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Are Car Restraints for Dogs A Big Lie?

dog travel

“My dog sits still most of the time and does not need a car restraint when traveling.”

“My dog would never allow me to restrain him in the car.”

“I don’t go on long trips, so I don’t need to buckle my dog up when traveling.”

Do any of the above questions apply to you? If so, you are not in the minority. According to the 2011 AAA/Kurgo Pet Passenger Safety Survey, 84 percent of respondents bring their dogs on car trips but do not use a restraint. I sheepishly bow my head and admit to falling in that 84 percent now and again for the “short trip to the park” treks we make just about daily.

In July of 2012, the Center for Pet Safety ran a series of videos from its pilot study of the “crash-worthiness” of canine automotive restraints. They report a third-party independent test lab, MGA Research Corporation, tested a variety of pet harnesses to the conditions of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 for child safety restraints.

The results were a complete failure — for ALL restraints tested. Four harnesses were tested in the control group, and every time there were multipoint failures. At one point, the videos reveal a complete separation from the connection point; another shows an instance of complete decapitation of the test (dummy) dog as a result of the harness moving upward on impact. In its press release, the Center for Pet Safety reported, “no protection would be provided to either the dog or to vehicle occupants in similar crash conditions.”

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The Woman Behind the Wheel

I met the founder of the Center for Pet Safety, Lindsay Wolko, at the BlogPaws Conference in 2013. I learned so much from her there. As a dog mom who has been traveling the country and her neighborhood with dogs for over 20 years, I was and remain, very disturbed by the findings.

Lindsay’s interest in pet safety began when her dog Maggie was injured by a safety harness in 2004 a mission began that lead to 8 years of consumer and pet products industry research.  In 2011, after completing a ground-breaking pilot study, she founded the Center for Pet Safety.

She is best known for founding the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization dedicated to consumer and companion animal safety.

dog travel

What the Center Does for Pet Safety

Using scientific testing and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard specifications, the Center for Pet Safety studies pet products and establish criteria and test protocols to measure whether pet safety products provide the protection claimed by advocates and intended by the manufacturer.

  • We conduct rigorous crash testing on commonly available pet safety products using realistic, specially designed, crash test dogs.
  • Although CPS does not directly impact legislation, our organization advocates for meaningful standards leading to safer products that protect animals and improve travel safety for everyone in the vehicle.

But they must be associated with some company, right? NOPE! They do not use live animals in the crash testing, are not affiliated with the pet product industry, and they do not endorse products.

Did You Know?

facts

Is Any Harness Safe?

In their 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, the Center for Pet Safety’ Top Performer  was the Sleepypod Clickit Utility. You can read all about that study here, see video crash testing on testers, and actual results:

http://centerforpetsafety.org/research/2013-harness-study-results/

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 What Should Dog Parents Do?

Other than the Sleepypod Clickit Utility, alternative options include a crate or kennel, a car seat (such as a booster seat), or a car barrier designed to block off a section of the vehicle. I know of someone who was in an accident with her two medium-sized dogs and credits a floor-to-ceiling metal gate with saving the lives of her dogs when her vehicle was rear-ended.

Pet owners may purchase Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness on www.sleepypod.com. Subaru will also be offering these harnesses for purchase through its Subaru Gear catalog and at dealers in the near future. (we are not being endorsed to say nor share this).

dog harness
Photo courtesy Sleepypod. Golden model in a ClickIt.

Buyer Beware

Wolko cautions consumers to investigate claims that a pet travel product has been crash-tested. Is there a video you can watch? If so, does the video show the entire crash sequence: acceleration, impact and the impact’s aftermath? If you can’t find that information, don’t believe the claims. Sleepypod carriers and Variocage crates are two examples of products whose crash-test videos demonstrate what consumers should look for when a product claims to be crash-tested. (this information gleaned from blogs.cars.com)

For me, I sit Driving Miss Daisy-style most times in the car, as a family member drives with me and my harnessed pooch in the back seat. No doubt, millions of them are traveling with their pet parents, restrained and unrestrained.

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QUESTION: Do you restrain your dog when traveling? Do tell…..

Note: I have nothing to gain other than helping to save the lives of dogs by sharing this information. We plan to invest in a Sleepypod Clickit Utility and will provide video review when we do so. I am also participating in the DogFenceDIY Safety Tips 2014 Round Up, which you are welcome to visit and learn more dog safety tips.

Comments

  1. Linda Szymoniak says

    In addition to keeping your pet safe, using a crate or restraint can keep them from getting loose in the case of an accident. I’m involved in animal rescue and am on a number of mailing lists and groups for transport requests, etc. One thing that comes across too often are calls for help in finding a dog(s) that got loose from a vehicle that was involved in an accident. Sometimes the dogs are injured, which makes it even more crucial they are found. Sadly, not all of these dogs are recovered. Even a leash secured to a point inside the car would prevent many of these cases.

