The 12 Best Dog Car Seats Because They’re Travel Game-Changers

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Flying on an airplane these days can be pricey and stressful—let alone with a dog in tow. Plus, if you’re the proud owner of a large breed, you know car rides are sometimes the only way to bring your pet along for the, well, ride. This is why many pet owners prefer road trips to flights. For long road trips with pets, car seats are game changers. They make everyone safer which means more fun for the whole family (even if family is just you and Bridger). Here are some of the best dog car seats you can buy right now. Time to get packing!

Is it legal to have a dog in the front seat?

Chances are it’s not explicitly illegal to have a dog in the front seat of your car. Only a handful of states in the U.S. have laws even mentioning dogs in cars. Of those, just two (New Jersey and Rhode Island) require dogs to be belted or confined to a car-specific crate. Other states like Hawaii have outlawed driving with a dog on your lap. Then there’s New Hampshire and Minnesota, both of which have laws stating dogs have to be crated and secured if riding in the bed of a truck, but make no mention of what should go on inside the car. However, despite a lack of dog laws on the books, many state authorities have begun charging drivers with animal cruelty or distracted driving if they feel the manner of transportation is unsafe for the pet, passengers or other drivers.

We’ll just say that plopping your dog in the front seat (or the back seat) without a restraint is a bad idea, regardless of the laws in your state. It’s the same as putting your kid in there without a seatbelt, and maybe worse because small dogs can get stuck under your feet, big dog tails can block your vision and dogs generally like to move around a lot. Not exactly a safe driving scenario.

What to look for when buying a dog car seat

Dog car seats are the answer to your concerns about safe doggy driving practices! Equipment designed to keep canines from flying around in the event of an accident or sudden stop is a wise investment. When buying a dog car seat, you’ll come across three primary styles: harnesses, seats and crates. Harnesses go on your dog, your dog goes in seats and crates. The car seat or restraint you need totally depends on your dog.

Your dog’s size and weight is the biggest factor when it comes to buying a dog car seat. Check the specs to make sure the product works for your dog’s size. There are some harnesses ill-suited for breeds with large chest cavities like Greyhounds or Borzois, so be sure to double check all warnings and labels. Generally speaking, it’s best to crate a large breed in the backseat or trunk.

Next, try your darndest to purchase a dog car seat that has been crash-tested. The Center for Pet Safety says products tend to fall into one of two categories: distraction prevention or crash protection. Both are good, but crash protection is ideal. CPS encourages pet parents to look for their official safety seal on products. Harnesses, crates and seats must go through a rigorous testing process to receive this CPS certification and the organization posts crash-testing videos on their site for transparency.

If your dog loves to roam in the car, a crate may be the best option. If Bridger enjoys sitting quietly and staring out the window, a seat may do the trick. Are daily car trips in your dog’s future or is a car ride a very special, rare treat? A harness you can slide a seatbelt through is a quick option, whereas buckling a crate or seat in (perhaps after installing a waterproof seat cover) might take about 15 minutes. Decide what you’ll realistically be able to do every time your dog gets into the car.

Ideally, your dog's car seat will be easy to clean. Though your pup may not have many accidents, paws get muddy, drool is common and hair goes everywhere. If you can’t wipe it down or toss it in the wash, we say hard pass.

How can I make my dog more comfortable in the car?

Top priority for dog comfort? A well-ventilated vehicle. Never leave your dog in a hot car! Always purchase crates and carriers with mesh or highly ventilated sides for optimal airflow. Beyond that, make sure harnesses aren’t too tight. Dogs should be able to readjust their positions easily (which is why the best harnesses offer 360-degree rotating clips).

The American Kennel Club adds rigorous exercise about a half hour before a car ride can lessen anxiety or carsickness. Yes, dogs can get car sick! VCA Animal Hospital says drooling, lethargy and vomiting are all indicators your dog may be carsick. If you suspect this is what’s up, try avoiding feeding your dog or letting them drink lots of water for a few hours prior to the ride. There are also supplements on the market you can ask your vet about that may ease your pup’s motion sickness.

Finally, if your dog absolutely needs a cushioned car seat that doesn’t provide much in terms of safety, you’re allowed to double up. Let your pup sit on the fluffiest seat you can find then toss a harness on him that allows you to buckle him in. He’ll thank you later.

