How to restrain a dog in a car

Dog in car hammock
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to restrain a dog in a car in a way that’s safe for both them and the driver is a common concern amongst pet parents, so if you’ve found yourself pondering that question, rest assured, you’re far from alone.

If you’re anything like we are, then chances are you love taking your canine companion with you wherever you go, but you may be wondering how to transport them from A to B in a way that keeps them secure.

You’ve probably seen people driving with their dog’s sitting in the front passenger seat or worse still, their lap, and seeing dogs hanging out of car windows is a pretty regular sight these days. But while these things may look cute, driving without restraining your dog can be incredibly dangerous.

Adorable as they are, our dogs can be a major source of distraction when we’re on the road if they’re not restrained and if an accident occurs, a loose dog could be injured or worse still, cause a great deal of injury to you if they’re projected forward.

The good news is, there’s absolutely no reason why your dog can’t accompany you in the car as long as they’re secured safely. From choosing the right dog harness to the best travel dog crate, we talk you through the top ways to restrain a dog in the car and give a few safety tips for driving with your dog. 

1. Crate your pup

Investing in one of the best dog travel crates is ideal if your dog accompanies you in the car on a regular basis and they’re especially good for longer trips. Crates are sturdy and when they’re secured into place properly, they can be one of the safest ways for your dog to travel.

You’ll want to make sure you choose the right size crate for your dog and your car, ensuring that your pup has plenty of room to stand up and turn around in but not so much space that they’ll be sliding about. Look for strong straps or a crate that can have the seat belt fitted to it as if you have an accident, you don’t want the crate launching forward in your direction.

We recommend you make the crate a cozy place for your dog if you’re travelling for longer periods, so consider popping in a blanket and some toys to make it feel more comfortable for them. If your dog is a nervous traveler, you might also like to cover the crate with a blanket to help them feel more secure.

2. Use a harness

The best dog harnesses are another great option for keeping your furry friend restrained while on the go but make sure you look for one that’s been specifically designed for use in the car as these have a strap that plugs into the seat belt.

When selecting a harness for use in the car, look for one that has wide straps and plenty of padding across the chest as this will lessen the chance that your dog will sustain an injury in the event of a crash. 

To secure your dog using a harness, take the zipline and hook it into the rear passenger seat-belt tab and seat belt and then tug each seat belt to ensure they’re locked into the correct position. Once you’ve done that, remove all the slack from the zipline as this will prevent your dog from being thrown forward.

dog harness in car

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Car seat

If you have a tea cup or small breed dog, then you might want to consider a car seat, often called a booster seat. Just like the name suggests, these seats are designed to boost your dog up and will allow them to see out the window while you’re traveling. 

Most car or booster seats come with a seat belt which you can then clip your dog’s harness into and make sure you never attach the seat belt to your dog’s collar as this could strangle them in an accident. 

Booster seats are best suited to very calm and well behaved dogs who’ll happily sit in a confined space - we don’t recommend them for anxious or energetic dogs who have a problem sitting still. 

4. Install a back seat barrier

As you’ve probably guessed, a back seat barrier is designed to block off the section of the car between the driver and front passenger area of the car and the rear passenger area. You may also have seen car barriers being used in the cargo area of SUVs.

Using a back seat barrier will stop your dog from trying to clamber into the front while you’re driving, so they’re a great way of minimizing distractions. We recommend that you choose a guard that bolts to the floor and roof of your car so it can’t be knocked out of position. While barriers aren’t as good as keeping your dog safe as a harness or crate, they’re certainly better than nothing.

back seat barrier for dogs in cars

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Dog hammock

Dog hammocks are another option that have become popular in recent years and they’re particularly good for senior dogs as this lets them lie down in the car. Lying down can also help any dog who suffers from motion sickness and they also protect your upholstery from all that fur!

The best way to use a dog hammock is with a seat belt as this will stop your dog from falling off the hammock and will also prevent them from trying to climb into the front of the car while you’re driving. 

7 car safety tips for driving with your dog

Dog in harness in back seat of car

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Take regular breaks

Just like we humans need regular breaks when we’re traveling to stretch our legs and go to the bathroom, so too do our canine companions. If you’re going on a long road trip, make sure you stop every hour so that you can both get some air and move about.

2. Don’t feed your dog in the car

It’s really important that you don’t feed your dog in a moving vehicle and that includes treats. Eating while in the car can increase your dog’s risk of choking, so feed them 1-2 hours before you leave and save the treats for your scheduled breaks.

3. Keep the car well ventilated

Dogs often feel the heat, so unless it’s the middle of winter and freezing cold outside, keep the windows open or the air conditioning on to allow plenty of cool air to circulate through the car. 

4. Don’t let your dog hang out the window

As we mentioned earlier, letting your dog hang out the window is incredibly dangerous as it increases the likelihood they will sustain an injury. Make sure your dog is safely restrained using one of the methods described above.

5. Take short trips to begin with

It’s a good idea to get your dog used to traveling in the car by taking short trips before you attempt longer ones. Restraining them in the car and driving around the block will help your dog get used to the feel of being in the car and you can then gradually increase the duration of the journeys you’re taking as they become more comfortable.

6. Pack a dog-friendly travel kit

Make sure you have all the essentials on hand to help make your dog’s journey as smooth and comfortable as possible. Water, a bowl, food and treats for when you stop, toys, and a blanket and pillow can all help your dog feel safe and secure.

7. Never leave your dog alone in the car

Finally, never leave your dog alone in the car, whether restrained or unrestrained. In the summer, a locked up car acts like a furnace and in the winter it acts like a refrigerator, both of which can be deadly for your dog. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.