Booster Seats For Little Dogs Are Just Plain Dangerous

You wouldn't put a small child in the front seat. Don't put a small dog there, either.

Sir Isaac Newton famously stated that an object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. We have seat belts in cars so that if the car comes to a sudden stop we don't go through the windshield. That's all well and good for humans, but what about the furballs of the family? Dog booster seats may allow smaller breeds of man's best friend to keep you company in the front seat, but they also set dogs up to be ejected from the car during a crash—that is, if the airbags don't squash them first.

When I worked as a courier, I used one of those front seat organizer bags to hold my clipboard, paperwork, maps, and anything else I needed to keep with me. It worked great until someone cut me off, forcing me to slam on my brakes and send all of my worldly possessions flying toward the dashboard. Fortunately, scribbled directions and bills of lading don't get hurt when they hit the floor or bounce off the windshield.

Many dog boosters work almost exactly the same way as my organizer bag, and just as poorly. But it's not your scrap paper or well-worn book of maps that bounces off the windshield. It's your dog. Sure, dogs have a sense of balance to help them stay in place, something even the best road atlas doesn't have. That may be enough for when I get cut off in traffic, but when some idiot runs a red light ahead of me and I slam into them, that dog is going to keep on going right through the windshield.

This booster thoughtfully includes a short tether that clips to a special harness to prevent this. It not only prevents the dog from becoming an unidentified flying object, it also spreads the significant G-forces of sudden deceleration across the dog's body. That's not so bad. 

But let's get real. Who's actually going to use it this way? Have you ever seen how uncooperative dogs can be when you try to put clothing on them, which essentially is what this harness is? It takes time that the average person isn't going to spend. They're just going to drop the dog in the box and go. At best, they may attach the tether to the dog's collar, which would then apply the full force of impact directly to the dog's neck, which could have disastrous consequences.

Another problem has to do with the other restraint system in the car: the airbags. Child seats are never supposed to be used in the front seat of a car because airbags can be harmful or even fatal when they go off for an improperly positioned passenger. Children are too small for the airbag's design. They are supposed to provide a cushion for a human torso, but because children are smaller than adults they are positioned to go off in a child's face. 

This improper position is exactly where small dogs in booster seats sit. Not only will they go flying in a crash, they'll launch right into an exploding airbag. The consequences are unpredictable since dogs don't always sit facing straight forward, but regardless they will be severe.

The final problem is the construction of the boosters themselves. Child seats are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. FMVSS 213 is a 43-page document outlining designs, specifications, testing procedures, and minimum acceptable performance requirements. As a result, whether you buy a child seat from Britax, Evenflo, Graco, or any of the other manufacturers, you can be sure that its construction meets these standards, no matter who built it.

No such standards exist for dog boosters. The Center for Pet Safety tested four models of dog boosters of various designs. All of them suffered catastrophic failures of some sort. Some of them allowed the dog (don't worry, it's a crash test dummy) to slam into the seat or the dashboard. Others suffered from structural failures, with buckles or straps breaking. None of them did the job they are supposed to do, which is to keep the dog safely restrained.

MidWest Homes for Pets / Amazon


So how do you keep your dog safe in the car? Consumer Reports recommends treating your dog like you'd treat your child, and put them in the back. CR suggests using a hatchback, wagon, or SUV along with a pet barrier. For small dogs, like the ones you might put in a booster, use a small kennel that fully encloses the dog, protecting them in a cage rather than letting them roam free.

Justin Hughes

Of course, if you have a particularly large lap dog like me, you can use the dog as a seat belt.