How To Secure Your Dog In Cargo Area Of An SUV

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Many dog owners take their furry friends with them on a road trip or away on vacation. A  popular choice of vehicle for families with dogs is an SUV.

So, what’s the safest and most comfortable way to transport your dog in a motor vehicle? Can you travel with your dog in the trunk? Is it illegal to drive with your dog in the passenger seat?

Read this guide for the answers to those questions and to find out how to secure your dog in the cargo area of an SUV.

Why Restrain Your Dog In Your Car or SUV?

Cute Dog on Car Ride

It’s estimated that almost half the families in the US own a dog, and half of those regularly travel with their canine companions in the car or SUV. That’s millions of dogs on the road every year!

But why not simply let your dog ride loose in your vehicle? 

Actually, there are many very good reasons why you should NOT allow your dog to roam around in your car without restraint:

It’s The Law!

In some states, it’s illegal to travel with a dog unrestrained in your car, while in others, you could be charged with a distraction offense in the event of a collision.

Passenger Safety

Even a small dog weighing just a few kilos turns into a potentially deadly projectile if you have to apply your brakes suddenly or hit an obstruction in the road.

If that happens, your dog is highly likely to be injured, but you and your passengers could be in danger, too.

Driver Distraction

As mentioned above, you could be charged with an offense of distraction in some states if you travel with a loose dog in your car. 

Think about it. A dog bouncing around excitedly in your vehicle is undoubtedly going to distract your attention from the road ahead. And a dog riding in your lap could easily find its way into the footwell, potentially causing a deadly distraction to the vehicle’s driver.

Emergency Responder Danger

A frightened, potentially injured dog can pose a danger to emergency workers in the event of an accident. Your dog could also cause an accident or be injured if he escapes and dashes into the carriageway.

How To Secure A Dog Crate In Your SUV’s Cargo Space

Dogs inside the crate in the car

The design of modern mid-size SUVs means that you have ample space inside the cargo area behind the rear seats. That makes this space the ideal place for your dog to ride, provided that the cargo area is not also your vehicle’s crumple zone.

We recommend that you use a dog crate to secure your dog in the cargo area of your SUV. When using a small or medium-sized crate, you can fix the crate into position by using the rear seat belts.

Larger crates can be fitted by folding down the rear seats to make more space and using a nearby seat belt to secure the crate. If you have your vehicle fully loaded so that using the rear seat belts is not an option, use bungee hook cables instead. You can buy these in hardware or DIY stores relatively cheaply.

Put the crate flush against the rear seats to prevent the crate from tipping or sliding around while the vehicle is moving. 

What Types Of Car Restraints Can You Use In An SUV?

There are several different kinds of dog car restraints that you can use to secure your dog in your SUV’s cargo space, although there’s no official safety standard or testing regimen for those products in the US.

However, some products work better than others, and the quality does vary.

The top three car restraint systems for dogs are:

  • Dog car harness or seat belt system
  • Dog crate or carrier
  • Car barrier

Generally, it’s the harness or crate system that is considered to be the safest restraint mechanism. The car barrier is better than no restraint at all but keeps the dog separate from the car passenger compartment, restricting it to the cargo space.

Whichever system you decide to use for your canine companion, never put your dog in the front seat of your vehicle. The safest place for your dog to be is in the cargo space of your SUV or the car’s back seat. That said, remember that the cargo space is the crumple zone for many types of vehicles.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the main kinds of dog car restraint systems:

Dog Harness And Seat Belts

The dog harness restraint system is designed to work in tandem with your car’s seat belt, effectively tethering your dog to the seat rather like human seat belts. The harness keeps the dog safely in the car seat in the event of a collision, preventing the pup from shooting forward into the front cabin of the vehicle.

Dog harness systems essentially have two elements:

  • the harness
  • the tether

Whatever harness system you choose for your furry friend, the mechanism should remain firmly attached to the seat belt and prevent your dog from fidgeting around in the seat.

If you opt for a harness, here are a few essential things to consider:

Crash Testing

Check the product labeling to see if the manufacturer has crash-tested the harness. Ideally, you want to choose a harness that’s been tested “in the field.” 

Comfort

You want your dog to be comfortable during his car rides with you. So, look for a harness with broad, well-padded safety straps. In particular, you want a harness that has a wide, bib-shaped strap that passes up the length of your dog’s chest. It’s that strap that takes the full force of an impact, so you want a strap that distributes that force over as wide an area as possible.

Tether Length

Boxer dog in the car

The tether attaches to the harness and then to the car seat belt. In the event of a crash, it’s the tether that stops the dog from shooting forward.

The tether must be short to keep tangling to a minimum if the dog wriggles around in the seat, and it should fix to the back of the harness. Do not use a harness that has a tether fastening at the neck. 

Convenience And Versatility

Many dog car harnesses can be used as a standard day harness for walking your dog on his leash. That kind of design is excellent for traveling with your pet, as it means you can simply take your dog from the car, clip on his leash, and you’re good to go.

What Dog Breeds Can Use Dog Car Harnesses?

Seat belt harnesses are generally best for small to medium-sized breeds, such as Mini Goldendoodles and Bichon Frise. That said, you can also use a car harness for larger breeds, provided that the dog is well-behaved and will sit quietly in the seat.

A harness is not recommended for very boisterous, excitable dogs that won’t sit still or for very aggressive chewers.

