After I recently posted about the importance of restraining your dog properly in the car, I asked two of my favorite pet travel bloggers to explain the best way to achieve that goal. Speaking for the large — and multiple — dog contingent today is Rod Burkert, co-creator with wife Amy Burkert of These guys are not only constantly on the road with their dogs, finding the best places for people and their pups to stay and play, but they’re also perfectionists, so you know their advice is based on a combination of paws-on personal experience and impeccable background research.


By Rod Burkert

The original GoPetFriendly-mobile

Most of us wear seat belts while driving as a matter of course – an exercise of good judgment and common sense. When it comes to securing children in the car, the laws are very specific and compliance is extremely high. However, when we put our pets in the car, it seems that safety precautions go out the proverbial window.

Startling Statistics

Consider this: Bark Buckle UP, an advocate for pet travel safety, analyzed the Travel Safety Evaluation Booklet used by police agencies nationwide and concluded that 98% of pets do not travel properly restrained. 98%!

The danger is clear when you understand that 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.

One often overlooked benefit of securing your dogs in the car is preventing their escape in the event of an accident, when they could run out into traffic and be hit by a car, or even cause another accident. As Edie pointed out in a previous post, if your unsecured dog causes an accident, your auto insurance may be rendered invalid. And if the accident is the other driver’s fault, your pet insurance may not cover the vet bills if your dog wasn’t properly restrained.

Evolution Of Our Restraint System

We are on the road about 70% of the time for GoPetFriendly. That’s a lot of driving with our two dogs – Ty, a 35-pound Chinese Shar-Pei, and Buster, a 75-pound German Shepherd. And though we’re pretty easy going about many things, we’re not slackers when it comes to buckling our dogs in for the trip … no lap rides, no heads out the windows, no free roaming in the car or RV.

Ty and Buster in the Rav-4, securely sightseeing

Though that dictum sounds pretty simple, the recovering accountants here at GoPetFriendly tend to overanalyze. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised that we only ever considered two options for securing our dogs in our vehicles:

•            Crate them (and secure the crate)

•            A harness and seat belt system

When we first started GoPetFriendly, our vehicle was a Toyota Rav-4. Given the size of our dogs and the interior space of that mini-SUV, I just couldn’t see us crating. The wire crates for medium and large dogs are heavy and take up a lot of space. However, if crating would work for you, just make sure the crate itself is secured in place so it doesn’t become a projectile with your pet in it.

That left us with the harness and seat belt system. We’ve tried several brands and styles of harness-type restraints and have learned a few things along the way:

•            When you choose a harness be sure it will fit your pet properly. Some are sized according to the measurement around a dog’s chest, just behind the front legs. Others are sized according to a dog’s weight.

•            Whatever harness you choose, make sure it comes with a D-ring. When you take a break from driving to exercise your dog, you can simply clip her leash to the ring and you’ve got a sturdy walking harness.

•            Our dogs are frequent “circlers.” If your dog is one too, avoid the harnesses with a loop that the seat belt slides through or they’ll get tangled in the seat belt. The system we use now is made by Guardian Gear and has a tether that connects to the D-ring and clicks right into the seat belt receptacle.

Lounging around the Rav-4

So back in the Rav-4, Ty and Buster started out sharing the rear seats. That worked OK, but the dogs were perched on a narrow space and that got a little precarious for them when swerves or sudden stops were necessary.Then we got the idea to fill the rear passenger foot space with cushions. This effectively raised the floor to the seat and allowed for some pretty comfortable cruising. Unless Buster wanted to stand up to stretch his legs. He could only do that by extending his neck and head forward into the cockpit.

Oh, and Buster has a tendency to bark LOUDLY at oncoming cars.When a trainer suggested that Buster might be trying to herd the traffic whizzing by us, we took out the rear seats and give the entire space over to the dogs and their paraphernalia. Buster and Ty are shown just hanging out in the back of the Rav-4. When we’re driving, their harnesses are on and tethers are attached to the floorboard clamps that held the seats. This ended up being a pretty cozy arrangement that got us through our first three road trips totaling almost 12,000 miles.

