A groundbreaking study by the Center for Pet Safety identified Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness as the top restraint for dogs traveling in cars.
The findings, released Thursday, for the first time ranked pet harnesses that make test claims either on their packaging or website.
The lack of industry-wide performance standards and test protocols has given manufacturers the freedom to define what constitutes crashworthiness.
"While many pet car-restraint manufacturers claim to test their products … these claims cannot be substantiated,” reported the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Va.
The Sleepypod Clickit Utility Harness was the only device from among seven tested to earn a "Top Performer” ranking for crash protection.
"It was the only harness tested to consistently keep a dog from launching off of the seat and the only restrain deemed to offer substantial protection to all passengers, including the dog, in the event of an accident,” said a statement released jointly by the nonprofit research organization and car manufacturer Subaru, which sponsored the test.
Sleepypod welcomed the news, which was accompanied by word that Subaru would offer the safety harness as an option in its vehicles.
"This study affirms Sleepypod’s six-year commitment to researching and developing pet safety restraints,” said Michael Leung, a product designer and the Pasadena, Calif., company’s co-owner.
The harness’s three attachment points drew the attention of evaluators.
"The innovative three-point connection prevents the launch and subsequent rotation of the test dog, thus improving human occupant safety and providing the dog the best possible chance of survival in the case of an accident,” said Lindsey A. Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety.
The testing was conducted in Manassas, Va., by MGA Research Corp., which performs contract work for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The harnesses were tested using three specially designed dog models: a 25-pound terrier mix, a 45-pound border collie and a 75-pound golden retriever. The harnessed dummy canines were seated upright in the center of a test bench, and the sleds were accelerated to 30 mph before being brought to a sudden stop.
The tests looked at whether a harness suffered a catastrophic failure, meaning the dummy was released from the restraint; whether the harness performed equally for all three dog sizes; whether the test dog stayed on the seat the entire time; and whether the harness came with a tether that could be adjusted to no more than 6 inches long.
Four harnesses—Champion from USA K-9 Outfitters, Clix from The Company of Animals, EZ-Rider from Coastal Pet Products and the Pet Safety Harness and Adapter from Snoozer Pet Products—were excluded from crash-testing because they did not meet minimum thresholds.
The rankings of the final seven harnesses and their manufacturers were:
1. Clickit Utility (Sleepypod)
2. AllSafe (Klein Metal of Germany)
3. Ruff Rider Roadie (Covercraft Industries of Pauls Valley, Okla.)
4. Canine Friendly (RC Pet Products of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
5. Dog Auto (Bergan LLC of Monkey Island, Okla.)
6. Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength (Kurgo Products of Salisbury, Mass.)
7. PetBuckle (IMMI of Westfield, Ind.)
Regardless of the rankings, pet owners should realize that safety is a priority of manufacturers, said Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association.
"Our members are continuously striving to develop products that enhance the lives, health and safety of pets,” Vetere said. "We hope these results do not deter people from using pet restraints or traveling with their pets as we do know that the use of restraints prevent distractions to drivers that can lead to accidents in the first place.”
Testing pet products of every variety is common. Carl Goldberg invented the Ruff Rider Roadie after his 100-pound Labrador retriever escaped injury when thrown through a car windshield.
"I’ve been crash-testing this harness in Germany with Allianz insurance company every two years for 20 years,” the Boulder, Colo., resident said. "We were the first real safety harness out there.”
Goldberg accepted Ruff Rider’s ranking.
"No. 3 isn’t bad,” he said. "I take no issue with their testing. It’s all good.”
The laboratory testing also received support from Kurgo president Gordon Spater.
"I think it’s great that someone is doing this, because we’ve been operating in a vacuum up until now in terms of there have been no standards,” he said.
Kurgo conducts its own testing, Spater noted.
"Everything we’ve done has been proactive in designing these things and testing them,” he said. "We’ve always been very transparent about all the testing that we’ve done; it’s all posted on the website.”
Kurgo is always working to improve its restraints, Spater said.
"We’ve continued to evolve the harnesses up to the point now where we have one for an 85-pound dog tested at 30 mph,” he said. "It’s not a static situation. It’s a constantly evolving one.”
The Center for Pet Safety expects to publish industry-wide harness standards by year’s end, a plan that has the support of Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of "The Safe Dog Handbook.”
"Industry-wide standards would help protect countless dogs and their human passengers inside the vehicle, not to mention first responders and other motorists outside the vehicle should a dog’s harness fail, allowing the dog to bolt into traffic following an accident,” Monteiro said.
The Greenwich, Conn.-based APPA backs the idea, too.
"Industry-wide standards are often favored by manufacturers, since they create a level playing field for all producers to meet,” said Ed Rod, the group’s vice president of government affairs and general counsel. "The effort to improve and enhance pet safety and pet restraints would seem to be consistent with the goals of APPA and our members.”