Does your dog wear a seat belt (or more accurately, a safety harness) when traveling in the car? I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that mine doesn’t. I’ve thought about it, but a lack of independent confirmation regarding whether or not they would actually work in an accident and therefore be worth my time and money has stopped me. Now that information is available, and it looks like I was right to avoid many of the safety harnesses that are currently available.

The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) has just released the results of its 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study and the results are discouraging. Of eleven brands that made claims of “testing,” “crash testing,” or “crash protection,” all but one was deemed to have sub-optimal performance. A few even experienced “catastrophic failures,” which are defined by the CPS as allowing “the test dog to become a full projectile, or releases the test dog from the restraint.” (Don’t worry, the “test dogs” were not real dogs but the canine equivalent of human crash test dummies.)

In addition to the presence or absence of “catastrophic failures,” the CPS also considered the following during the study:

  • Does the testing indicate uniform brand performance across all sizes? (Ensuring that the product performs successfully and uniformly across the brand [i.e., all tested sizes] is an important indicator of the level of due diligence on the part of the manufacturer.)
  • Does the test dog stay on the seat for the entirety of the crash test? (This is a critically important for overall occupant safety. Without adequate restraint, the companion animal could strike a human occupant or internal vehicle structure.)
  • Does the harness have a tether that prevents adjustment to a length of 6” or less? (Long harness tethers are inherently dangerous. Products that have extension tethers that cannot be adjusted to at least 6” or less were considered more dangerous than those extension tethers that were already short or could be adjusted to a much shorter length by the consumer.)

I’ve seen some pretty horrific injuries that resulted from dogs being unsecured in a vehicle when an accident occurred. Using safety harnesses is a relatively cheap and easy way to protect dogs and the human occupants of a car in the event of a sudden stop or accident … so long as the harness performs as advertised. Check out the full CPS summary report for more information, including which products performed well and which didn’t, along with an eye-opening slow motion video of what happened to some of the “dogs” that were supposedly restrained during crash testing.

Now how confident are you that your dog’s safety harness will actually keep him and everyone else in the car safe should the unexpected happen?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock