Ask the Trainer | Safety first for car traveling pooch |

Ask the Trainer | Safety first for car traveling pooch

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,

We recently adopted a border collie mix from a shelter. His name is Oscar and we think he’s about 3-years-old. He’s a great dog, but is crazy in the car.

If we put him in the back, he jumps over the seat and darts from window to window. He’s even jumped in the front a few times which is really scary. We’ve thought about getting a gate for the back of the car, but if we are going to buy something, we also want to be sure we keep him as safe a possible. Do doggie seat belts work?


The Fletchers

Dear Fletcher Family,

You are wise to consider the safety aspect of this issue. If you are in an accident with a dog loose in the car, the dog becomes a projectile and can be hurt of killed. It is also very unsafe for the driver.

I use a gate in my car, but have been researching restraint devices for my own dog because she likes to ride in the front seat. If I harness her in the front, I will need to disable the airbag because deployment could seriously hurt or kill her.

There are many seatbelt-type devices on the market, but there is very little safety testing done to ensure effectiveness. In 2012, a nonprofit organization called The Center for Pet Safety conducted a pilot study to test four leading dog car harnesses.

Of the four, none held up in tests. A 55-pound crash dummy dog was used to see how the seat belts would hold up in a collision at 30 miles per hour, patterning the same motor vehicle safety standards used to test child seats. All of them demonstrated that they could lead to serious or fatal injuries for the dog and driver. Since the results of this test were published, there has been more focus on creating harness devices that really work!

One very safe option is a specialized crate called a Variocage. It is constructed with telescopic tubes and a roof and floor that is separated into two parts, which allows you to adjust the depth. This adjustability feature is also a crash safety (crumple zone) feature. In a collision from behind, the floors, ceilings and the telescopic tubes will be pushed together and this crumple zone reduces the risk that those who sit in the back seat or up against the crate, get hurt.

The major downside of this crate is the cost. A crate large enough to fit a medium-size dog costs nearly $800!

A more affordable option is the AllSafe Dog Vehicle harness developed and made in Germany. This harness has been crashed tested both in Germany and the United States and met or exceeded prescribed child safety standards. This harness is in the $80-$100 range depending on the size of the dog.

The bottom line is there are options that will keep both you and your dog safe in the case of an accident.

Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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