Dog Crates

Spanish greyhound at car dog crate looking out

We recommend dog crates or carriers as the safest way to travel in vehicles with your dog in your SUV. Restraining your dog in a securely fixed crate reduces driver distractions and safely contains a dog in the event of a collision. Also, if you have a dog or puppy that tends to chew, your pup can’t destroy your car interior or chew his way through your rear seat belts when contained in a crate. 

There are a few crucial factors to look out for when choosing a dog crate for travel, including:

  • Robust, sturdy construction
  • The correct size. A correctly fitted travel crate is snug enough to prevent your furry friend from being thrown around inside the crate in an accident.
  • When buying a dog travel crate for an SUV, check that the cargo space is not also the car’s crumple zone. That could be the worst place for your dog’s carrier or crate! 
  • If you decide to use the cargo space for your dog’s crate, use it together with a car barrier that’s firmly fixed between the cargo area and the rear seats.
  • Some dog carriers and crates can be secured with straps that attach to the rear seat belts of your vehicle or to the flatbed of a pickup truck. Read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly to determine whether you need to use straps to secure the crate.

You can read a detailed article on how to measure your dog for a crate in the article at this link.

It’s a good idea to print out your dog’s medical details and emergency contact information and attach them to the crate. 

Types Of Dog Travel Crates

There are three main kinds of dog crates that can be used for travel:

  • Wire crates
  • Plastic crates
  • Fabric crates

All these types of crates have good and bad points; it’s really a matter of personal taste.

Wire Crates

Beagle inside the crate

Wire dog crates can be used as the dog’s primary crate for home use and double as a travel crate.

Wire dog crates are collapsible for easy portability, so you can quickly disassemble the crate and put it into your SUV. A wire crate offers excellent ventilation, which is essential for transporting your dog on warm days. Most wire cage crates have a removable plastic tray, making cleanup quick and easy should your dog have an accident.

Wire crates are also inexpensive to buy and are long-lasting. If you plan on using your metal crate exclusively for traveling with your dog, you might want to choose a crash-tested impact-safe travel crate.

Plastic Crates

Plastic dog crates are ideal for short journeys to the vet or grooming clinic. Also, many plastic crates are airline-approved

A plastic kennel is robust and strong, keeping your pet safer in a crash, and most have carrying handles for easy portability. Cleanup is easy; simply hose out the crate or clean it with a damp cloth and dish soap.

The main downside of plastic crates for car travel is that they don’t have especially good ventilation, which can be a problem on a warm day.

Collapsible Or Soft-Sided Crate

Dog Crates For Airlines

Soft-sided fabric crates can be suitable for transporting small dogs in a car or SUV.  

The main downside of a fabric crate is that the soft material won’t protect your pet in a crash, and the fabric is also vulnerable to chewers.

Dog Car Barriers

A dog cargo area barrier or guard doesn’t provide your dog with any protection or containment in the event of an accident. A car barrier prevents the dog from moving from the cargo space of your SUV to the rear seats and won’t stop your dog from becoming a lethal projectile in a crash.

However, when used in tandem with a dog harness or crate, a barrier can be a good way of preventing driver distraction.

Here’s what to look for in a high-quality dog car barrier:

Sturdy Build

When it comes to dog car barriers, it’s true to say that you get what you pay for. Cheap products won’t be strong enough to withstand the weight of your dog in an accident and often come with fixings that are not completely secure.

So, look for a dog car barrier that’s made from very sturdy, strong materials and fixes securely to your vehicle.

Correct Size

Crated Dog

A dog car barrier is not going to do the job you want it to if it’s the wrong size and incorrectly installed.

Consult the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure that the product you choose fits your car and take the time to fix it correctly.

Do I Need A Liner?

You can protect the interior of your SUV from dander, dirt, and scratches by fitting a trunk liner. Liners can help to keep the vehicle clean and tidy, even when Fido comes along for the ride. 

Is It Safe To Ride With Your Dog In The Cargo Area?

The simple answer to that question is no, it’s not safe to ride alongside your pet in the cargo space of any vehicle.

People must sit in a proper car seat, wearing a correctly fastened seat belt at all times when the vehicle is in motion. So, basically, riding in the cargo area of your vehicle with your canine companion is a bad idea.

Can Dogs Ride On Your Lap?

No! You should not allow your dog to ride on your lap while you’re driving. 

A dog on your lap is massively distracting, especially if he decides to lick your ears while the SUV is in motion. A fidgeting dog could jump down below the steering wheel, potentially getting underneath the brake or gas pedal and causing you to lose control of your vehicle.

Safest Place For Your Dog In An SUV

Dog In Car Seat With Safe Belt

The safest place for a dog to ride in a vehicle is secured with a dog seat belt and harness combination or in a crate. 

Whatever method you choose, your dog should never sit in the front seat under any circumstances. Instead, secure your furry friend in the cargo area or in the back seat behind a front seat.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed our guide to securing your dog in the cargo area of your SUV. If you found the article helpful, please remember to share it!

The safest way to travel with your dog is to have your furry friend safely confined and contained in a crate for the duration of your journey. Fix the crate securely in the cargo area of your SUV, using the seatbelt straps to prevent the crate from slipping, or invest in some bungee hook cables if necessary.

How do you travel with your dog? Tell us in the comments box below.

Meet our writer

Alison Page was brought up with dogs and various other pets! For a few years, Alison worked as a Practice Manager in a small animal veterinary clinic. Alison is now a full-time writer, specializing in creating articles on the care and training of dogs, cats, and fish.

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