Center for Pet Safety dog dummy

In 2004, Lindsey Wolko was traveling with her dog, Maggie, who was in a harness in the back seat, when she had to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. The tether of the harness turned out to be too long to keep Maggie secure on the seat. So when Wolko hit the brakes, Maggie went flying and hit the back of the front seat. She was injured and terrified but fortunately survived.

“As a pet owner, I thought I was doing everything right,” Wolko told Vetstreet. “From that moment forward, I started to look at these products and say, ‘So that injured my dog.’”

Fast-forward to 2013, and years of sampling and testing pet safety products have finally paid off. Wolko, who founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety in 2011, embarked on a landmark study on pet harness safety, which was sponsored by Subaru. Last week, CPS released the results. Out of the 11 harness brands tested, only one — the Sleepypod Clickit Utility harness — passed crash safety testing.

A Look at the 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study

Through its 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, CPS hoped to not only identify the top-performing harness brands for consumers but also create a standard protocol for manufacturers. Unlike human car safety restraints, there is no government oversight or safety standard for pet harnesses.

Center for Pet Safety dog dummy

To determine which harness brands were the safest, the Center for Pet Safety sampled 11 pet harnesses that claimed “testing,” “crash testing” or “crash protection.”

Although there are no sizing standards for pet safety harnesses, most of the manufacturers’ harnesses are available in sizes small, medium and large. CPS created crash test dummy dogs to represent a typical small (25-pound) dog, medium (45-pound) dog and large (75-pound) dog.

Before each harness brand could go through crash testing, it had to pass a preliminary test in which a harness secured on a static, standard-size crash test dog had to maintain structural integrity while being pulled by a machine that puts force on the harness for a five-second hold period. If the harness broke or allowed the dog to become a projectile, it failed and did not go onto crash testing.

Of the 11 brands in the study, seven passed preliminary testing, and four failed.

For the brands that made it to the crash study, the Center for Pet Safety replicated the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard crash conditions that are used for child safety seats.

To be considered a “top performer,” the harness had to meet four criteria:

Center for Pet Safety dog dummy undergoes a crash test

  1. No “catastrophic failures.” The harness could not allow the dog to become a projectile or to be released from the restraint.
  2. The harness had to have the same performance results across all sizes. Many brands failed on the 75-pound dog.
  3. The dog had to stay on the seat for the duration of the crash.
  4. The harness had to have a tether that adjusts to 6 inches or less because longer tether harnesses are considered dangerous.

Although many of the manufacturers passed preliminary testing, a surprising number of them did not perform well in crash testing. The only harness manufacturer to meet all of the Center for Pet Safety’s criteria was Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility. As noted in the summary of the study, the Clickit Utility was a top performer for all three sizes tested, it controlled the launch and rotation of the dog, and it allowed the test dog to stay on the seat and remain restrained during every crash.

What This Means for Consumers

So why did so many brands that claimed their product could survive a crash not meet expectations? Wolko says one problem is that many manufacturers only test one size of their harnesses.

For instance, the manufacturer might test the harness for a 30- to 35-pound dog but never test for a smaller or larger dog. Plus, many manufacturers only do preliminary testing and never do crash testing on their products.

“Pet owners are told these stories from manufacturers saying, ‘Yes, we’ve done due diligence.’ And we applaud the due diligence they do. But this is where we see we need some standardized protocols so that we can evaluate the products and say, ‘Yes, this does what the manufacturer claims,’” Wolko says.

Center for Pet Safety dog dummy

Manufacturers Are Paying Attention

Thanks to the Center for Pet Safety’s study, manufacturers are paying attention.

Many are now actively working on improving their products so they can perform as well as the Sleepypod Clickit Utility.

The company AllSafe participated in a case study to find out how it could modify and improve its product. The company determined if it removed the tether and looped the seatbelt through the back of the harness, then the harness was able to keep the dog in place and prevent it from launching off the seat.

The car company Subaru, which funded the study, is even going to start offering the Sleepypod Clickit Utility in its gear catalogs.

“It all comes down to safety, and our company is known for exceeding safety requirements whether the passengers have two legs or four,” says Sheriece Matias, a corporate communications manager for Subaru.

What's Next for the Center for Pet Safety?

After completing such a groundbreaking study, Wolko and the Center for Pet Safety hope to do more. The nonprofit is currently working to fund multiple studies.

“We want to continue to look at travel because we do feel that this is critical, because if one of these products fails, it could injure a human, not only your pet,” Wolko says.

CPS is looking into testing crates and carrier barriers as well as life jackets for pets.

“We want to look at how these products really interact with the pets," Wolko says. "We think this is going to be a very real effort in the coming years.”

To learn more about the 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, read the Center for Pet Safety's study summary and check out the CPS website.