The Best Dog Car Seats at a Glance:

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1. Sleepypod Clickit Sport Harness

Best Harness Overall

Weight Limit: 18 to 90 pounds

Material: Nylon, Neoprene padding

Sleepypod makes tons of travel accessories for jet setting pets. This harness is one of the few that has received the CPS seal of approval. It’s design (which was crash-tested in the same way child safety restraints are) distributes force to three different areas throughout the padded harness so your dog doesn’t feel one harsh point of impact. Oh, and the straps are made with seatbelt-grade material.

Pros: CPS certified, works for large breeds

Cons: Not ideal for toy and small breeds

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2. Kurgo Tru-fit Smart Harness

Best Budget Harness

Weight Limit: 75 pounds

Material: Polyester, Nylon, Synthetic Fabric

Some dogs don’t need—or want—a cushy seat. They just want to be clipped in like their humans! This harness has been crash tested for animals weighing up to 75 pounds. Clip it to the seatbelt in your car and simply unclip when you arrive at your destination. You can also clip your leash to it for pit stops and it saves space in jam-packed vehicles. Be sure to purchase the size (it comes in XS to XL) best-suited for your pup. Kurgo products come with a lifetime warranty, so don’t worry about this harness’ longevity.

Pros: Crash-tested, available in wide variety of sizes

Cons: Some reviewers claim their dogs easily wiggled out of the harness

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3. Gunner 1 Kennel

Best Crate Overall

Dimensions: Large measures 40.25” L x 28” W x 33.25” H

Weight Limit: None

Material: Various

Get ready for a doozy of a crate. This thing is five-star crash tested and even has images of crashes on their site in which dogs’ lives were saved by this crate! It comes in four sizes and suits just about any sized dog. The double-wall rotomolded sides offer twice the protection of traditional crates, and then some (they literally test these things by tossing them off cliffs). It comes with straps to secure in the trunk or back of a pick-up and the ventilated windows are designed to repel rain and snow. Add a soft cushy bed to the crate if you like, or keep as is with a handy drainage system for accidents or mud.

Pros: Top-of-the-line safety, crash-tested, CPS certified

Cons: Expensive, bulky

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Rock Creek Crates

4. Rock Creek Aluminum Dog Crate

Best Crate for Large Breeds

Dimensions: Measures 48” L x 28” W x 32” H

Weight Limit: Not disclosed

Material: Aluminum, stainless steel

Here’s another crate with a stellar CPS certification and crash-test record. These are lighter in weight and less bulky than the Gunner 1 Kennel, though definitely pricier. Manufactured with aircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steel, these things have a 10-year guarantee. The frame was welded internally, ensuring a strong structure. Anxious dogs may appreciate the ventilation slots begin halfway up the side of the crate, offering some additional privacy. These crates also have non-slip feet and can be custom painted in a variety of colors.

Pros: CPS-certified and crash tested, lightweight for size, customizable

Cons: Expensive, ratchet straps sold separately

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5. Petmate Ruffmaxx Travel Carrier

Best Budget Crate

Dimensions: Large measures 40" L x 27" W x 30" H

Weight Limit: 90 pounds

Material: Plastic

This crate gets the job done whether you’re driving or flying. It’s compatible with most airline travel requirements for dogs and PetMate says it can be secured in a vehicle for highway travel. Both sides and the front gate offer plenty of ventilation. With almost 800 five-star reviews on Amazon, it’s hard to deny what plenty of dog parents already know: This is a solid crate option for traveling pups.

Pros: Available in variety of sizes, lightweight

Cons: No CPS certification or crash testing

dog car seats swihelp

6. Swihelp Pet Car Booster Seat

Best-Seller on Amazon

Dimensions: Measures 15” L x 12.5” W x 9.5” H

Weight Limit: 10 to 15 pounds

Material: Nylon, mesh

As the number-one best-selling booster seat on Amazon, this car seat is ideal for small pups. It collapses for better storage yet provides sturdy support during your drive with PVC pipes inserted into the rim during set-up. It’s also waterproof. One note: The images show it attached to the front seat. Again, we don’t condone this! Plop this booster in the back and make sure all three of its connection points are secure.

