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When traveling with a dog in the car, which is safer:

a dog harness made for use with seatbelts?

or a crate?

My puppy is around 14 lbs, and we've been using a crate for travel. I'm inclined to think this is safer, as it keeps the dog in an enclosed space.

Thoughts?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'm not sure there is a winner in this case, unfortunately for pets, cars are designed to protect humans in the case of an accident, nothing else.

The biggest issue you have to take into consideration is inertia. When a car comes to a sudden stop, like in an accident, the contents of the car continue to move at the speed the car was going. That's what seat belts and airbags try to solve for humans. The seat belts attach the human body with the car, so when the car stops moving, the human stops too. The airbags cushion the impact of the head and limbs that aren't attached, and still move regardless (Trivia: Neck injuries from the head moving forward while the body stays behind in a car crash is referred to as whiplash).

So what does this mean for dogs? Let's say the dog is in a crate.

  • If the crate is not strapped in and the car comes to a sudden stop, the crate will continue to move at the same speed until it comes against something that causes it to come to a sudden stop itself. Then the same process will happen with the contents of the crate (the dog, toys, bowls etc.).
  • If the crate is strapped in and the car comes to a sudden stop, the crate will be attached to the car, and therefore stop with the car. But, the contents of the crate will not be attached, and continue to move until they are stopped by the sides of the crate.

Now let's say the dog is wearing a harness that is attached to the seat. They still leave room for the dog to move around, which means there's still room for the dog to continue moving if the car stops suddenly. Especially, since only certain parts are held back in the event of a crash, the issue of whiplash is prevalent.

So then which is safer?

From this very unscientific study, based on my understanding of physics, I would say that a loose crate is the worst out of the three options I listed. A harness is a better option, but still leaves some things to be desired (in my opinion).

In my opinion a crate that is attached to the car is the safest option, because even though the dog is not restrained, the impact has a better chance of being spread evenly throughout the body, rather than at a specific point, which can make a big difference (Would you rather land on your back, or on your arm?). You can also choose a crate with solid walls instead of a wire mesh and add padding to the sides of the crate to make it safer.

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I agree with the crate, but it does take away the greatest joy of a dog's life in sticking his/her head out the window and letting the wind flap the ears. ;) –  John Cavan Mar 1 at 15:56

I like crates better for a couple of reasons

  • If you have multiple dogs it gives them each their own space
  • Keeps puppies from chewing on things... including the harness
  • For dogs that get car sick it can help reduce the visual and often reduces the car sickness
  • If you use a plastic crate it can help keep the hair contained
  • If you have to leave the dog in the car alone it is in a crate (again thinking of the chewing but also you can leave water in the crate while your away if desired)

What I don't like about using wire crates as much but I use them and just keep them away from "crunch zones". If you are in a car accident and the crate is crunched the wires could injure the dog.

They are selling some hardened crates now that would survive a roll-over accident but they are a little expensive.

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Leaving "the dog in the car alone" is generally not a good idea –  James Jenkins Mar 1 at 9:10
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There are lots of times in life where leaving a dog alone in the car is necessary and can be completely safe. Leaving them in a crate is one way to keep it safe. Of course you should never do this in hot weather. –  Beth Whitezel Mar 1 at 16:43

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