Car restraints for dogs are key for your dog's safety

crash test dog dummy

When I’m setting out for a drive with Fido in the car, guilt climbs into the passenger seat beside me.

Guilt because Fido is riding around unrestrained in the back seat where he could easily go flying and get hurt if I brake suddenly or we (God forbid!) get into an accident.

We tried a seat belt harness, but Fido slithered right out of it. We often drive with a friend and her dog, Red, a 50-pound Jindo mix, who has to be restrained or he’d try to hijack the car. When we tried a seat belt harness with him, he managed repeatedly to step on the seat belt locking mechanism and free himself. Currently, we’re using a Kurgo zip line with him.  The zip line attaches to the hand holds above the back doors. It runs through the loop in his seat belt harness, allowing him movement but keeping him safely in the back seat.

It isn’t perfect and we’ll tell you why — and it doesn’t hold a candle against some of the restraints that have undergone the most strict testing recently.

Why your dog needs restraints in the car

The potential dangers of having a dog loose in a car while you are driving are so serious that some states are considering new laws and penalties similar to those for texting while driving or driving under the influence.

These dangers include:

  • Distracting you from the road. Dogs moving from the back seat to the front, trying to climb into your lap or standing so far forward on the between-the-seats console that you can’t see what’s going on in your rear and side view mirrors put you at risk of a car accident. In a survey by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), nearly a third of the drivers admitted they had been distracted at some point by a dog climbing into their lap when driving.
  • Turning your dog into a flying projectile if the car stops suddenly or is hit by another car. An unrestrained, 10-pound dog traveling in a car going 50 mph has an effective weight of 833 pounds if the car stops suddenly and the dog goes hurtling forward. An 80-pound dog in a car going only 30 mph that stops suddenly will have an effective weight of 2,400 — more than a ton.
  • Injury or death to the dog. A dog can lose its balance, fall into the foot well, bounce against the interior of the car or go through a window or windshield if a driver has to swerve, brake suddenly or gets hit. The dog can be hurt, break a leg or even be killed.
  • Interfering with the work of first responders. A frightened or hurt dog may try to bite or run from anyone who tries to give help in an accident. This can make it hard for paramedics to give medical care. If the dog escapes and runs, it can cause other car accidents.

Here’s some video from the harness testing we’ll describe below.  It’s a terrifying look at what could happen to your dog in a car without good restraints.

Types of restraints

Safety restraints for dogs take several forms. But they don’t protected equally well. In most cases, they can protect against certain types of dangers, but not all. Here are the main categories:

  • Seat belt restraints. These are usually special harnesses with a loop that a seat belt goes through before locking. The dog can sit or stand, but not move much more than that in the car. In a sudden stop, the seat belt grabs, just as it would if it were restraining a person. The cost of these types of dog restraints ranges from $20 to $100.
  • Crates or carriers. Just like ordinary crates or kennels, these are attached to the car’s seats or seat belts so they don’t rock around in side the car. One example is the Kurgo Carrier Keeper, which costs $20 and offers two adjustable straps that extend up to 8-feet.  The straps go through the fastened seat belt and tightly around the crate. The dog can still be bounced around inside the carrier, however.
  • Barriers. These range from expandable metal grids that fit inside a car or SUV to keep a dog in the back seat or cargo area.  These devices will keep a dog from flying through the windshield, but won’t protect him from injuries due to flying into the barrier itself.  The dog can still bounce around inside the car and be injured.

Do dog restraints really protect?

Until last October, your only option was to rely on the manufacturers’ claims — without having much information about how they did their testing.

In October 2013, a landmark event occurred.  Subaru of America, Inc., recognizing that nearly half their customers owned dogs, teamed up with the Center for Pet Safety and MGA Research Corp., an independent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing lab to test common pet safety harnesses.

According to Consumer Reports, they did two types of testing — a strength test and a crash test — on 11 harnesses. Seven passed the strength test and went on to crash testing.  They were:

The crash testing required MGA to build specially designed, life-like dog models. The models were based on a 25-pound terrier, a 45-pound border collie and a 75-pound golden retriever.

The testing identified the Sleepypod Clickit Utility harness as the 2013 Top Performing Harness.  The Center for Pet Safety noted that this product was the only that kept the dog from launching off the car seat, reduced rotation of the dog during the test crash and offered a three-point connection.  The harness also has elements that help absorb energy froma crash and reduce the forces on the dog.

Here’s video of the harness during testing:

The Clickit harness can be used as a walking harness as well as a car harness.  It has a padded chest section that attaches at the back of the neck and the shoulders.  It comes in four sizes, three colors and costs $90 to $100, depending on the size of the dog.

Disclosure: FidoUniverse received no products, incentives, payments or other consideration from any of the makers or sellers discussed in this post.