Dear Car Talk Pet Experts:
I heard that some seatbelts for dogs are better than others. Then I hear that dogs should be in a carrier or crate for travel. Once you have your dog secured somehow, isn’t it all the same?
Patricia from Hopewell, Virginia
Dr. Sip: Patricia, you have touched on a hot topic in travel. We tackled the importance of not letting your pet become a projectile in our first post for Car Talk.
Melissa: Having a dog in a crate or seatbelt is always better than not having a dog restrained, due to the distracting nature of dogs bouncing around vehicles. (For example, when they catch a whiff of a passing meat truck.) Additionally, these devices will keep pets restrained in case of an accident. Thanks for your question, Patricia! We're all done here.
Dr. Sip: Not so fast Melissa. I have some bad news. It turns out that most of the equipment sold as safety equipment is never actually tested as safety equipment. But that's changing, with the help of The Center for Pet Safety. They've started treating pet safety equipment just like other organizations test kids' car seats. The Center for Pet Safety collaborated with Subaru using the facilities at MGA Research Corporation, an independent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)-contracted testing laboratory. The results speak for themselves.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Lindsey A. Wolko, the founder and CEO of The Center for Pet Safety, and she wants us all to know that they are doing the research so we don’t have to crash our MINI Coopers into the side of our houses with a plush toy in the backseat in order to know what will work or not.
Melissa: My husband would be so mad if I used our MINI for “personal testing,” unless it meant rigging an espresso machine to the glove compartment.
Dr. Sip: Several people were hired to design and construct the test dummies, including a NASA engineer and a designer for Disney. The shapes and weights as well as centers of gravity were adjusted in the doggy-dummies to make the testing most realistic. The test dummies were also given somewhat realistic outer shells.
Melissa: Was this to make the dummies realistic and, therefore, more relatable? Because, it totally worked. I just finished sobbing from watching a few of these videos.
Dr. Sip: It was a bit of a controversial decision having these critters appear realistic, but Wolko feels this was the best way to get the point across - this isn’t a thing shaped like a generic animal hitting a wall. This could be your own beloved Zuzu, Samivel, Biff, Chloe, or Daisy-- to borrow a few dog names from Car Talk Plaza's four-legged staff over the years.
Melissa: So these can’t be the first people to test seatbelts and crates, right? I mean, some of the packaging says that the products have been tested.
Dr. Sip: The packaging on many “safety” products is misleading. These companies are not doing realistic crash testing, if any testing at all. Additionally, they aren’t independent - they are trying to pry open your wallet and move boxes of Doggy-B-Safe harnesses. Not all of them are putting the expense into making quality safety equipment. Just watch this:
. . . and this one…
Melissa: The Center for Pet Safety is acting as an independent organization and trying to standardize what testing means, which should hopefully put pressure on these other companies to do the right thing.
Dr. Sip: They have also created an actual certification protocol. Testing involved how the product held up in the crash (did the pet stay in place) and whether there was any post-crash damage to the product.
Melissa: What was the upshot - any gold stars? Did anyone win a biscuit?
Dr. Sip: Essentially, of seatbelts tested, only the Sleepy Pod Click-it Sport passed their tests. For larger dogs, only the Gunner Kennels G1 crate didn’t collapse, explode, implode or fling the dog. Finally, for carriers (that would be for smaller dogs), the Forma Frame Jet Set and Sleepy Pod Mobile Pet Bed tested well.
Melissa: The bad news is you will pay more for the ones that work. Bottom line, quality matters and you pay for quality. For the Gunner crate (for your larger dogs), you’ll spend about $500.
Dr. Sip: I’m going to be upgrading my dog safety travel equipment too. At best, Wolko says the grate I currently have will serve to help with keeping the dogs from being a distraction, but will not protect my gals from injury in an accident.
Melissa: The Center for Pet Safety and Subaru have more harrowing videos, test results and information for pet owners right here.