Crash Test Dummies, Canine Cars & Safe Travel


I’m nominated for a BLOGPAWS NOSE TO NOSE AWARD for best written blog, SQUEEE!

Today it’s Memorial Day and however you commemorate this day, please be careful. Many will be on the road and perhaps take their dog for a car ride as well. This week I’m traveling to Nashville to the BLOGPAWS conference, and while my Magical-Dawg and the two cats would love to go…well, maybe Seren would object!…none will be making the plane trip or car ride with me.

That said, over 100 dogs will make the trip (plus about a dozen cats and more critters of various species). Magic is SO jealous! But he does get to travel locally and let’s me drive his “Magic-Mobile.”

Dog car safety is my #1 concern with any pet in the car. Pets loose in cars can interfere with the driver, cause distractions and potentially cause accidents. During an accident, they may turn into furry projectiles that injure other human passengers as well as themselves, becoming seriously injured, paralyzed, lost, or killed.

Dog in a car made of cardboard box - fast shipment concepts

Dogs love to ride! Image courtesy of

Currently, the United States has no standards or any tests at all for pet travel products, yet many manufacturers advertise claims of successful testing. Distraction protection is very different from crash protection, and some dog products companies take this responsibility very seriously.


Magic is a car-riding maniac. Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC


A few years ago I met Linsey Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) at the BlogPaws event, and later interviewed her after Subaru partnered with them in 2013 to study the effectiveness of pet safety harnesses. There were mixed results among some of the most popular pet products on the market touted to provide pet car safety. NOTE: No living dogs were used in these tests, all were conducted with “doggy test dummies.”

The study chose eleven commonly available dog harness products to test that came in Small, Medium and Large sizes and advertised the product having been tested for crash protection. Stuffed dogs served as the test dummies in the three size ranges, which a small 25-pound terrier conformation, a medium 45-pound Border Collie and a large 75-pound Golden Retriever, chosen to best mirror the conformation and weight of living dogs.

MGA Research Corporation, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contracted test facility in Virginia, performed independent, third party testing of the harness products. A minimum standard of performance was first tested, and the seven dog harnesses that passed went on to the “crash” phase of the test with the stuff dog dummies.

The tests were created to result in a worst-case potential for injury. For instance, positioning the test dog dummy in a sit position increased the rotation/force in the crash. “The primary goal was to see if we can keep the dog on the seat,” says Wolko.

The “crash test” takes into account the potential “launch” of the dog from his perch on the car seat, rotation force, as well as how well (or not) the harness prevents doggy injury. Some tests not only resulted in catastrophic failure of fasteners and caused severe harness deformation/stitching failure, but also launched the test-dummy dog, stripped off the harness, or hung/strangled the test dummy. Shedding of the harness/leash also leaves the dog open to escape/becoming lost immediately after the accident.

Only ONE of the eleven company’s products passed the test with a five-paws-up ranking. See the results of the tests here. The Sleepypod ClickIt Utility Harness received Top Performer of those products tested. It controlled both launch and rotation of the test dummy dog in all three Small, Medium and Large product sizes.


Image courtesy of Kurgo

I am not being compensated for writing this post. Kurgo provided me with a free harness in exchange for an honest review. Kurgo is not responsible for the content of this article.


I wanted to find a safety harness for Magic–but the Sleepypod product didn’t come in a large enough size. The one that seemed the best fit, Kurgo harness, initially failed this 2013 test, but the company was one of several that decided to improve the design and enhance quality control.

So I was DELIGHTED recently to be offered a free Kurgo harness to review with Magic, especially since more recent tests show effective safety with its use. The materials and workmanship are impressive, and the company really takes safety seriously. Unlike some other products, this isn’t simply a converted walking harness. Kurgo uses the same type of engineering design used by rock climbers who rely on buckles and tethers to keep them safe.

That said, because it has a ring on the front chest plate, the Kurgo Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Harness works like a no-pull harness and turns your pup around if he does try to tug you along. (Yes, Magic, I’m talking about YOU!). Fit is important, of course, and for the Kurgo, you simply measure the neck and chest girth to determine the fit.

Image courtesy of Kurgo.

I liked having five places to adjust fit on Magic. However, the neck band at its smallest girth still ran loose on my GSD, but the company offers instructions how to make a DIY adjustment that worked like a charm. It’s also machine washable–kewl! Price ranges according to size, starting at $22 for the little guys and going up to $32 for the largest harness.

The chest pad reduces stress on the trachea and sternum and in the case of dangerous crashes, this spreads the force across the dog’s chest to reduce injury due to localized impact. The harness comes with a carabiner to attach the harness to you car seatbelt system. There’s also a 10-inch dog seat belt tether to allow more range of movement.


The Kurgo Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Smart Harness and its steel Nesting Buckles has been tested in both tensile strength, static line test, and finally in a crash test using a sled test (see video, below).

Dog Harness Crash test videos show a 50-lb dog (dummy) traveling at 30 miles per hour. The test was conducted and recorded at the University of Michigan, an accredited National Highway and Transportation Administration lab, using Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213 for child restraint systems.

Magic weighs nearly 90 pounds so I wouldn’t expect the test dog at this weight to be the same result. And nope, I hope that I will NEVER find out how good this harness is by having Magic in a crash with me. However, it’s the best option I’ve found for him when we’re on the road.

For pet owners of smaller cats and dogs, the absolutely best safety tip I can offer is to secure your small pet inside a carrier and seat belt the carrier into the back seat. Wolko recommends placing the carrier on the floor in the back seat, which works well for the smallest carriers.

As with harnesses, there are no required tests or standards that define “safe pet carriers.” Plastic can shatter, metal can buckle, so conduct due diligence in choosing your carrier. Remember that air bags that go off have enough power to crush and severely injure or kill a small pet.

For big dogs like my Magical-Dawg that won’t fit in a carrier, I have him secured behind a dog gate so he doesn’t try to drive. Now I can also secure him with his Kurgo harness. That keeps him out of my hair and from trying to push the gas pedal, too.

Of course, with hot weather soon to arrive here in North Texas, Magic won’t be car riding as much as he’d like. But now we’re prepared. What about you? Do your fur-kids enjoy car rides? How do you keep them safe? DO tell!

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Crash Test Dummies, Canine Cars & Safe Travel — 3 Comments

  1. Did they do any tests on how cats (and chihuauas and other small pets would fare in hard carriers? I’ve been wondering about what kind of cushions to put in the carriers as well?


    • I think they had future tests planned fir carriers. The Sleepypod carriers are the same quality I think but I don’t know if any tests to date. Of course restraint to prevent distraction is different than crash protection but both are important.

  2. Thorough review! I need to do more seat belting but have to come up with a better plan to initiate seat belt usage to my drama-queen dog, Zack.

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