Dogs and Car Safety

Taking your dog for a car ride? Here's how to keep her as safe as possible.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
May 10, 2010
Episode #061

Page 2 of 3

Do Dog Harness-Type Restraints Work in the Car?

And I did find several crash test videos online. Just to reassure you, they all used stuffed animals. The clearest and most detailed were in German, which I don’t speak, and were made by a manufacturer of harness-type restraints, so the testers had an interest in the outcome. That having been said, the videos are both troubling and informative. In one test, which appears from different angles in a couple of the videos, an ordinary travel kennel that’s seatbelted in essentially explodes on impact at 72 kilometers--just under 45 miles--per hour. The stuffed cat ricochets around the passenger compartment and finally lands on the edge of the back passenger seat in a way that will remind you of a certain scene in Million Dollar Baby. The stuffed Husky harnessed next to the cat likewise flies forward into the air between the two front seats and then bounces back and up and around. At several points his body flexes in ways that suggest a real dog would be breaking bones. The video then shows the same accident but with the stuffed Husky wearing the company’s safety harness. Let’s just say it looked a lot more survivable.

How to Choose a Safety Harness for Your Dog

None of us would ever dream of letting an infant or child ride in a car without appropriate safety restraints; protect your dog the same way.

I won’t recommend specific brands here. But after repeatedly watching the crash test video and studying pictures of the harness, I believe I’ve identified the features that you should be looking for when you shop. Just bear in mind, please, that this is me applying my common sense and observational skills. I would be much happier to turn this question over to actual engineering experts employed by an independent testing agency.

Look for broad, thickly padded straps, especially the strap running down the center of the dog’s chest. The broad straps will distribute the force of the impact as widely as possible, and the padding will cushion the dog’s chest wall and hopefully prevent or at least minimize crushing. I’d like to see the harness fasteners constructed like those on actual car seatbelts, which obviously have been tested for crashworthiness. Same goes for the tether between the harness and the seatbelt buckle.

And, finally, that tether should be short. That struck me as especially important. Think of how a dog who’s got the full six feet of leash to play with can lunge harder than he could if you were holding the leash at a point a foot from his collar. Similarly, a dog who’s sent flying forward in a crash will build up more momentum if her harness tether is three feet long than she will if it’s half that length. That difference in impact could make a difference in the degree of injury. It might also mean the difference between the fastener’s remaining intact or bursting apart and launching your dog into the windshield. Finally, please tell me that I didn’t need to tell you that the tether should fasten at the dog’s back, not at her neck.