In this third part of our ultimate guide to all things collar and harness (See Collar Vs. Harness & Measuring and Fitting a Dog Harness) we look now at the practical, legal and things to consider when deciding on a dog seat belt or a dog car harness.
Dogs love car rides. Most of them, anyway. And we, as owners, love taking them for those rides. Who doesn’t grin at the sight of a basset hound with his head out the rear window, long ears flapping in the wind, jowls jiggling merrily? Who doesn’t love seeing a furry head pop up between the headrests in the car in front when stopped at the lights?
For most dogs, a car journey equates to “walkies”, or a triumphant return home after them. Pet owners often have to transport their canine companions by car to a suitable walking trail or site, and in order to do so, a dog seat belt or harness required by law to stop your furry friend from distracting the driver by roaming around the rear seat. As much as we’d like to have them on our laps (not advised, however!) or allow them more freedom on a long journey, dogs need to have a restraint in a moving vehicle at all times.
A dog seat belt and dog car harness come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and often vary considerably in price, so where do we start when considering which one to buy?
First up, let’s define the difference between the two.
The difference between a dog seat belt and a dog car harness.
A dog seat belt and a dog car harness offer two different methods of securing your dog in the back seat, and while both perform similar functions, the one you opt for will depend very much on your personal preference and your dog.
Dog Seat Belt:
Dog seat belts function largely in the same way as standard seat belts, plugging directly into the
receiver/buckle in the car at one end and clipping onto a harness or collar at the other. They offer a quick, painless approach to securing your dog in the car.
The leads for dog seat belts are normally only just long enough to allow a canine passenger to remain upright during a car journey, but not so long as to allow them to tumble around the back seat. Seat belts can normally be adjusted to an extent to suit dogs of varying sizes.
Belts grant your dog a degree of freedom in the back seat, allowing them to sit, lie down, or stand freely without distracting the driver of the vehicle. Some dogs are content to spread themselves across the back seat and sleep during a car journey, while others may prefer to remain standing throughout. Seat belts afford them the option.
Dog Car Harness:
A dog car harness is another option for owners needing to transport their pets. Unlike seat belts, harnesses do not afford dogs the same freedom of movement in the back seat – however, your pooch is more likely to be safer in the event of a crash while wearing one.
Normally harnesses should fit over the dog’s head, attaching around the chest and upper torso as with a standard harness used for walking with a lead. The vehicles seat belt then slips through an opening or strap on the back of the harness. Effectively this belts the dog in as with a human passenger.
A dog car harness can spread the impact force of a sudden jolt to the dog’s body, lessening the strain on a single part of its anatomy – a seat belt attached to a collar, for instance, could cause injury to a dog’s neck in the event of the car braking suddenly, while a harness repositions that impact more widely across the dog’s chest.
Dangers associated with not wearing a seat belt or harness
Aside from being a legal requirement, securing your dog during a car journey is simply a good idea. Dangers exist for both driver and pet when a dog isn’t properly secured during a car journey. An unbelted or unharnessed dog can decide to leap into the front seat without warning to greet his owner, or cause a distraction by sticking his head out the window to bite the breeze. Worse still, a sudden stop can send a dog tumbling forward, causing potentially-serious injury to him or a passenger in the front seat.
A vet based in the US shared this heart-breaking story, as quoted in Pet Health Network
“One of my surgeries of the day, a 6 month old dog spay, was just cancelled. On the way to the appointment this morning, the owner had to stop the car suddenly. The puppy hit the dashboard and was knocked unconscious. He arrived unresponsive to my hospital and eventually died. Just a reminder of how life can change in an instant.”
The Pros and Cons
Now, let’s weigh up the pros and cons of both seat belts and harnesses. Bear in mind, each individual brand of belt or dog car harness comes with its own positives and negatives that you should consider before buying.
- Allows the dog some freedom of movement in the back seat, this helps greatly during a long car journey. This is particularly applicable to smaller dogs.
- Very easy to install in the car and attach to your dog’s harness or collar.
- Usually cheaper than harnesses.
- Provides only limited restraint, so a dog passenger could still be thrown around or fall off the back seat if the car stops suddenly.
- Freedom of movement can also lead to distractions for the driver if the dog starts doing something naughty in the back seat.
- Belts could possibly put added strain on a dog’s neck if attached to a collar.
- Not always made of high-quality material, which a large dog could snap or chew through.
- Keeps a dog secured in one spot in the back seat, reducing the risk of injury or distraction for the driver.
- Spreads the strain caused by a sudden stop around the dog’s torso rather than his neck, as would be the case with a seat belt attached to a collar.
- Harnesses come in a wide variety of sizes, colours and prices.
- Freedom of movement greatly reduced for a dog, which may lead to agitation during a longer car journey.
- Safety isn’t always guaranteed, as many harnesses will still allow a dog to catapult into the back of the front seat when the car stops suddenly.
- Often more expensive than seat belts.
Does size matter?
Short answer: yes. From a personal perspective, dog size was a critical factor in how we chose how to secure our dogs in the car.
We own two very different breeds of dog. Lupin is a Cockapoo aged fourteen months; at just over 10kg, he’s fully-grown and very easy to scoop up in one hand. We secure Lupin in the back seat using a short seat belt purchased from Pets At Home attached to his True Love walking harness. This belt works well for Lupin and us. We belt him in quickly and easily in a spot with some freedom of movement, which he ALWAYS needs during even the shortest car journey.
Ghost, on the other hand, a Golden Retriever is less than six months old. He already weighs almost twice as much as Lupin and we couldn’t lift him with one hand (unless you have abnormally large hands, of course). We started off with Ghost belted in the back seat alongside Lupin, but we moved him to the boot once he quickly outgrew it and started causing our Cockapoo to become cranky about his personal space. Ghost now travels in the boot with the cover removed and a dog guard across the headrests. He’s not a great traveller, but at least he now has his own space.
