Dogs in cars: what's the safest way to travel?

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I’m often asked to advise on the best way to travel a dog in the car. Now I’m no lawyer, so you’ll have to check any legal fine print yourself, but I do have some ideas and I’m going to put them forward here. And I’m going to break them down into these main categories

1. Safety of dog
2. Safety of others

Dogs and the law

First of all, what are the legal requirements? These will vary from country to country, but I’m hoping that most civilised countries have something similar to what we have in the UK - or, indeed, something better!

In the UK this subject is covered principally by these acts:

  • Control of Dogs Act 1992

  • Animal Welfare Act 2006

  • Road Traffic Act 1988

And if you're not familiar with Rule 57 of the Highway Code, now's the time to brush up. It states that drivers are responsible for making sure dogs (or other animals) are suitably restrained in a vehicle so they can't distract or injure you - or themselves - during an emergency stop: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

What you use is up to you - but you must use something! Your dog must be restrained while travelling in a car. It’s commonsense, and furthermore, your insurance company may find a loose dog in the car the perfect excuse to refuse to pay out on your policy. This could be very, very expensive.

I’ll look at the different types of restraint mentioned here further in this article. I’m not going to compare brands or models, as there’s such variation around the world. 

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1. Safety of the Dog

Safety first. A loose dog is considered an unrestrained load, and as a projectile could do a lot of damage to driver and passengers in the event of a crash. You need to restrain your dog so that any impact from a collision is minimised. A dog doing pirouettes on the end of a car harness is not a good idea.

Your insurers may be happy to negate your insurance if the dog could be presumed to have interfered with car safety.

Your dog needs to be able to shelter from direct sunlight, or to keep warm in a cold car. Having a crate you can cover with cloths also prevents the dog seeing out and becoming motion-sick as a result, and may minimise car-barking.

A tethered dog would be easy to see in a car, and easy to steal as you’ve obligingly put him on a lead already. Basically - don’t leave a dog tethered. The risk of getting tangled, breaking a leg, or being strangled is too great. 

When you arrive at your destination, you need to be able to get your dog out of the car in an orderly fashion. So your dog will learn to wait till the lead is fixed to his harness before being allowed to jump out of the car.


2. Safety of others

Dogs travelling in cars - what’s the safest way? Read the post to find out what, and why! | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Dog car travel, puppy car travel, dog behavior | #dogtraining, #newpuppy, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior |

The driver needs to focus on the road, not be distracted by a dog licking his ear, or hanging out of the window, or be worried about whether the puppy has got his paw caught in the strap again …

In the event of an accident, rescuers need to be able to help the people in the car, and the dog too. Not easy with a loose - or tethered - terrified, injured dog.

There is also the danger of the dog escaping from the car in an accident. Dogs have been lost for ever this way.

Now to the types of restraint you can use. You have to balance safety, convenience, and budget. But will the convenience and the money-saving be worth it if something bad happens? You'll see that all these methods specifically exclude dog-on-lap, dog bouncing from front to back of the car, dog on parcel shelf, dog hanging out of window, and so on.

Car crate

  • Crates must be restrained or fixed in some way

  • Crates can be removed to free up space when you’re transporting other things - even people, perhaps!

  • Much better for carsick dogs as the mess stays in the crate

  • Reduced danger of injury

  • No need to release dog when you leave the car

  • Easier to allow proper ventilation and protection from heat/cold

  • If your dog has never been in a crate, you must teach him first in the house. Here’s a good method

Loose crate

  • An airline crate is good and well-ventilated

  • Metal crates for the home are usually too rattly, and too flimsy to give any protection

  • Fabric crates - dogs can overheat in these. And your dog must be acclimatised to a fabric crate out of the car first. Not suitable for puppies.

Custom car crate

  • Best solution

  • Shouldn’t rattle

  • Will have escape hatch to the inside of the car in case you're rear-ended

  • You can have a hole to pass the lead through.

  • Can fit your car exactly without wasted space, possibly with storage space below or above


  • Car harness - not suitable for puppies or wriggly, excitable, dogs

  • Don’t tether to a collar: this will cause stress and possibly injury

  • Tethering anywhere in the car: ensure dog can’t leap out and hang himself.

  • A car-sick dog will make an awful mess of your upholstery …

Dog Guard

  • The dog is restrained in one area of the car and can’t interfere with the driver.

  • If the dog is small and the boot large, they have too much space to race and jump about.

  • Nothing to prevent them leaping out into the road as you raise the boot.

Dogbox fixed to the towbar

  • The mind boggles at what will happen to your dog in the event of a car running into the back of yours …

As you can see, a custom crate is my preferred solution. Yes, they cost money. But so did my dogs. And the amount of love, care, and money that has gone into them since they arrived is massive. So what’s another few bob to keep them safe?

But who cares about the money? I want my dogs to be as safe as possible when I ask them to travel in my car. I provide approved protection for my human passengers, the least I can do is provide appropriate protection for my precious dogs!