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Independent Car Harness Safety Tests - Finally!

Until recently, there's been no independent safety testing of car harnesses for dogs - only manufacturers' claims in ads. Now the Center for Pet Safety, an independent nonprofit, reports and names names. Hang on to your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
Episode #218

Looks scary right? But with a simple modification, this harness performed much better. Read on to find out.

As I’ve described in previous Dog Trainer episodes and blog posts, when it comes to keeping your dog and you safe during car travel – well, lots of luck picking equipment, because manufacturers make lots of claims but there was no independent testing to confirm them. Back in May, I reported on pilot tests done by an independent nonprofit, the Center for Pet Safety. All four harnesses tested failed catastrophically – but anonymously, because CPS didn’t want people to conclude that harnesses not tested were safe. Now the CPS is back with a more complete report, and it names names.

The short version: most likely, if you want to travel safely with your dog in your car, you’re about to go shopping.

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What Makes a Good Safety Harness?

The CPS used its pilot study to set general standards for harness performance. In an accident, a good harness should keep the dog on the seat, of course. To protect the dog’s spine, it should also minimize “rotation,” sideways movement on impact. And it should limit “head excursion,” a term that might be familiar to those of you who’ve bought car seats for your kids. How far forward does the dog’s head move on impact? That’s head excursion. If the excursion’s too great, the dog’s (or child’s) head smacks the back of the front seat, causing potential injury.

How Harnesses Were Chosen for Testing

CPS chose to test small, medium, and large sizes of 11 harnesses whose manufacturers said they were “tested,” or “crash tested,” or “provided crash protection.” (One brand tested only went up to size medium, so the total number of harnesses tested was 32.) CPS bought the harnesses at retail, but they didn’t buy anonymously, the way Consumers Union does, and also they had the harnesses shipped directly to MGA Research Corporation. MGA is a crash-test contractor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  So, theoretically, the harness manufacturers could have provided carefully selected samples for the testing.  I don’t think it’s likely but it is, in my opinion, a slight weakness in CPS’s methodology.

The Preliminaries: Uh-Oh!

The 11 brands of harness underwent a preliminary “quasi-static” test. They were attached to a model of a dog, anchored to a fixture, and then pulled at. For any brand to qualify for more testing, every size of that brand of harness had to survive 5 seconds of pulling at a predetermined threshold.  For instance, a harness for a 45-pound dog had to hold together for 5 seconds under 1,182 pounds of force. Lindsey Wolko, the director of CPS, explained the reason why, if any size harness failed this prelim test, that whole brand failed. The thinking was that failure at any size suggested either quality control problems or a problem with the manufacturing process as a whole. Makes sense to me.

All the harnesses that survived this part of the preliminary test were then pulled harder, until they broke apart or the force reached 4,000 pounds, whichever came first.

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