Dog Safety Harness: Is It Important?

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A whole lot of time and money is spent in designing cars for safety purposes. The bumpers are designed to crumple upon impact, absorbing shock. Seatbelts tighten abruptly when there are sudden stops. Airbags prevent head injuries and the possibility of being thrown through the windshield.

However, some dog owners do not seem to realize that they need to pay as much attention to dog safety in cars. Without a dog safety harness, dogs also are at risk of head whiplash and spinal injury from sudden stops, they can be shaken around in a quickly moving car, or thrown through a windshield.

Risks of Unrestrained Dogs in Cars

A car running at 50 mph will throw out its 10 lb furry passenger with 500 lbs of force if it suddenly brakes or crashes, according to AAA Traffic-safety Programs Manager Jennifer Heubner-Davidson. The heavier the dog, the greater the risk: a 50 lb dog thrown out of a car braking from 30 mph will meet any obstacle with 1500 lbs of force. Not only that, but airbags are as dangerous to dogs as they are to small children, due to the weaker bone structure and density.

According to the AAA & Kurgo Pet Passenger Survey (2011), 56% of Americans drive with their dogs in the car. Of these drivers, 29% are distracted by their dogs moving around while they are driving. 52% pet their dogs while driving, 23% hold their dogs still while applying the brakes, 19% prevent their dogs from making their way to the front seat, while 18% actually reach back to pet the dog in the backseat.

This increases the overall risk of crashing, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Just 2 seconds without looking at the road increases risk of crashing by 2 times. 1 in 5 car crashes are a result of being distracted while driving. However, 84% of dog owners drive without any form of harness or restraint for their dogs. 29% of dog owners were aware of stories about dogs who either suffered injury or unconsciously injured others in a car crash.

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Since only 16% of dog owners use restraints while driving with their dogs, it is clear that the risk of car accidents are quite high. It threatens terrible injury to the dog and perhaps his owner as well. What makes the statistics worse is the fact that such injuries are preventable, through the use of simple safety precautions such as dog safety harnesses.

What Are Dog Safety Harnesses?

A dog safety harness is something like a seat belt for human beings, except they are custom-made for dog safety in car seats. Most look like a leash-and-collar combination that secures the dog to the backseat. Most versions give the dog some slack, so that they can still watch out the windows without falling out, and run around the seat. Ideally, it should be as comfortable for the dog as possible, besides keeping him safe.

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The design of the harness, naturally, depends on the manufacturer. But according to the 2011 study of the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), for maximum dog safety in cars,the safety harness should at least 1) restrict the dog to the backseat, 2) protect the dog from spinal injury by restricting sideways movement, and 3) keep the dog‘s head from hitting the front seats. Last but not least, the safety harness should give the dog the maximum amount of comfort possible.

How Should A Dog Safety Harness Work?

According to the updated, 2013 CPS Harness Crashworthiness Study Summary Report, there are certain criteria that every harness should meet for dog safety in car seats, besides the ones already stated. First, the brand should on no account “exhibit any catastrophic failures.” These are defined as failures of the harness to, first, prevent the dog from being launched as a projectile. Second, to stay intact or unbroken in case of a crash.

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Second, the brand should be consistently effective across all of the harness sizes. According to CPS, this tests the attention of the manufacturer to the details of the harness. Third, the harness should only be able to extend to a length of 6 inches or less. Any longer, and the dog would be in danger of hitting the back of the front seats, or another passenger, in the event of a crash.

The basic harness design consists of straps that go around the dog‘s neck and under his front legs, meeting at the back. There is usually padding on the straps over the chest area, to give the dog cushioning in case of a crash. A length of leash either buckles straight into the backseat buckle receiver, or into the loop holding the buckle receiver.

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Of the 7 brands tested, 20 harnesses were tested in all (6 brands with 3 sizes, 1 brand with 2). Of these, 30% of the harnesses exhibited catastrophic failures, particularly if they were the larger or smaller harnesses. Also, CPS referenced the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213 as a baseline for the maximum distance a pet‘s head could travel forward in the case of a sudden brake or crash, without hitting the front seats. (The original measurement is for children). The maximum limit should be 32 inches.

Of the 24 harnesses with adjustable leashes, 71.43% allowed the dog‘s head to extend past 32 inches. Some reached as far as 70 inches, putting the dog extremely at risk, as well as the passengers. The average limit of the harnesses all in all was 45.97 inches, more than 10 inches longer than the accepted limit.