    I am a volunteer rescue transport driver. I will have anywhere from a single dog or cat up to 20 or more (in these cases it’s usually because of puppies/kittens). Cats are typically transported in a crate that travels with them for the entire transport. Some dogs will be kept in the same crate for the duration, too (especially in the case of your puppies with “no paws on ground” rules, especially scared dogs, or dogs that are considered flight risks). I have been picking up dog crates at garage sales, etc. so I’m able to crate all the dogs on my leg of any transport I drive. I do love keeping one dog up front with me – riding “shotgun”, but always make sure they are securely restrained. Not only is it for their own safety, but I can’t have them crawling into my lap while I’m driving or otherwise jumping around the vehicle.

  2. Kathryn Strand says

    In 1980 my parents were killed when their Honda Civic was broadsided and rolled over. A teenage driver with 2 passengers failed to obey a stop sign on a country road and hit my parents’ car at a fairly high rate of speed. The teens were not badly injured in the crash. My parents had never gotten into the habit of wearing their seatbelts. They had just returned from a 2 week visit to meet their new grandchild during which visit I wouldn’t turn on the car engine until I made sure they were buckled up. My parents’ dog, a cocker mix, was with them at the time of their accident and was so badly injured in the crash that he had to be euthanized. The dog was not restrained. Nobody thought of doing that back then. Fast forward to 2014. I purchased a harness restraint at TJ Maxx for one of my dogs but from your article it looks like it is totally ineffective and dangerous to the animal. I know I should buy the recommended ClickIt harness but $89.99 is a hefty price tag, especially considering I have 3 dogs. I know it would be worth the cost if I had an accident and the harnesses saved their lives. I guess most of us play the odds and figure it’s not likely we’ll have such an accident. My parents obviously didn’t think so either. Your article has given me something to think about. Thank you.

    • Carol Bryant says

      This just really really gave me pause for thought and I want to thank you, Kathryn. Thanks for being so open and sharing this very tragic story. I am so sorry and had no idea about your parents. How awful. And I know words are of little comfort. I am going to post this comment on Facebook in response to what I blogged about in hopes it will help others. TY.

  3. Emma says

    Mom is adamant about seat belts…she was a flight attendant for 11 yrs! In Germany, it is the law, and with the Autobahn, a necessity. We all wear our German seat belts which you can also buy in the US now. Mom talked to the people about them at BlogPaws in 2013 and they say they aren’t sure about them. Well, Germans are known for quality and when it comes to safety because of the Autobahn, they are top. We stand behind our seat belts 100%. You can check them out along with a crash test video on my post from last summer at: http://mygbgvlife.com/2013/08/23/buckle-up/ As for short trips, most accidents happen close to home. When Mom feels lazy and doesn’t want to buckle us in for a 2 min. drive, she remembers she will be buckled up and if anything happened to us because she was too lazy to spend 30 secs to buckle us up, she would never forgive herself. Seat belts are a big thing at our house!

  4. Kia says

    I haven’t bought Simba a seat belt or booster seat yet. I want to get him one though. When we travel he is in his kennel. Thanks for sharing the information!

  5. Lara Elizabeth says

    While I understand that their crash-test safety is questionable, I have recently started using car restraints for my dogs to ensure that they don’t jump out of the car before I am able to grab their leashes when we stop. It also helps keep my reactive dog from standing up looking out the window.

  6. Martin Basch says

    I can’t remember the brand, but i got seatbelt harnesses for both my dogs. I did a lot of research before hand and asked around in several forums. I tried them out right away, and i was pleased with the compromise between restrain and mobility. Having said that, i rarely use them. I’m also in the 84%. I always think i’ll use them in long trips, highways or roads, but not to the park outings…
    On the same topic, my german shepherd always rides in the back, and my wheaten terrier always rides in the passenger seat. I got told off many times because of the danger of the air bags going off on the front seat. However, my car has a feature where the seat can sense the weight in the front seat, and won’t deploy the airbag if the weight on the seat is under 80 lbs…

  7. Kirby the Dorkie says

    Since a puppy Kirby has used the Solvit Booster Seat in the backseat behind the driver. It’s a heavy plastic model that is attached to the seat with the car seatbelt. Getting in the car he jumps onto the floorboard, onto the backseat, and into the booster seat where we unhook the leash and hook the booster restraint to his EzyDog chest plate harness. Getting out he waits for us to change from the restraint to the leash and then lift him out.