Little and Large
Securing a small dog in the back seat with a dog seat belt or dog car harness is probably sufficient. A Jack Russell, for instance, doesn’t need to roam around the boot. Additionally, he would probably be at more risk of injury in there anyway. Large dogs, however, needs to be very securely restrained in the back seat. This avoids the dog injuring himself or the driver in the event of a sudden stop or accident. Your common sense and understanding of your own dog will tell you how best to secure him.
Vehicle size and function is also a factor. I drive a five-door Vauxhall Corsa with limited room, though it’s just big enough to manage our two pups. You may drive a large estate car, four-by-four or even a van, all of which offer much better options for transporting your pet. If you have more than one vehicle, take space and safety into account when considering which one to use to chauffeur Fido to the park.
What does the law have to say?
Safety and Rule 57 of Highway Code states:
“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you ar driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt or harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”
If pulled over by the police, a driver deemed not to have proper control of their car (possibly due to the unrestrained Saint Bernard lounging across the back seats) may receive up to £1,000 on-the-spot fine.
That fine could increase to a maximum of £2,500 for failing to drive with due care and attention. The fine may also include NINE penalty points on your license. An insurer may also refuse to pay up if discovered that you have an accident caused by an unsecured dog in your car.
In the US, the law regarding dogs in cars varies between states. While no federal law exists demanding that owners secure their dogs, you’ll certainly get in trouble in some states for not belting or harnessing your pooch.
In every case, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when transporting your furry companion.
How best to prepare for a dog passenger in your car
It’s time for walkies! You’d already inadvertently used the word in front of the dog and now he’s following you from room to room with a pleading look on his face that no-one with a heart could ever ignore. The park’s a few miles away, so Buster will have to ride in the car. But have you done all the necessary prep beforehand?
Here’s a handy checklist for dogs well-versed in car journeying, as well as those just settling in:
Get your dog used to travelling in the car.
This can be done by making several short journeys before embarking on a longer one. Take her to the shop, or to visit a friend in town. If she’s particularly nervous, sit in the back seat with her for a few minutes. Keep the engine running to get her accustomed to the sounds and sensations associated with travel.
Don’t feed her just before the journey.
Leave at least an hour between a meal and a ride in the car. If she often gets travel-sick, don’t feed her until after you return home (within reason, of course!). Ginger can also settle a sickly dog’s stomach, so feed her a ginger biscuit or two before travelling.
Give her a chance to do her business before getting into the car.
There’s nothing worse for a dog (or a human, I suppose) than desperately needing to use the toilet and not being able to. During a long journey, make sure to stop for a toilet break at some point, too.
Give them a treat.
Keep your dog content by giving her a doggie treat every so often. Alternatively, a bone to chew on as a distraction if you’re comfortable with that. Better that she chews on a bone than on the seat belt, after all.
It’s recommended that you make sure that the back seat isn’t littered with toys and treats. Such items can become dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident.
Protect your cars furniture.
If you like your car and want to preserve it, consider fitting a seat cover before introducing your dog to the vehicle. Seat covers are not expensive. You can also remove the covers for human passengers.
Keep your dog cool!
Dogs over-heat very easily, so keep the air-con cranked at all times and crack the windows on a hot day. NEVER leave your dog in the car alone for very long.
On a personal note…
As said previously, my wife and I have two very different dogs whom we love a whole bunch. We’d never travel with them unrestrained in the car. We want them to enjoy the journey comfortably and we don’t want them to get hurt. However, we went through a bit of a learning curve with both of them before we came to understand the best way to secure them for every journey.
Example 1: Lupin the Cockapoo
Lupin, our Cockapoo, is perfectly happy belted in the back seat. We secure his walking harness to the belt receptacle via a dog-specific belt. We’ve covered the back seats with a cover purchased online. We can wipe-down these covers or remove them entirely. Lupin shuffles around during every journey and sometimes needs some comforting (despite being the older dog) but is always safe.
Example 2: Ghost the Golden Retriever
Ghost, our Golden Retriever, started off in the back seat before relocating to the boot. We secure him behind a dog guard. He has enough room to manoeuvre. He usually lies down as he’s not a huge fan of being in the car. He’ll have less space as he grows (we’re anticipating he’ll be 35-40kg at full size) but the boot works better for him.
Whatever you decide to do, prioritise the safety and comfort of your dog as well as yourself. Don’t put either of you at risk by failing to secure your dog correctly – it may be fun to have Rex on your lap, but he won’t thank you in an accident. Research the dog best seat belt or dog car harness for you and spend where you have to.
The bottom line
- The law (especially in the UK) requires you to restrain your dog properly for every journey in the car. Prepare yourself to receive a hefty fine if the police catch you with an unsecured dog.
- Both a dog seat belt and a dog car harness come in a wide array of sizes, colours and prices. Seat belts work well for small dogs but may not suit larger breeds. Ask other owners who have the same breed how they chose to retrain their pet. Do what works best for you and your dog – everyone’s different!
- Always do the necessary preparation before taking your dog on a trip in the car. Even if it’s just a short trip. You can avoid throw-up and agitation with a little careful planning.
- Don’t let the hassle or cost of a seat belt or dog car harness (there’s very little of either) dissuade you from using them. It’s always best for you and your dog to travel securely restrained.
- Go for regular walkies!
That’s it for our roundup of selecting the perfect dog seat belt or dog car harness. Don’t forget to comment below or share your pictures. Remember there are plenty of other articles on selecting the perfect accessory for your best friend.