These details make it extremely important to choose dog safety harnesses properly. It is even better to look at personal experiences with harnesses. These reveal more details than surveys and studies can cover, and help future users to know what to do and how to handle potential issues with the harnesses.

Top Dog Safety Harnesses and Amazon Reviews

The Sleepypod ClickIt Utility Dog Safety Harness

According to the 2013 Center for Pet Safety Study Summary, the ClickIt Utility harness was their Top Performer. The small, medium, and large harnesses were tested on 25, 45, and 75 lbs respectively. There was no catastrophic failure recorded for each harness size, and for the small and medium harnesses, the head movement during crashes were 17.87 and 24.21 inches respectively. The test dog did not fall off the seat, and because the tethers are on both sides of the dog, the risk of spinal injury was nearly removed.

The model got 3.9/5 stars on Amazon, with 44% rating it 5-stars. One review by “stormy neff” describes the performance of the ClickIt Utility harness during an actual accident. “The next moment [after the crash], I quickly braced myself before turning around to assess Bella’s safety. I was incredibly worried she would have serious injury [sic]. She sat there staring back at me as we exchanged looks of natural confusion, but she was [in] perfect condition (given the situation).” User “roxy38” adds, “Love it because they aren’t falling everytime we have a sudden stop or quick turn.”

For the critical reviews, the most complaints have to do with the complication of set up. Since the ClickIt Utility harness has three points of restraint (behind and to each side), the harness has to be linked up to a car buckle on either side, and then to a closed seatbelt at the back. If the instructions are not followed properly, the dog may become tangled in the straps. However, it is this three-point restraint design which makes the ClickIt Utility harness the safest on the market.

The Bergan Dog Auto Harness

A much more affordable option, the Bergan Dog Auto Harness is optimal for traveling with a dog, but not for getting into an accident with one. Because there is only one tether, the dog leaves the seat during a crash, and then falls over the seat onto the floor. The single tether also does not prevent spinal injury in case of a crash. Unfortunately, the largest size exhibited “catastrophic failure” during the test. All harnesses pass the V9DT B2009.1 Durability Standard, and can sustain loads of 3,000 to 5,000 lbs.

Users on Amazon give the brand 3.9 out of 5 stars, 49% giving it a 5-star review. User “Pearl S.” says, “This harness allows my dog to stand, sit, lie down or move on the backseat and still kept her from falling or slipping when a fast stop was necessary. Other harnesses we have tried were much too restrictive.” User “kpha” reports, “Great for travel. Now the dogs do not pace on long drives. [The] leash is long enough for the dog to move, but short enough to keep the dog in one place.” Other users enjoy the ease of use and neat fit, as well as the comfort of the padding.

For the critical reviews, user “EB” describes, “after a little over 3 months of occasional use, it has loosened where you cannot adjust [the] front straps, and frayed on the adjustable straps—beyond usable.” Other complaints were on the inconvenience of adjusting the straps rather than clipping and unclipping the harness, and on the ease with which their dogs slipped right out of the harnesses.

The Kurgo Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength Harness

The CPS 2013 study marked the Small and Large harnesses of this brand “catastrophic failures,” as the neck strap actually tore during the crash tests. The Medium size also allowed the dog‘s head to move past the 32 inch safety level, at 54.88 inches. The CPS test shows that the dog is thrown off the seat and lands against the seat edge during a crash. However, it is a more affordable model that is, like the Bergan harness, good to travel with but not so much to crash with.

Amazon users gave this brand 4.2 over 5 stars, 58% giving it a 5-star rating. User “Rebecca” says, “I love the front ring for walking! […] With our old seatbelt we had to switch harnesses every time we got in and out of the car. The front ring gives us an easy way to walk him to and from the car.” According to user “Kimberly Williams,” “They have enough room to look out the window, readjust themselves, sit, and lay comfortably [sic] plus they’re not making it impossible for me to drive.” Other users report that it is easy to use, and easy to adjust for a perfect fit.

Critical reviews complain about the fragility of the snaps and rings holding the harness to the seat—they tend to break quickly. The adjustable straps also give some trouble, as the dog can sometimes loosen them with continuous pulling. Others complain that the steel buckles make it too heavy.

While at home, an invisible or electric dog fence is a great safety item to help protect your dog from disease and accidents, and Quality Dog Fence is a great site to learn more.  But for those times where travel is needed, a dog safety harness can be a lifesaver for your dog.  Finding the right model and fit can make your car a little safer for man’s best friend!

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