Friday, April 18, 2014

Product Review: Ruff Rider Roadie 2012 Edition

The Ruff Rider Roadie is a crash protection harness for dogs riding in vehicles. The harness does not rely on hardware of any sort, and uses a one-piece design for strength.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Roadie was once once of the top safety harnesses on the market, but the product has gone through a number of redesigns that have made it significantly less awesome. The ease of use has gone way down, and the harness has some serious sizing issues that the company does not acknowledge.

Photo by Erin Koski
Several years ago I decided that my dogs needed seatbelt harnesses, and I realized that the average pet store product wasn't going to hold up in a real accident. Videos of crash tests showed plastic buckles and stitching failing catastrophically, and I decided that I needed something that would really hold up. I purchased a 2009 Roadie for Brisbane after getting a number of enthusiastic recommendations from my friends, but what I received wasn't what I expected. The original Roadie had a clip under the belly of the dog, this hardware would not be under any force in an accident. The buckle made it possible to get the dog in and out of the harness. The 2009 Roadie redesign eliminated the buckle and just made the harness all one piece.

Photo by Erin Koski
Brisbane's 2009 Roadie was huge and heavy, but it was nearly impossible to get him into it because I had to pull his feet up to his elbows and force them through the harness. He had a lot of trouble walking in it, and I never really used it because it made both of us miserable.

The 2012 Roadie has gone through another redesign and is now slightly less horrible, but still not ideal. The harness now has an adjustable yellow strap on the belly that allows me to buy a gigantic harness and then cinch it down somewhat tight. The larger sizes also have a yellow chest strap to help tighten the harness, but the concept is still the same: buy a humongous harness so the dog can get into it, and then tighten it down a bit so it doesn't fall off.

I bought my Roadies on Amazon, and I was prepared for fitting issues after reading dozens of reviews. Brisbane measures right at the bottom of the size range for the Medium 1, so I thought it would have enough room.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Medium 1 size was so small that I could barely shove Brisbane's front legs through the openings without dislocating something. Once on, the harness visibly cut into his armpits, and I was afraid to have him walk in it. I exchanged the Medium 1 for a Medium 2, and that is what Briz is wearing in these pictures. I no longer worry about actually harming him by putting on the harness, but it is still an uncomfortable process. The harness is obvious huge and hanging off him in the pictures, but it still cuts into his armpits.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Roadie is advertised as a hiking and walking harness, but I'm afraid to put it on my dogs before they get into the car for fear it will rub them raw. I had the same fitting issue with Ru, at 7-pounds with a 13" chest he should fit perfectly in an Extra Small, but it was too small to even get on him. Ru wears a Small 1, which looks huge on him.

I contacted the Ruff Rider manufacturer with my concerns, and was told that they do not have a sizing problem and I must be using the harness wrong. Supposedly the reason I couldn't get Brisbane into the Medium 1 harness was because it was actually too big. They did not have a good answer for why I could get him into the Medium 2 harness so much easier.

The Ruff Rider website changed abruptly during the Center for Pet Safety harness tests. The company's Facebook and Twitter disappeared, although the webpage still invites visitors to check them out. The product currently for sale on the site appears to be the same one I own, but the product photos show something different. The harness in the big splashy pictures has clips on the sides, and one also has plush lining. Neither of these harnesses is available for sale as of today's date, though they have been prominently displayed on the website for months.

Pros: This is a strong harness that will probably help contain my dogs in an accident, and might also prevent injury to them and to human passengers. It is one of the less expensive safety harnesses on the market, and placed third in the Center for Pet Safety's 2013 harness test.

Cons: The harness is extremely difficult to put on the dog, and a good fit must be sacrificed in order to get a harness that a stiff and inflexible dog can get into comfortably. I can't find a happy medium between so-big-it-hangs-off and so-tight-it-dislocates-their-elbows. The tether is too long and is really only safe when used on the shortest setting. The company does not appear willing to entertain the possibility of sizing or fitting issues, and does not actually sell the products most prominently displayed on their website.

Bottom Line: I got these because they were $25-30 on Amazon and at the time they were one of the only reliable crash-tested harnesses available. I find the current iteration of the Ruff Rider Roadie to be difficult to use and uncomfortable for the dog. I will be upgrading Brisbane to a SleepyPod Clickit harness as soon as I have $100 to spend on it.

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