    The harness is great for two reasons – it only takes seconds to clip and unclip from leash to car seat back to leash and it places all pressure on his chest rather than his delicate neck whether walking, or hopefully, in the event of an accident. Even with both I do worry about a hard impact since he has room to move around but I think he’s safer than if he wasn’t secured at all.

  8. Glogirly & Katie says

    This was really interesting to me (I know…shock! A Cat girl) … I’m a huge fan of the Sleepypod carriers and have photographed the ClickIt harness. I’ve been very curious to know how it performs in outside tests. I’m really happy to know that as harnesses go, it’s rated at the top.
    : ) GG

  9. Jen deHaan | DOGthusiast says

    I saw the results from that study when it came out, and considered getting the ClickIt restraint for my road trip to Vegas (about 500 miles). The main issues I read/heard about from multiple people were that a) It’s quite difficult and time consuming to put on, and many dogs hate that (including one of mine). and b) The dog has to sit up the entire time (like that dog in the photo). Those two things seem to make it a lot less attractive to use for both short rides and long rides. I know safety is more important, but sitting up like that for 500 miles just seems extremely uncomfortable for a dog. And my dog is very sensitive to having awkward things put onto him, so I’m not sure if that harness is really the right answer.

    Right know I’m using a tube shaped soft crate, which looks like a much bigger version of the Sleepypod pictured here. My rationale is the wire/plastic crates could be crushed/broken on impact and do a lot of damage, and while the softer crate might get ripped it will hopefully contain/restrain instead of break/puncture the dogs and hopefully stop my dogs from flying around the cabin of the car. I’m not sure if that’s the case for a major life altering crash, but crossing my fingers until I can afford a variocage.

    We also went with the top rated car in the class for crash safety, to keep us all safe.

    If the above is completely incorrect or an older version of the harness, I’m all ears 🙂

  10. heather mcclain-howell says

    The Ruff Rider Roadie also passed the NRMA 2013 crash test. We like it, but the Clickit’s 3-point attachment system just can’t be beat! (these are the only 2 car harnesses we carry). The Clickit can also calm dogs who have travel anxiety by keeping their butts firmly planted in the seat…not flopping around in the back has done wonders for our anxious girl Olive.

    Plastic and wire crates are not safe in the car, they can collapse onto themselves in a 40MPH crash!

  11. Stealth Spaniel says

    Great article! I used to travel with the my previous cockers unrestrained, because they were so well behaved. Getting sideswiped at 80 miles per hour in my then Subaru, slammed my well behaved cockers into the floor and almost broke their necks!! Never, ever again, do any of my dogs travel without their harnesses or crates. I watched all the videos (thanks Emma for your input and I added you to my read list!), and realize that as nice as my Rogz harnesses and Bamboo holders are-they won’t stop my girls from getting hurt or killed. Right now, they travel by crate; airline safety crates. I’d like to put the seats back in my Element and use a safety harness, but until I get a proven set up, we will just stay in the crates. I use bungee cords on my crates, but was told that I needed to use cargo straps for safer travel. Does anyone have anything on strapping crates in a car?

  12. Barbara says

    The first time I used the Sleepypod Sport my dog got his leg tangled in the seat belt. I posted to Amazon with pictures, however they want to moderate me it appears because as of writing this, my review still isn’t posted. There are many reviews on Amazon where the dog got tangled and believe it or not, some still gave a high rating.
    I wonder if any dogs have ever been strangled and died because of this or any harness.
    There’s got to be better options.

  13. Meer says

    Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Harness is also crash tested and at $30 it’s much more affordable. The ClickIts and SleepyPods are great, but having tried them my dog and I prefer the Tru-Fit. The system used to restrain the dog also allows him to lie down during the trip which is something that the ClickIt did not let him do. That said my 80 lb Collie is very intelligent, he knows that he needs to turn on the outside (away from the back of his seat) to avoid tangling with the seatbelt and his restraint. My old dog was clever in his own way, but not as observant as my Collie. He never understood that turning on the inside would get him tangled, so he’d sit and cry until I could find a place to pull over to free him. For him the ClickIt was perfect! The limited mobility prevented him from putting himself in more danger.

  14. Sylvia Allen says

    I use the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain harness for every trip, no matter how short, just as I would use a seatbelt for a human child for every trip. Yes, even 2 blocks. It is a pain in the butt! but the optional s-clip does make it a little easier and does let my dog lie down. We have never had a problem of a leg tangled in the seat belt, and I don’t even see how that could happen. Maybe a different size dog, or different car’s seat belts?

    I think to myself: I wear a seat belt every trip. My kids were strapped in, every trip. What’s my excuse for not securing my dog for every trip? So I do it. But, yeah, it’s a pain.

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