Your Car and Your Dog – Driving Safely

Your dog sticking its head out of the window while you're driving can actually be very dangerous. This guide for driving safely with your dog gives tips and instructions on how to drive both long and short trips with your dog safely. While your dog may like to sit right on your lap as you drive, this is the least safe place they can be. Paws Rescue suggests that dogs stay in the back seat or in the cargo area of a car (such as in a hatchback or SUV) in order to drive safely with a dog.

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Chris Tepedino is a feature writer that has written extensively about home, life, and car insurance for numerous websites. He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and has experience reporting, researching investigative pieces, and crafting detailed, data-driven features. His works have been featured on CB Blog Nation, Flow Words, Healing Law, WIBW Kansas, and C...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent Laura Walker

UPDATED: Nov 30, 2021

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Everyone likes to take their dog with them for a car ride. It’s become an increasingly common sight for dogs to accompany their owners to all sorts of places; from parks to the mall. How we get there is usually by car. While we think that Fido sticking his head out the window and enjoying the breeze or sitting in their owner’s lap is “just what a dog does,” it can actually be a dangerous way for them to travel. We’ll give you tips on how to keep you and your dog safe during both short and long car rides.

How should I prepare for a car ride?

There are many things to think about when taking your dog on a short or long car trip, including where the animal will sit in the vehicle, what restraints should be used, what to bring with, and how to avoid pet-created distractions while driving.

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Where should my dog stay during travel?

While your dog may like to sit right on your lap as you drive, this is the least safe place they can be. It is also dangerous for you. Paws Rescue suggests that dogs stay in the back seat or in the cargo area of a car (such as in a hatchback or SUV). Never put a dog in an enclosed trunk of a car. Letting your dog sit in your lap can distract you while driving and the dog has the potential to fall below the steering wheel, hitting the gas or brake pedals and causing an accident. The front passenger seat is okay, as long as there is no airbag. However, making sudden stops can fling your pet into the windshield or dashboard. For more information, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles: Pet travel.

Do I need seat belts/restraints/travel crates/cages?

Due to the growing need to keep dogs safe while in the car, many companies now provide numerous items you can use. It is a good idea to research whether your state has laws in relation to restraining pets in the car.

Almost Home Ohio lists eight states (New Hampshire, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and Rhode Island) that have laws that require you to properly restrain your dog within your vehicle.

The cheapest and easiest way to properly restrain your dog is a canine seat belt. Be sure to check if there is enough padding to protect your dog. Studies done by AAA have shown that a dog weighing 10 pounds will have a force of 500 pounds when in an accident at 50 miles per hour. Canine safety belts are generally safer than only using a barrier.

Barriers are another option if you have a van or SUV. These restrict the dog to only the back seat or the very back of the car. Be sure to check the tubing for noise annoyance. They can be pricey and a waste of money if they rattle as you drive. You can also purchase cloth barriers for keeping your pet in the backseat area.

Another option is the use of crates or carriers to house your pet while you drive. Make sure to securely restrain the carrier as it can also be thrown about in an accident. Make sure your dog can stand upright and easily turn in the carrier. Also, check that there is enough room for a water bowl.

To learn more, visit:

  • Protect Your Greyhound: Dog restraints
  • Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue: Restraining your dog in the car
  • The Water Bowl: Safety belts for dogs

What do I bring?

Just as you would bring things with you for a car trip, like snacks and water, your dog also needs some essentials.

My Kid Has Paws gives some suggestions. Bring the dog’s crate so they have a place to sleep, and if restrained, a traveling spot. Water is vitally important to bring with you. Dogs can get dehydrated easily while traveling. Towels and blankets, poop bags, treats, and food is also essentials to remember.

The Pedigree Foundation suggests bringing a first aid kit specifically for use on dogs. If you are crossing state lines, be sure to bring any vaccination records that your dog might have.

For more information, go to:

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Do you have any tips for driving with dogs?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gives some tips for traveling with animals in the car. If you are planning to take a long car trip, prepare your dog in advance with a number of short road trips. Always restrain your dog with proper restraining devices. Make sure to bring a pet traveling kit and take regular pit stops so that your dog can relieve itself and get some exercise. Also, be sure to drive safely, as this will decrease the chance of your pet being injured in an accident.

To read more on this topic, go to:

The Dos and Don’ts of Traveling with Dogs

Here are some important things to keep in mind:


  • Stop regularly to take your dog for walks.
  • Give your dog plenty of water.
  • Have your dog sit in the back seat with restraints, safety harness, or in the very back of the car.
  • Bring your dog’s documents and vaccination records when crossing state lines.
  • Bring a portable kennel should you be staying at a friend’s house or hotel.
  • Keep your dog leashed at all times to keep them from darting out of the car.
  • Put your dog into a kennel if they are traveling in an open-air truck bed.
  • Train your dog to wear the canine seat belt.


  • Ever leave your dog in a car with all the windows up. This can cause heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and death.
  • Allow your pet to stay in the back of a pick-up truck or in any open-air vehicle unrestrained. They can be severely injured during an accident or can suddenly jump out of the truck bed.
  • Let the dog ride with its head out the window. Any debris can injury your dog. High-speed winds can also damage their respiratory system.
  • Let your dog roam freely in the car.

For more information, visit:

Additional Links

If you are still looking for more information, try the Center for Pet Safety Homepage.

Consumer Reports also offers some helpful information on their page, Safe road tripping with pets.

The Michigan Humane Society also offers advice at Travel with pets.

And lastly, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia discusses Reasons to restrain pets in cars.

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