A dog in a kennel in a car
Dog Travel

How to Keep Dogs Safe While Traveling in a Car

Know how to keep your dog safe when traveling in a vehicle, and some of the cons of non-kennel options

It may seem basic, but if you frequently travel with your dog in your vehicle, there are ways to make sure that, even in the case of a car accident, your pup remains safe and secure. 

For this, we turn to one of our frequently consulted veterinarians, Dr. Lindsay Vega, DVM, of Cheat Lake Animal Hospital in Cheat Lake, W.Va.

“I’ve had dogs with various injuries from car accidents,” Vega said. “Some were very mild like being sore and uncomfortable; some I’ve seen fall out of windows and those would have abrasions, cuts, or lacerations. I’ve also seen dogs that were in the back of a pickup truck that had serious de-gloving wounds to their legs and feet to fractures. But the most catastrophic injury I’ve seen from a car accident was when a dog was thrown from the back of the car from it stopping suddenly and it subluxated its spine – meaning the vertebra were out of place and it transected the blood supply to its spinal cord.”

So what are the best ways to protect your dog? Kennels are a popular choice, as proper construction will ensure that even in the case of a serious car accident your dog will remain safe and secure. There are other options, too, which we will explore. 

Retention leashes

There are a variety of retention leashes available for a quick way to secure your dog to a car, but these have many potential downsides. 

First, they can fail, as most are secured to the dog by a normal leash clip or spring clip and then locked into the car with a standard buckle. Unless something is covering the buckle, a dog could easily unbuckle its strap, or if it rolls around in something as simple as taking care of an itch, could unclip itself. 

Worst-case scenarios include a dog potentially hanging itself if there’s not enough slack, or hanging itself out the window if left unattended with an opening. 

One benefit of the retention leash is that it’s basic protection and acts as a seatbelt would for a person. 

“If a car suddenly stops, they’re not going to fly through the window. They’ll probably still fly forward since it’s not the same chest and lap harness for a person but it’s basically to keep them secure in the car,” Vega said. “The negatives of it would the failure of it, and where the dog’s strap is attached to is also important. You don’t want it around the collar because you’re depending on your dog being secured by its neck and that could put more trauma or be dangerous to the dog to be tweaked around just by its neck.

“And of course they can get injuries just like a person would from a seatbelt.”

Chest harnesses

Chest harnesses are another option and a step up from a retention leash, providing a more secure connection to the car. It’s also an option for someone who doesn’t typically have their dog on a walking harness to put the force of a car stopping or an accident on the dog’s chest rather than its neck. 

Some harness systems clip into the car’s buckle, which still gives the dog a chance to accidentally unbuckle itself, while others have a loop that attaches to the seat belt and moves up and down the belt, giving the dog some range of motion. This type of strap also provides the dog protection from sudden stops just as a human’s seat belt would since modern vehicles have locking belts that react to this.  


The best type of protection for a dog in the car is a kennel. There are plenty of options on our website for small, medium, and large breed dogs that provide ample space for your pet. Our top kennels also have drilled holes for ventilation and are made in one piece so there are no sharp edges. Our kennels also lock to give you extra peace of mind. If you kennel train your puppy, it becomes a natural part of their life in your vehicle.

These are all qualities that Vega notes are necessary for transporting your dog in a crate. 

 “I think you have more protection around the dog so there’s less chance of debris and pieces of car injuring them, but they’d be typically loose in a crate so it doesn’t prevent injuries,” Vega said. “Space is the main thing, make sure it’s big enough for your dog, make sure it’s not slippery on the floor that they’re going to fall all around it, and I wouldn’t go and make your own crate. It should be made of high-quality material with no sharp edges. And make sure it’s in a climate-controlled area and you aren’t putting your dog at risk of heatstroke. 

Preventing a dog from running away from the scene of an accident  

Despite their downsides, retention leashes and harnesses that don’t fail, as well as intact kennels will keep your dog in the car and prevent it from running away and getting lost. 

“If a dog isn’t seriously injured from being in a car accident and it’s not attached or in a crate, they will often be very scared and flighty and will leave the scene of a car accident and become lost,” Vega said. “When you’re traveling with your pet, you’re often in an unfamiliar area to the pet. If they leave, it won’t be ideal for them to be in an unfamiliar area – they’re not just going to know to go home.” 

Other advice and potential injuries for unsecured dogs

While there are many different products on the market, Vega says to find the one that works for you and use it. 

“Those big fancy [harnesses] are perfect in theory, but to get them in and out of a harness that they don’t wear all the time is a pain in the butt,” Vega said. “Just to clip them onto their harness is not a big deal so just find what works for you and your pet. The other thing, too, is the benefits of keeping your dog contained is that dogs all the time jump out of windows and can get hurt if they see something that distracts them. So that’s another way to prevent them from getting hurt.” 

Vega also warns of traumatic brain injuries for dogs, contained or unsecured, and to keep that in mind when buying a product. Finally, make sure that you don’t have your dog on a typical walking leash or other types of cord in a vehicle, as an unattended dog can wrap that around something and choke to death. 

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One thought on “How to Keep Dogs Safe While Traveling in a Car

  1. Peter Paulson says:

    Do you guys have any suggestions for traveling with dogs in hot weather and cold weather? How long dogs can be in crates at what temps while traveling and what are some suggestions to keep them cool in the heat and warm in the cold?

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