best in class

The Very Best Car Seats and Harnesses for Dogs

Photo: Devoted Doggy

If you’ve ever driven a car while your dog skids around in the back seat or tries to climb into your lap, you know how harrowing it can be to get behind the wheel without strapping them into a special car seat, crate, or harness. “Our dogs are distracting, and when driving is involved, their distractions can be downright dangerous, which is why it is so important to keep a dog secured in the car,” says Samantha Schwab, a pet expert at Chewy. In such states as New Jersey and New Mexico, you’re legally required to restrain your dog in the back seat. Aside from minimizing distractions, doing so keeps your furry best friend safe in the event of an accident. “Dogs are like children,” says David Lang, owner of the New York City–based pet-transportation company Pet Chauffeur, who cautions that just as you wouldn’t put your child in the car without proper safety gear, you shouldn’t put your dog in the car without it either.

To find the best car seats, crates, and harnesses for dogs, we spoke to Schwab, Lang, and five other experts — including trainers and pet owners — about the ones they suggest for keeping a dog comfortable, secure, and safe on the road. If you already know what kind of car seat you’re looking for, our handy table of contents will let you skip ahead to a specific product. If not, read on for our entire list of the best car restraints for all kinds of dogs.

Best overall | Best for small dogs | Most stylish | Best harness | Best (less expensive) harness | Best crate | Best (less expensive) crate | Best barrier | Best booster seat | Best (less expensive) booster seat

What we’re looking for

Safety: “In a car collision or a hard-braking stop, an unrestrained pet can become a projectile,” says Nicole Ellis, the training and product expert at dog-sitting site Rover. “This can lead to them injuring themselves and people in the car.” Seat belts and human car seats prevent people from getting injured during an accident by safely restraining them in place, and the best car seats for dogs (typically harnesses or crates) do the same thing. As with human car seats, your best bet is to invest in something that has been rigorously crash-tested. “It’s imperative for pet owners to understand that there are two types of pet-travel products,” explains Lindsey A. Wolko, the founder of the Center for Pet Safety, an independent organization that does dog-equipment crash tests at 30 mph. The cheaper and more commonly purchased products are primarily designed for comfort. But the safest types of car seats, crates, and harnesses are designed with crashes in mind. To give your pooch the best possible chance of surviving an accident, should one occur, we’re prioritizing products that have passed the CPS’s crash tests. “If it’s not crash-tested, there’s no proof it will hold out in the event of an accident,” says Claire Harris, the director of the pet taxi service Pets 2 Places and prominent advocate for pet-transportation safety.

That said, we have included a few non-crash-tested booster seats — cushy elevated boxes that give your dog a designated and safe place to sit without zipping them into a carrier or crate — to be strictly used in tandem with a crash-tested safety harness. For anyone going this route, Wolko stresses this important point: “You do not want to connect your pet directly to the car seat.” Instead, you should use a harness to connect your dog to your car’s seat-belt system before putting them in a booster seat. In addition, Lang told us that while many car seats are advertised as appropriate for both the front or back seat of your car, dogs should never ride shotgun because a car’s airbags can seriously injure them. When it comes to bigger dogs, they will be safest in a crash-tested dog crate or confined to the trunk via a barrier system.

Carrier style, harness, crate, or booster seat: The type of safety device you buy will mostly depend on the size of your dog. Very big dogs won’t fit in a carrier-style car seat and may not be protected by one. Though a pit bull or a Labrador is much less fragile than a Pomeranian, the heavier the dog, the worse the impact of a crash would be for both you and them. So larger dogs will need different and more secure safety devices than little dogs. “A harness only works if you have a small-to-medium-size dog,” says Harris. As we explained above, if you have a larger breed dog, they’ll be safer in a crate or in the trunk with a barrier to keep them from jumping (or being thrust) into the back seat.

But for owners of small- and medium-size dogs, the choice between carrier-style car seats and harnesses combined with booster seats comes down to preference. One benefit of buying a carrier-style car seat is you can often use it on planes and subways. Some even transform into cozy dog beds. You can find both carriers and booster seats that collapse for convenient storage. If you have an anxious dog, a booster seat gives them added height and allows them to see out of the car’s window, which can help calm the dog and prevent car sickness. And most crash-tested harnesses have leash hookups so you can use them on walks and hikes as well as in the car.

While each product is designed differently, the way they connect to your car is pretty consistent among styles. Carrier-style car seats and harnesses are designed to securely attach to your car’s seat belts. Booster seats attach using straps that hug the headrest and the middle point of a passenger bucket seat or the smaller side of a rear bench seat that folds down. They are meant to hover about halfway up the seat so your dog can see out the windows. Crates and kennels usually have hardware so that you can tie them down in your trunk, and barriers use tension across your car’s trunk to stay in place.

