How & Why to Restrain Your Dog in the Car

A man wearing waders standing by the back of his truck with his black dog peeking out of a gray travel crate

From summiting peaks to days on the water, our dogs are always up for the ride, and it’s our job to make sure they’re protected along the way. Whether a trip into town or cross-country travel, dog car restraints are a useful tool to make the journey as safe as possible for all aboard. And, in some states, it’s legally required (check out our interactive dog seat belt map to find out whether your state—or one you’re traveling through—prohibits unrestrained dogs). 

A black dog wearing a red car restraint in the backseat of a car

Choosing a Dog Car Restraint

A harness or crate is most effective at restraining your dog, while a car barrier simply separates pups from the front seat, mitigating distracted driving. Whichever system you choose, we don’t recommend you let your pup ride shotgun—we keep the front seat reserved for human passengers only. 


However, not all dog car restraint systems are created equal. And, without official oversight of safety standards and testing, it can be tough to sort the safe from the suspect. But for each mode of restraint, there are key features and considerations you can look out for. 

A dog properly restrained in the backseat of a car

The Harness

Working with your car’s seat belt system to tether your dog to the back seat, most harness systems have two parts: the harness itself, and the tether that connects the harness to the seat belt. It should inhibit a dog’s ability to move around within the car. 


What to Look for: 

  • Crash test statistics 
  • Adjustable design for a secure fit 
  • Broad, thickly padded straps—especially one running the length of your dog’s chest—helps distribute the force of an impact as widely as possible 
  • A short tether to minimize tangling and limit propulsion in an impact—it should attach to the harness at the back, never at their neck 

Bonus: Many car harnesses conveniently double as a standard harness for leash walking! 

Tips for the Road: Take some shorter trips to get your dog comfortable with their harness before embarking on that multi-state road trip. And always supervise your dog when restrained—a harness may not be the right choice for enthusiastic chewers. 

Our Pick: We love the Tru-Fit Smart Harness Car Restraint for its dual-purpose design and five points of adjustability.  

A golden retriever stepping out of the back of a car from a dog crate

The Crate 

Crates give your pup a secure space of their own, reduce driver distraction, and effectively contain your dog in the event of an accident. 


What to look for: 

  • Sturdy construction 
  • The right fit—a correctly sized crate reduces how much your dog is thrown around inside it in case of an accident 
  • Some dog crates are designed to be secured with straps—be sure to read your crate’s instruction manual to determine whether straps are required for the safest configuration 

Bonus: Keeping a crate set up in your car makes routine travel convenient  

Tips for the Road: Your vehicle’s cargo area may not be the best spot for a crate—always check to see where the crumple zone is to determine what’s safest. Resting the crate lengthwise in the back seat of the car, or on the floor in front of the back seat can be good alternatives—just remember to remove your dog’s collar to keep them from getting snagged on anything. We like to label our dog’s crates with relevant info like medical details and emergency contacts so they’re handy in case of an accident. 

Our Pick: Strong, but flexible, race-car-inspired inspired energy dissipation technology and an optional tie-down system give the one-piece, roto-molded Ruff Land™ Performance Kennel high marks in our book. 

A woman sitting in the front seat of a car looking at her dog sitting in the back seat

The Barrier

The car barrier is more about separation than restraint—it isn’t designed to protect or contain your dog in the case of an accident, but it is an effective tool to limit your dog to the cargo area or backseat of your vehicle, minimizing driver distraction and, in some cases, protecting your vehicle from dog hair, dirt, and moisture.  

What to look for: 

  • A durable surface that’s easy to clean for fuss-free maintenance 
  • The right fit for your vehicle for optimal coverage for your needs 
  • A slip-proof backing to prevent the barrier (and your dog) from sliding around 
  • Secure, easy installation 
  • A backseat protector that leaves seat belts accessible—especially if you plan to also use a dog harness  

Bonus: Choose a barrier with a window for better airflow between the front and back—plus it gives your pup a view of the road ahead while keeping them safely in the back. 

Tips for the Road: Consider using a barrier in tandem with a crate or harness for better accident protection. And, if your dog travels loose in the cargo area, remove its collar to prevent snags.  

Our Pick: With secure Grip-Tight® backing to prevent sliding and easy-clean, durable surfaces, our range of seat protectors provide an option for every style of travel, ensuring a comfortable ride for your dog while protecting your vehicle. 

Two women and their dogs in the woods near their car

Happy Trails

Traveling with our dogs is a joy—their enthusiasm enriches the journey, reminding us to stay curious, to revel in the moment’s adventure, and to never shy away from a little (or a lot) of mud. With a restraint system that works for you and your dog, it’s easy to stay safe on the road—and well worth the peace of mind.