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Buckle Up: The Best Safety Car Harness for Your Dog

Most dogs love riding in the car because it means fabulous things are about to happen-like a trip to the beach or park. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to let them co-pilot from the passenger seat, but there’s a much safer option. Ideally, dogs should ride in a crate or be safely secured in a specially-designed doggie harness or seatbelt.

But before you open your wallet, did you know that not all safety harnesses are created equal? In fact, according to a 2011 study, the “best” doggie seatbelts on the market aren’t created very well at all. Conducted by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), the study tested what appeared to be the four highest-quality doggie seatbelts offered on the market and showed a 100% failure rate.

The good news is that the study caught the attention of Subaru executives, who recognized that two-thirds of their drivers own dogs. Cha-ching-a marketing goldmine! Of course, it’s not just about the dollars. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to keep dogs safe while traveling in the car and to raise awareness about faulty harnesses. AAA reports that nearly 90% of U.S. pet owners say they travel with their pets. With roughly 70 million dogs residing in 43.3 million U.S. households, that’s a lot of dogs on the road!

Similar to human seatbelts, the goal of a doggie harness is to maintain a dog’s stability-that is, keeping his spine stationary with little rotation and restraining movement under force. Harnesses serve to minimize injury by preventing your dog from launching forward or getting tossed around and injured in the event of an accident.

Subaru teamed up with CPS to further study canine harness safety and worthiness by borrowing techniques from popular dummy crash tests. They developed a canine safety harness test that uses the same crash tests designed for rating child safety products. Don’t worry, no dogs were harmed in the study! Special canine crash-test dummies were designed around steel frames to give realistic representations of a dog’s body including a 25-pound terrier mix, a 45-pound Border Collie, and a 75-pound Golden Retriever.

Only harnesses that manufacturers claimed as “testing” “crash testing” or “crash protection” qualified for further examination. (4 of the original 10 harnesses never made it past preliminary testing.) The remaining harnesses proceeded to the crash testing phase.

The bad news is the 2013 Subaru / CPS study, which enlisted the assistance of an independent laboratory, had equally dismal results as the 2011 report. While it wasn’t a 100% failure like the previous test, 4 of the 7 brands had “catastrophic failure,” meaning the test dog became a projectile. All but one of the harnesses ripped, tore, stretched, and broke in crucial areas which result in the test dogs being thrown across the vehicle. The test dogs broke legs and ribs, while others were decapitated. Not a pleasant thought but certainly not surprising considering that AAA reports an unrestrained 10-pound dog in a car traveling 30 miles per hour will exert 300 pounds of force during a crash. By comparison, an 80-pound dog traveling in a car at 30 miles per hour will exert roughly 2,400 pounds of force. Imagine how quickly most cars travel and you can understand what might happen in a more serious accident at higher speeds.

In the end only one harness passed with flying colors: the Sleepypod Clickit Utility harness with 3-point connection. According to the study, it’s the only harness that consistently kept all 3 “dummy dogs” from launching off the seat, and substantially reduced rotation of the fake pooches during testing. In other words, it’s the only restraint proven to offer substantial protection to canine passengers.

The next time you buckle up your pet, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by marketing. Be sure the harness you choose is crash-tested and designed to protect your precious pooch.


– U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (press release from Subaru).