Comfort: For the car seat you buy to actually work, it has to make your pup feel comfortable. That’s why many of them are designed with cushy padding and soft linings and in such a way as to let the dog see what’s going on to keep them calm. But some dogs will need time to get used to a car seat. When transporting an anxious dog, “try taking them in the car without actually going anywhere,” advises Harris. “Give them a meal in the car, play a game with them, get them used to being in there for short intervals, then go on short journeys to a fun destination like a park.” Crucially: “Don’t have their first journey be to the vet.” For harnesses, you’ll want to look for a proper fit and padding that will cushion your dog during quick stops or an accident. We have prioritized products with cushioned padding, soft linings, and breathable sides and tops.

Easy to clean: Dogs are not immune to car sickness, and long car trips can result in other kinds of accidents. So whether it’s a spilled bowl of food, dirty paws after the park, a surprise puke, or anything else, you’ll want a car seat that’s easy to clean. Look for removable, machine-washable bedding and water-repellent linings to protect your car seats.

Best overall car seat for dogs

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Carrier style with mesh top | Attaches to seat belt | Machine-washable plush bedding | Water-resistant lining | One size: 24 by 10.5 by 10.5 inches | Nine colors

Ellis’s favorite car seat comes from Sleepypod, which she says “crash-tests its pet-safety restraints at U.S., Canadian, and European child-safety-seat standards.” Harris agrees, saying. “Sleepypod products really are the absolute best of the best. Although they’re expensive, they really are worth the money — if you are going to invest in anything for your dog, and you take them in your car, you want to invest in a Sleepypod.” This joint car seat and carrier can accommodate dogs up to 18 pounds and is certified by the Center for Pet Safety. It’s TSA-approved and meets airline requirements for flying with your pet — one reason we’ve also named it a Best in Class pet carrier for air travel. Ellis says it has proved super-functional on the road and in the sky: “My dog and I travel a great deal together and crisscross the country by plane and by car.” This model has straps on both sides that hold your car’s seat belt in place around the carrier; it can expand to offer dogs a bit more room inside, and it has breathable mesh panels that allow them to see what’s going on (which can help calm them down). For humans, it has a padded, adjustable shoulder strap and a trolley pocket you can slide over the handle of rolling luggage for hands-free transport. It’s available in nine colors and collapses flat for easy storage when not in use.

Best car seat for small dogs

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Carrier style with removable mesh top | Attaches to seat belt | Machine-washable plush bedding | Water-resistant lining | Two sizes: 17 by 17 by 13 inches and 13 by 13 by 11 inches | Ten colors

Ellis told us about this slightly smaller option from Sleepypod that can accommodate dogs (or any pets) up to 15 pounds. It’s certified by the Center for Pet Safety, and in addition to functioning as a car seat and a carrier, it can be turned into a bed for your dog to use at your final destination — just unzip and remove the top. Customer reviews note that the larger size does not fit under most airline seats, but the mini version probably will on most planes. For car trips, a strap on the back of the carrier attaches to the seat belt. Like our top pick Sleepypod car seat, this one features breathable mesh panels that promote airflow, offer your pet a view, and allow you to easily check in on them. It has a padded shoulder strap for the human who carries it, and because of its round shape, it is especially great for smaller dogs that like to curl up and snuggle. It comes in a variety of colors including baby blue, pink, red, and white.

Most stylish car seat

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Carrier style with mesh panels | Attaches to seat belt | Machine-washable plush bedding | Water-resistant lining | One size: 18.7 by 10.8 by 10.75 inches | Two colors

Away — maker of the Strat-approved rolling luggage that has probably taken over your local airport in the past few years — added this pet carrier to its ever expanding line of stylish travel products in August of 2020. It’s crash-tested and certified by the Center for Pet Safety as well as TSA- and airline-approved, and Wolko says it’s a lovely option for anyone looking for a more stylish car seat and carrier for their pup. Capable of accommodating dogs up to 18 pounds, it has a fleecy bottom to keep pets extra cozy, mesh panels for visibility, and lots of exterior pockets; it can also be personalized with up to three embroidered letters. Two latches on the back of the carrier fasten over your car’s seat belt. While this carrier has an interior clip meant to attach to your dog’s collar, Wolko says not to use it — especially if you’re in motion. “You don’t want your dog to become tangled,” she explains.

