Dawn Ross and her late product tester, Sephi (R.I.P.)

Ok, so maybe this post’s title is a tad deceptive. If you install dog safety products in your car, it won’t make anyone want  to drag race down the street with you. Quite the opposite, in fact. But that’s a good thing. Most dogs would probably start growling if you really revved your engines, and how distracting is that?

But ever since I learned that it meant custom rigging a vehicle to inspire envy, I’ve wanted to use the phrase “pimp my ride” in a sentence. And to my mind, there’s nothing sexier and more inspiring of admiration than keeping your dog safe.

I was therefore very excited to have the opportunity to interview Dawn Ross, owner  of PetAutosafety.com and the associated product review blog,  PetAutoSafetyBlog.com, for this week’s Animal Cafe interview.

The need for security

I’ve covered the importance of safety on this blog before: Rod Burkert of GoPetFriendly.com wrote about securing large dogs in a van and RV, while Mary-Alice Pomputius of DogJaunt.com covered the issue from the keeping a small dog safe in a car perspective.

But the message can’t be emphasized too much, especially at this time of year, when people will be driving with their dogs to visit family and friends for the holidays.

As Dawn points out, it’s not just your dog’s safety that you need to worry about (though why wouldn’t you be concerned about that)? An unsecured dog is often a distraction, making driving less safe in general. And if you need to stop suddenly, the poor pup becomes a projectile. At 35 mph, a 60-pound unrestrained dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, windshield, or passenger. Ouch.

It’s also a good time of year to consider giving your family and friends — and their dogs — the gift of safety.

Pet auto safety product possibilities

Dawn’s company got started as a result of her needing seat belts to secure her three dogs when she was doing a lot of rescue and shelter. Her research led her to find other products for this purpose.

They fall into four primary categories:

Seat belt/harness

The most popular — and generally most inexpensive — security system, this consists of an extension of a standard car seat belt that can be hooked with a tether into a special harness (more on which in a minute).

Car Seats

This adds height to the seat belt/harness combination and works primarily for small dogs. Think baby car seat.

Secured crates

The second most popular way to keep a dog safe in a car is to get tethers that ensure a crate with a dog in it doesn’t become unanchored from a car seat.


These don’t prevent dogs from moving around in the car, but do prevent them from entering the driver’s or front seat area.  Some attach to the ceiling and side of the cars, other just cover the portion between the front seats; there are some types that provide a metal screen between the second row seat and the back of the car.

 What’s best for your dog?

The type of device you use depends on your dog’s size, training, and temperament. At product expos and other dog events, Dawn gives out a tip sheet with different options. If your dog loves her crate, securing one into your car may be the best way to go. For dogs who are not crate trained and/or are not comfortable with a seat belt, even after training — Dawn says some dogs just chew through them — a barrier might be the best alternative. It’s definitely better than nothing.

Friends don’t let friends drive with unsecured dogs

I mentioned that I thought pet safety products might make good holiday gifts, but then it occurred to me that suggesting another person is doing something dangerous by just providing such a gift is a bit iffy.  I asked Dawn how she might them approach the topic with a potential giftee. She offered two phrases that I thought would be extremely useful:

Wow, your dog is really energetic. Does it bother you when you’re driving?


Your dog looks really cute in your lap. But aren’t you worried about what that air bag will do to him if you stop short?

Product testing

Here’s a “duh” moment. It never occurred to me that dog safety products need to be tested just like human safety products — and that not all of them are. I use a walking harness rigged up with a seat belt for Frankie, for example. That’s going to stop. I am about to buy a travel harness from Bergan, one of the companies that, according to Dawn, does extensive strength and crash testing.

Dawn also does canine comfort tests before she recommends products, and here’s some sad news: Between the time I did the interview  and the time I planned to post it, Sephi, one of Dawn’s two tester dogs, got very sick and had to be let go. Most everyone who reads this blog — including the sadly timely post last week about grief — knows what Dawn must be going through.

You can hear her talking about what a good and helpful dog Sephi was  — and a lot of other things — in the following interview.

9 thoughts on “Pimp my dog’s ride: Hot auto safety products”

    1. Thanks very much for the link! I can’t believe I didn’t realize that some products are safer than others.

  1. The safety of my dogs is very important to me while driving, so thank you for the information in this article. I personally believe barriers to be the best way to travel with my dogs. But have used crates and car seats in the past.

  2. What a great post! I get made fun of all the time for crating my dog in the car instead of letting her loose to stick her head out the window. It is crazy how many people don’t think about their dog’s safety in the car even when they wear seat belts themselves. I learned something new too- I didn’t even think about having to secure my dog’s crate in the car- I just have it in the back of my station wagon. I am going to look for tethers before my car trip for the holidays to make sure my dog is safe in her crate in my car. It’s astounding to me how little information is out there about dog safety in cars.

    1. Glad you found it helpful and glad you’re going to take the next step of securing your crate. As I mentioned, I learned something from the interview too, that a regular harness was not good enough to keep Frankie safe. You’re right, people would never think of not securing themselves or human members of their family, but somehow don’t see the connection with their pets.

  3. I like the idea of making safety cool… nice use of the pimp my ride idea. 🙂

    It’s always hard to know what to say to those who don’t secure their dogs – thanks for the ideas. It always drives me crazy, but I know I need to approach it delicately.

    1. Thanks — though I’m afraid people avoided this post like the plague! I was just thinking that maybe I’d better change the title.

      I’m awful at being tactful. I would tend to say something like “Do you want to kill your dog and yourself?” Or nothing, and then spend a lot of time beating myself up. So I’m not saying I could actually follow Dawn’s advice. But I like having it!

  4. If you would like to reduce whiplash and soften the “crash pulse” from a rear end collision (the most frequent vehicle accident) then check out this safety product. Here’s just one testimonial from our web site: http://www.sparebumper.com

    Jeff Mohr, CEO, Mohr Mfg

    Dear Jeff:

    We were recently blessed to have a baby in May and in July upgraded from a two seat Ford Ranger to a 5 Seat Toyota Tundra Double Cab. The Double Cab is longer than the usual truck and I had already been backed into in a grocery store parking lot.

    This is when I found and brought your product. Well, I was taking my now 4 month old son and our dog for a ride this afternoon when I was rear ended by a car going 30 miles per hour (I was sitting in traffic and he was rubbernecking an accident).

    I barely felt the impact and neither my son (he was checked out at the hospital to make sure) or dog seemed to be impacted by the collision. When I exited the truck to see if the other driver was alright (he was), I found a huge gash in his grill and pieces of his car scattered on the street.

    When I examined my truck, there was not even a scratch on the bumper. The Superbumper did its job, with only a few scuff marks…

    I wanted to thank you for the quality of the product and the fact that it did what was advertised.

    Sincerely, Dr. Timmothy Brusseau

  5. We’re all about encouraging people to travel with their pets, but keeping them safe is also part of our mission. I’d add that the barriers are better than no restraint, but if a door pops open in the accident, or emergency medical personnel need to get into the car, pets still may escape and could be hurt or lost. I’m glad to hear more positive feedback on the Bergan harnesses – we just got them for Buster and Ty and so far I really like them. Our condolences to Dawn on the loss of Sephi.

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