Seat belts for dogs

Reggie and his dad got into a car accident a couple weeks ago. Very minor, a fender-bender really, both dog and human were ok on both sides. Reggie has always been a good car dog. He rides in the back seat, sitting sometimes, laying down most of the time. Pretty uneventful. I’ve never really considered a harness, a “seat belt”, until now.

Dog safety harnesses are pretty popular. Many people use them and depend on them for their pet’s safety in the car. Turns out, there are no regulations or performance standards for safety harnesses. Um, what? Claims on packages about crash testing and ratings for your dog are misleading at best, and could be false.

The Center for Pet Safety undertook a major crash test project, sponsored by Subaru, to test dog safety harnesses. The first step was to take the major safety harnesses being sold (11 of them) and test at a 5 second preload threshold at each size (small, medium, and large). The intent is to ensure that initially each one performs uniformly across all brands and sizes. Four did not qualify to proceed with testing.

The crash testing is not a pass/fail, but an evaluation of performance. Some of the products began to tear at larger forces, and some experienced catastrophic failure at the attachments.

Two important things that were noted about the performance evaluations were rotation of the dog during the crash and something call head excursion. Head excursion is the number of inches your dog’s head moves in the direction of impact or on rebound from an impact. The head excursion allowances follow the same guidelines as for a child, from the FMVSS 213 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) requires 618 mm (about 24 inches, tethered) and 711 mm (about 28 inches, untethered). The safest scenario for your dog’s head, neck, and spine, as well as for other passengers in the car, is to keep your dog restrained in the seat and to prevent them from becoming a projectile in an accident.

In the study, some harnesses performed well for head excursion limits at smaller dog limits but did not perform well at large dog sizes. Also, tethers make a difference too. Some products performed better with the tether with regard to head excursion, while some failed at the attachments. Watch this video for a good example of a large head excursion, almost twice the recommended allowance.

The best performer, at all sizes, was the Sleepypod ClickIt Utility harness. Since I have a large dog, I find it interesting that not one harness falls within the head excursion guidelines for large dogs, although the Sleepypod model does note that it kept the dog restrained on the seat and not flying off the seat which is important. You can read the full report here.

Having read the report, and seen the crash test videos, I think I will invest in a safety harness for Reggie. It might take some positive associations- he will probably think of it as “clothes” and we can’t have that!

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