Best car harness

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Harness with neoprene padding | Attaches to seat belt | Wipe down or hand-wash in cold water | Four sizes and seven colors

Like the other Sleepypod products on this list, this harness has been certified car safe for dogs up to 90 pounds by the Center for Pet Safety. Ellis uses it with her Cavapoochon, Rossi, telling us the harness’s three-point design is meant to minimize harm in a crash by restricting movement and distributing force evenly throughout a dog’s torso. To secure your dog in the back seat, simply thread the seat belt through the harness’s two back loops and buckle it as you would for yourself. Dogs should be able to lie down and sit up comfortably while they’re in it, says Ellis, who strongly cautions against using a tether or leash to secure the harness (as they can act as a slingshot in the event of a collision, making it even more dangerous than if the dog wasn’t restrained at all, she explains). While the harness should work for most dogs under 90 pounds, Sleepypod’s website says it might not offer a proper fit for the unique body types of breeds including greyhounds, whippets, salukis, Afghan hounds, and borzois, so Ellis suggests emailing the company for more information before purchasing one for those breeds. In addition to using it in the car, this harness features a double-D-ring connection for clipping a leash so you can use it in the park and on walks.

Best (less expensive) car harness

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Harness with padded chest plate | Attaches to seat belt | Wipe down to clean | Five sizes and two colors

Harris likes Vermont-based dog-safety company Kurgo, and its extensively crash-tested car harness is a little cheaper than Sleepypod’s. It can be used easily on its own by threading your seat belt through the included steel carabiner seat belt attachment, though it’s also compatible with the brand’s booster seat, recommended by another expert below. It features five adjustment points for a customizable fit, front and back D-ring connections for a leash, metal nesting buckles (the kind used by rock climbers because they won’t slip), and a padded chest plate to protect your dog against the force of a crash.

Best car crate

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Hard-sided crate | Four stainless steel tie-down pins (straps sold separately) | Side drain channels and drain holes | Two sizes and one color

Once again, Harris recommends going only with brands that extensively crash-test their products as Lucky Duck does with their intermediate- and large-size car crates. The one-piece roto-molded body is designed to be strong (it has been tested and proven to withstand up to 4,000 pounds of force) and lightweight, so any member of the family can carry it easily via the two heavy-duty handles at the top. While Lucky Duck crates will fit within the trunk of a hatchback or SUV, where they shine is as a hunter’s or outdoorsman’s companion in the bed of a pickup truck. The nonslip feet keep your dog’s crate from tipping over, and the steel tie-down pins, paired with the brand’s ratchet straps (sold separately), hold it firmly in place. It’s also really easy to hose down after a long day of off-roading or holding a muddy dog. While it doesn’t come with a liner or bed, Lucky Duck does make an accompanying crate pad.

Best (less expensive) car crate

Crash-tested and CPS-certified | Hard-sided crate| Four stainless steel tie-down pins (straps sold separately) | Removable drain plug | Four sizes and three colors

You’ll find a slightly more affordable option Gunner’s G1 car crate, which is made with a reinforced aluminum frame and double walls to lessen the impact in a crash. (Tie-down straps to secure the crate are sold separately; Gunner makes its own heavy-duty tie-down straps out of polyester webbing with spring-loaded buckles.) The G1 features a wide base to prevent rolling, a reversible door that can be opened from both sides, and angled vents on three sides to promote airflow and to keep the rain out if you’re transporting your pup in the bed of a truck. You’ll need to supply your own bedding or blankets, but in case of bathroom accidents, the Gunner Kennel is easy to hose down thanks to a removable drain plug at the bottom. It is available in four sizes and three colors.

Best crash-tested barrier

Crash-tested and approved by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden | Barrier made of ASTM A366 Steel | Adjustable height, width, and angle | Three sizes and two styles: regular and headrest-mounted

As a crate alternative that suits owners of large dogs or more than one pet, Harris suggests investing in a crash-tested barrier for your vehicle. It works by attaching to your car’s back seat and creates a secure gate between the trunk and the passenger cabin. This adjustable steel barrier is made in Sweden and tested to Swedish standards. Though it won’t work with every model of car, it comes in two styles: regular and headrest-mounted to fit the trunks of most hatchbacks, station wagons, and SUVs. If purchasing the regular barrier, your car will need load anchor hooks (to attach the two adjustable sidebars) and a flat floor (for the barrier’s feet to sit on). However, the headrest-mounted barrier attaches directly to your second-row seat headrests and does not require a flat trunk floor or load anchors. Both models are easy to install and do not require any extra tools.