The newer, bigger, better GoPetFriendly-mobile

Now that we’re in the Winnebago, space is at a premium so we haven’t reconsidered crating as an option. We’re still sold on the harness and seat belt system. Ty and Buster lie on the floor just behind the driver and passenger seats. And notice the curtain that separates the pets from the pilots to minimize distractions.

Look how much room the guys have to spread out!

No matter which restraint system you use – just remember to USE IT EVERY TIME. Based on 2001 crash statistics, Progressive Insurance estimated that 52% of all car accidents occur within 5 miles of the home. So you’re at more risk than you think if you’re packing the pooch “just” to run to the bank, pick up the dry cleaning, or grab the kids after school.

———- is changing the face of pet travel by making it easy to locate pet-friendly hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, beaches, wineries, dog parks, and much more! Make plans to include your pet on your next trip, and connect with GoPetFriendly on their blog, Twitter and Facebook to get tips from the pet travel experts.

33 thoughts on “Show Some (Car) Restraint!”

  1. Hey, thanks for this information, you guys! Tim and I were recently talking about what type of restraints to get for Shamus and Emmett. Aside from crash statistics, we’re pretty sure Emmett is a danger to himself and us, particularly when he tries to climb into our laps and lick our ears while we’re driving. It’s a no-brainer for dog owners in general, and yet not a topic often discussed. Happy driving!

  2. Thanks Edie for providing the forum to publish this message. We’ve written before how one of our pet travel peeves is seeing dogs freely roaming in cars traveling 60-70 mph down the highway. Parents love their kids – and they’re buckled in in no matter how much they whine or protest. Why should it be different for pets?

    Another side benefit to regularly using the harness is that you can keep track of your dog’s weight! If you find yourself loosening the straps, you know your pooch is packing’ on some pounds!

    1. My pleasure, Rod. It’s a great post for people in general, but especially for people with large dogs, who don’t know how to deal with securing them. Funny you should mention the harness as a weight gauge…Frankie’s has been seeming a little snug, so I’m cutting back a little on the kibble!

  3. Thank you for this great advice!
    Looking at the two options available, crating or a seat belt system, what would be the best for the dog. If we would crash, god forbid, what would give them the best chance to make it as unharmed as possible?

    1. I’m going to let Rod — and perhaps some crate advocates — answer this, but my sense is both are equally safe as long as the crate is secured. One the one hand, there’s no way a dog in a crate can run out into traffic, and it would certainly help keep the dog from being crushed if the car was dented; on the other hand, perhaps it might be more difficult to get the dog out quickly?

      1. Thanks that would be great. We have a seatbelt system at this moment. But our dogs are that large (90 p) and I am afraid they would crash into the side or the front seat before their harness/seat bealt would function. We are looking for another car and are wondering if we should keep the seatbelt system or switch to a (fixed) crate solution if that would be safer for them.

        1. Great question. If you are using the actual seat belt and putting it through the loop in the harness, there shouldn’t be a problem … the seat belt will retract before you dogs could be “thrown” very far.

          With 90 lb dogs, I am imagining you would need a fairly long tether from the harness to the seat belt buckle to give them some room to move/turn around. Look around your pet’s seating area. What are they likely to hit if the tether was extended all the way. The back of the front seat is relatively soft compared to the insides of the doors.

          All that said, with those size dogs, I would go with the secured crate option. The force created by a 90 lb dog is well over 3500 pounds. Better that the crates are in a cargo area of your your/van/SUV if you have the room to put them there.

    1. Eric – When you say back of the Fit do you mean the back seat or the small cargo area behind the back seat? We saw someone in Asbury Park who had made a “lounging” area in the back of a similar model car. In the brief time I saw it, I believe harness was tethered thru the rear seat head rests with a leash.

