Also, the sides are quite high, so some people feel it isn’t very comfortable for their dogs.
Carrier-Style Dog Car Seats
A dog car seat is a significant investment. Worth it? Absolutely. But still a big investment. Some people elect to justify the cost by purchasing car seats that double as carriers. If your dog doesn’t get carsick, isn’t claustrophobic, and isn’t very large, this is a great option.
Sleepypod has CPS certification. Constructed from luggage-grade nylon and polyester, it has a convenient shoulder strap to help you and your dog on your travels. The mesh dome provides constant airflow, and there’s a water-resistant liner. Even better? This particular carrier doubles for air flight! For car travel, simply secure the base with the seatbelt and pass the shoulder belt through the handle.
Downsides? The Sleepypod only works for dogs under 15 pounds. It’s also on the pricey side.
WOPET has a comfortable interior for your dog to snuggle up inside. The adjustable straps on the outside make the carrier easy for you to manage. Even better, there are exterior pockets on the sides! (Seriously, who doesn’t love pockets?) A clip inside attaches to your dog’s harness to keep them from escaping the carrier. The outside nylon shell is waterproof AND resists dog hair. This carrier also works for airline travel. It fits within most budgets.
The downside? Again, it’s only for dogs under 15 pounds.
What do we do about larger dogs? Obviously, we’re not going to plunk a Labrador Retriever into a booster seat. (Please don’t try) We still want to keep those dogs safe, though. In an accident, an 80-pound dog becomes a 2,400-pound projectile! More importantly, unrestrained animals often run away from accident sites. You don’t want that to happen. That means finding a proper restraint for your bigger dog.
Sleepypod again? Yup, and for the same reason – CPS certification. The Clickit Sport is a vest-style harness with a three-point design. In case of an accident, movement gets minimized, and force is distributed evenly throughout the torso. A seatbelt is secured through the straps, allowing your dog to sit or lie down as usual. It’s made from ballistic nylon, giving it a long lifespan, and you can also use it as a walking harness.
Downsides? It doesn’t work with deep-chested sighthounds (like Greyhounds – boo). It’s also a little pricey.
The Load Up Harness is another harness that works in and out of the car. It’s easy to fit your dog, and it attaches through the seatbelt. The Load Up passed CPS certification in the small and medium sizes, but the larger sizes allowed dogs to contact the front seats. For this reason, certification got denied. It’s still worth keeping in mind.
The downsides? The price – they’re expensive. They also don’t work with sighthounds (these dogs are difficult to work with – they have a funny shape).
Keeping Your Dog Safe in the Car
Let’s face it – cars are dangerous objects. We need to do everything we can to keep ourselves and all of our passengers safe. That means getting a dog car seat, carrier, or harness and using it EVERY time.
Take precautions. Don’t attach your dog’s leash to restraints – use their harness. Leashes become choking hazards or cause neck injuries. This is also why you should use harnesses and not collars. Think about yourself in an accident – do you want something around your neck? Of course not.
Introduce new car seats or restraints slowly. Start OUTSIDE of the car first. You don’t want to be anxious and take your eyes off the road to check on your dog. Better to delay a trip while your dog learns to trust the car seat than cause an accident.
NEVER use the front seat for your dog’s car seat! The airbag is a genuine threat to your dog. Even if a car seat says it can go in the front seat, don’t do it. Your dog’s body can’t absorb the impact of the airbag. You can see your dog in the rearview mirror, and he can see you. You DON’T need to be beside each other.
Roads and cars are dangerous. Dog car seats make both a safer place – for everyone.
Check out our article on the best dog houses for all types of dogs for more cool products roundups!