Pros: East to assemble and install

Cons: Not CPS-certified or crash tested

dog car seats petsafe

7. Petsafe Happy Ride Deluxe Booster Seat For Dogs

Best for Small Dogs Who Love Windows

Dimensions: XL measures 20” L x 14” W x 10” H

Weight Limit: 25 pounds

Material: Polyester exterior, fleece lining

Yes, dogs love sticking their heads out windows. Yes, it’s cute! No, it’s not safe. But, if your pup really wants to see out the window and is too short to reach, this booster seat is the perfect perch. There are three sizes available for dogs up to 25 pounds. It’s got more than 10,000 five-star reviews, including one user who said this booster seat kept her dog secure during a high-speed crash. (Be sure to follow instructions to ensure a secure installation.)

Pros: Comes with option to secure harness to a safety tether, allows dogs to see out windows

Cons: Not CPS-certified

dog car seats pet carrier

8. K&h Pet Products Travel Safety Pet Carrier

Best for Dogs Who Like to Roam

Dimensions: Large measures 29.5” L x 22” W x 25.5” H

Weight Limit: 40 pounds

Material: Mesh, synthetic fabric

Letting your dog roam around the car is a great way to get distracted and make mistakes while driving. Please don’t do this. Instead, invest in a dog car seat that completely envelops your pup without suffocating him or cutting him off from the group. This carrier has three entry points, mesh walls and a plush pad for maximum comfort. It’s collapsible too, which means easy storage if you’re on a road trip and need to stash it upon arrival. Install by clipping straps around the headrest and securing with a seatbelt.

Pros: Prevents distraction, can soothe puppy anxiety

Cons: Not CPS certified or crash-tested

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9. Diggs Passenger Travel Carrier

Best Carrier to Car seat

Dimensions: Measures 20” L x 10.8” W x 11.5” H

Weight Limit: 18 pounds

Material: Unavailable

Though this carrier and the Pet Carrier by Away are very similar, this one ranks higher on our list because it comes with pee pads and an easy waste removal door in case your pup has to go potty on a lengthy trip. Plus, it comes in four different colors. With a CPS certification, this carrier can be secured with a seatbelt and carrier straps.

Pros: CPS-certified and crash tested, bed and pee pad included, works with air travel

Cons: Not available for large breeds, only available in one size, expensive

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10. The Pet Carrier By Away

Best Runner-Up Carrier

Dimensions: Measures 18.7" L x 10.8" W x 10.75" H

Weight Limit: 18 pounds

Material: Nylon, leather

Now, if you’re driving to the airport and need something to work double duty, this carrier is here for you. With multiple pockets for storage and a water-resistant lining, it is CPS certified and meets requirements for most airlines when it comes to carrying on your pup. You can clip your dog in by her harness or collar as well. Mesh panels let your dog breathe easy and privacy screens can be rolled down if crowds cause anxiety. Hook the long strap around a headrest and slide a seatbelt through two latches on the front to secure in your vehicle.

Pros: CPS-certified, works with air travel

Cons: Not available for large breeds, only available in one size, expensive

dog car seat pet gear carrier

11. Pet Gear Signature Dog & Cat Car Seat & Carrier Bag

Best Budget Carrier to Car Seat

Dimensions: Measures 19” L x 12.5” W x 12” H

Weight Limit: 20 pounds

Material: Mesh, synthetic fabric

When you know you’ll be making frequent stops or you just want a multi-purpose piece of equipment, this car seat will be your best friend (after your dog). Seamlessly buckle it into the backseat and unbuckle when you arrive at your destination. It also contains an interior line you can secure to your pup’s harness for added safety, which we love. Oh yeah, it’s got a pouch to store treats in, too.

Pros: Easy to install and remove, harness tether included

Cons: Not CPS-certified or crash-tested

dog car seat snoozer

12. Snoozer Luxury Lookout Pet Car Seat

Best for Anxious Dogs

Dimensions: Medium is 19 in. L x 22 in. W x 17 in. H

Weight Limit: 25 pounds

Material: Nylon exterior, fleece lining

Do car rides make your pup anxious? Give him something cushy to lay on! Lined with lamb’s wool and cushioned with firm foam, this booster works well to lull your dog to sleep or give him a stellar view of the outside world. This might also be a good option for dogs who get motion sickness. Treating a car ride like naptime could improve their experience. A seat belt hooks into this booster to keep it sturdy and there’s a tether clip to keep your pup in their chair.

Pros: Removable and washable cover, eases carsickness

Cons: Not-CPS certified, not for large breeds

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Sarah Ashley

Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...
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