  4. Great tips- thanks! We put our dogs in the very back of our Jeep (behind the bench seating in the back). We do not additionally restrain them- I’ve always thought they would end up getting themselves tangled up. Do you think the very back in this way is good?

    1. Shauna … Shauna … Shauna. I like that your boys are way in the back. I don’t like that they are not restrained. If the cargo hatch to the Jeep ever got sprung open, Kayloo and Mickey could run out into traffic – getting hit by a car or causing another accident. Seriously, they need to be restrained. If they complain about it you can blame it on me (make that Amy).

      1. Not to pile on, but I gotta agree with Rod here, Shauna. In the Five Tips post I refer to, I tell the story of a very responsible dog owner who had her two greyhounds in the back of a truck covered with a camper shell. An idiot in a stolen car rear-ended her at 60mph, the camper shell popped open, and voila — two terrified greyhounds running out into traffic (they’re ok after several surgeries and very high vet bills).

  5. We are harness and seat-belt users. We attempted a crate, but the last time we used one we had to pull over and corral the dachsie when she somehow got out. The first one had been chewed through, after the second we realized that the safest way was not just about keeping her contained but also about not making it an escape game. Now we harness her and she sits pretty on the seat next to us presumable because she is no longer separated by the crate. Pixie gets held on a car ride, and Evie gets the harness too. We ride in town so no one is ever above 30-35 MPH. I’m not sure I’d take them on interstate at all. Even in a hard carrier the dog can get hurt, why chance it? I will admit a dachsie is hard to fit for a harness. We had one of her harnesses “retrofitted” by a local seamstress. If you have to do that use Kevlar, it’s strong and can’t be chewed through.

    1. I guess one component has to be how your dog feels about a crate… if, as you say Jenni, it seems like a barrier to humans rather than a spot for relaxation, it’s not the best choice. I love the idea of your doxie in a kevlar vest: the urban guerrila dog!

      1. I lol’d so hard I choked on my coffee!
        For any confused soul who happens along to this; kevlar comes in a strip about the width of any dog leash, please to not attempt to put a vest on your dog. But do attempt to picture that, hilarious as always Edie! :))

    2. My only comment is that it’s against the law to hold an infant or small child in your lap while driving for a reason. Pixie is no different. Also, what about the air bag. If it’s deactivated, you’re at risk. If it’s not, Pixie is at risk. (guess that was two comments!)

  6. I’ve always wondered about the grates that people install between the back seat of station wagons and the rear door: are they equivalent to crates? Do you recommend further restraint? Does it depend on the size of the dog (assuming small dog has more room to fly around in case of accident)?

    1. Edie and I had briefly talked about cargo barriers … does anyone drive a station wagon any more?? Anyway, the barrier is great for keeping a dog from flying up into the passenger compartment due to the impact of a crash. That is good. However, the pet will fly around in the cargo area if he/she is not restrained. See my comment to Kenzo about the length of the tether.

  7. Great post Rod! Thanks Edie for having Rod share his experience and advice!

    I usually seatbelt Jasper in because he tends to plant his butt behind my seat and bark suddenly (thus scaring the crap out of me), but I have the one you mentioned that can get a dog all tangled up. It hasn’t happened often, but enough that I am glad that you mentioned the Guardian Gear option. I will be checking that out.

    Daisy prefers the floor, where there are air vents to blow on her, so I haven’t restrained her, even though I know I should. It’s long bothered me because I worry what would happen if I had to stop suddenly. I think you’re suggestion might just work for her as well!

    I will be sharing this post with my clients.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  8. I like the harness seatbelt arrangement I use, and the D ring is essential for the quick switch to a leash, as Rod mentioned. The whole dog as projectile and the seriousness of that possibility freaks me out so much I often wonder how people can allow their dogs to be unrestrained. I do recall how miserable my Springer Spaniel was – whined the whole time. Better secured than dead is what I told Dickens, but he was having none of it and just whined and whined. (The Through a Dog’s Ear recordings would probably be useful for this now!)

    Crates are fine if they are locked down and a close fit for the dog – think some of the dog friendly cars have just such accessories. I think about what would happen to a particular enclosure system in a roll-over accident (JEEZ my thinking process is kinda scary, isn’t it!).

    Informative guest post with useful info – thanks Rod and Amy! And thanks Edie for showcasing the topic!

  9. You present terrific advice on your website. It is much appreciated. I want to mention another great way we discovered to help restrain pet dogs up to 30 pounds. We use the FidoRido ( for our Malt-Tsu. It’s absolutely one of the most versatile and easy to use dog car seats (and booster) we’ve ever seen. Our dog is able to easily lookout the windows, lie-down or sit up in total comfort, without the chance of being tossed around during an emergency, quick stop. FidoRido has also served us well when we are at a hotel or motel, because it becomes a comfortable bed, on the floor, without having to worry about little presents left on the carpet, during the night. The special restraint harness (with 2 extra “D” rings and side straps) are adjustable, for comfort. During road trips, we’ve found the harness and rings combine to distribute the stress and pressure from a quick stop through the girth of our pet’s body, rather than having all the force on just the neck (and there have been a few quick stops, when other texting drivers, etc. have no idea we’re on the road). BTW, last week, I used the straps to tether our Malt-Tsu on top of the FidoRido’s cushion, while I pre-groomed her (took out the matting that she’s prone to…before she went to the groomers (it save us $15 extra in grooming charges). Anyway, for those with small breed dogs, my wife and I highly recommend FidoRido. Keep up the good work on your web site.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment. The FidoRido looks like a great product. It makes me happy to hear from people like you who have taken the time not only to keep their dogs safe but also comfortable. You’re very considerate about keeping your hotel room clean — and have figured out another use for the FidoRido that saves money. Kudos all around!

  10. We were in an accident yesterday — we got hit very hard from behind while we were almost stopped — and thank god our two dogs weren’t in the car. We have two mastiffs, one is 180 and the other 130. Our van was totaled, and for our new van I’m going to stop being stupid and get a restraint system for our dogs. Until now, they’ve simply had the back of the van to themselves (seats removed). My question is: Can you suggest a good restraint system for extra-large animals? Their crates are so enormous, I don’t think we could even fit that in the car. Thanks.

    1. First of all, I’m glad you’re ok — at least ok enough to be on line and thinking about a restraint system. Here’s a solution that a blogger in Denmark with two 90 pound dogs came up with:

      I don’t know if it would be possible to work something out with dogs that are even larger but it seems to me some kind of built in, custom made barrier system would make sense.

      Good luck — and glad your dogs weren’t victims of an idiot driver.

      1. Also glad you are still ok!

        We tested the system you can see on my blog (see Edie’s link above) and it worked fine. You have to make sure there is just enough space for them to turn around and lay down. You probably need more space then you can see on the pictures on my blog, but I guess not the whole rear and backseat area, then they would run the risc to been “throw around” and get hurt. Maybe you can ask your car repair shop how much they would take for setting up a frame just in the right distance.

        The only thing that I was not satisfied about with my solution was to restrain the dogs in a seat belt type system on top of the areas we built. This was meant to ensure they wouldn’t run out in trafiic in case we had an accident. They got entangled anyway so I had to remove it, after only driving one hour. I am now looking into this: Variogate maybe that’s also something you could use. It also allows you to get them out one by one, where before opening the back would mean trying to stop both dogs from rushing out 🙂 But it ensures they can not run out in traffic, thats the most important.

  11. hello and thank you for the post as founder of bark buckle up and be smart ride safe we really appreciate your help in spreading awareness. Sincerely, Christina “Pet Safety Lady”

  12. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this site. I’m hoping to check out the same high-grade content by you in the future as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal blog now 😉

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