Gunner Kennel Video: Out of Tune With Reality.
Pet parents know that advertisers often exaggerate and sometimes even lie about their products or services (or a competitors). A video ad can mitigate that common sense understanding in a few ways. One is to make the pet parent feel guilty (You don't feed your cat Awesome Diet? Your kitty won't live a long life!). Another is by shock (This is what making sausage treats looks like!). By combining these two techniques in a recent video advertisement, Gunner Kennels ® has at the same time made a mockery of responsible safety testing.
In early November, 2015 IMPS published a series of posts about pet travel crates. While doing our research, IMPS found that the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) had previously tested some of the same crates IMPS was evaluating. Though a detour, IMPS was so disturbed by the methodology used by CPS that a good portion of the posts were highly critical of CPS and their sponsor, Subaru of America. Our view was that CPS and Subaru both should be held to account for suggesting unsuspecting pet parents use these flawed results to make safety decisions.
Since our crate study, IMPS has reported on a wide variety of other pet safety issues. However, we also keep tabs on old topics. This summer, IMPS searched the internet for new products and testing data to include in a potential follow-up piece on pet travel crates. IMPS also checked up on the manufacturers that were mentioned in the our 2015 report.
It was during this process that IMPS found an interesting video produced by Gunner Kennels ® ("Gunner" for brevity). The embedded YouTube version below also appears front and center on the Gunner website.
The video is certainly dramatic. It would be kind of disappointing if something titled (at Youtube.com) "Gunner Kennels Versus 630 Lbs - The Indestructible Dog Crate" were not. Yet, is it anything other than a marketing ploy? Is the title even true? Does the video make any implicit or explicit safety claims?
The introductory text makes clear that Gunner intends to separate their product from others on the market - by dropping 630 lbs from a height of 100 inches. Gunner commissioned this "test" at one the MGA Research testing facilities. This troubled IMPS right off the bat.
A test can be defined as:
"a technical operation or procedure that consists of determination of one or more characteristics of a given product, process or service according to a specified procedure"
Wikimedia writes about testing methods:
"However, even more important is choosing a method of measuring the correct property or characteristic. Not all tests and measurements are equally useful: usually a test result is used to predict or imply suitability for a certain purpose."
Dropping a weight on an object in and of itself is not a test. What property is being tested? Maximum tensile stress? Compressive stress? Something else?
On the other hand, an experiment is defined as
"a procedure carried out to support, refute, or validate a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated. Experiments vary greatly in goal and scale, but always rely on repeatable procedure and logical analysis of the results."
This may appear a bit picky on our part, but words are important, especially when the terms used may not be correctly understood by a general audience.
It seems more accurate to say that Gunner is performing an experiment, not a test, and it is pretty clear their procedure is repeatable. The hypothesis? "Only the Gunner G1 Intermediate crate can survive having a 630lb weight dropped on it from 100 inches". Unfortunately, that does leave open what exactly is meant by "survive." Does it mean suffer no damage? Only compress a certain number of inches? Not be completely destroyed?
The experiment was performed at an MGA Research facility, most likely the same one used previously by CPS in Virginia (Gunner was awarded "safest" crate by CPS). From our review of the CPS "tests," IMPS knows that MGA Research does not actively critique or suggest improvements to their customer's plans unless they are inherently unsafe for the equipment or staff (or MGA is paid to formulate the procedures). As there is not much to this experiment, it is doubtful MGA had much input beyond advising Gunner what equipment was available at the MGA facility (in this case a 285 Kg weight).
Viewing the footage, you can see that the weight is released and allowed to free fall until making contact with the crate below. The weight is actually composed of two parts and it is a smaller, flat faced, rectangular shaped projection that first impacts the target crate.
The weight makes short work of the MIM Variocage, RuffTough Kennel and the Petmate RuffMaxx. The Gunner Kennel is compacted at least a few inches. A closer examination using gamma correction shows that the door of the Gunner Kennel opens explosively and appears to completely detach from the crate upon impact by the weight (this point will be examined in more detail in part II).
And then comes the hook: "Now imagine your dog in one of those kennels during a rollover accident and watch that again."
With that, Gunner has stated explicitly what they would like potential customers to believe: the RuffTough, Petmate and MIM crates are unable, or at least, unlikely, to survive a rollover accident while the Gunner will. Gunner has also implicitly represented their "test" as being a useful indication of the rollover survivability of a dog crate.
But is it? Before getting into what would be an appropriate rollover test, it is best to ask under what circumstances would a crate land flat on its top during a rollover accident?
To try to answer that, it is first necessary to consider the environment the crate is used. Is the crate tied down with the appropriate straps and anchors? Is the crate stored inside of a car or SUV? Or is it kept in the bed of a pickup truck? Is there a cap over the truck bed or is it left open?
As readers may recall from last year's evaluation of the CPS crate test methodology, the tie down anchors used in most cars and SUVs leave a lot to be desired. Most are not rated to withstand the forces that are generated in the typical high speed automobile accident (front or rear end).
The dynamics of a rollover, however, are also highly unpredictable. For instance, a vehicle may tip and slide on its side. It may even slide for a ways, losing energy, before encountering a curb or gully that causes a flip - onto the roof, the other side, or a tumbling sideways motion down an embankment. Thus it is very difficult to say if and when the crate tie downs give way, allowing the crate to fly free.
Rollovers are a known concern for SUVs, though for pickups rollovers account for 44 percent of all deaths - often with a crushed cab leading to the ejection of the occupants. To protect the contents of the bed, many pickup truck owners install a cap, or "topper," over the rear of the truck.
Usually fiberglass and sometimes aluminum, toppers are designed to create a flat roof line from the front of the cab to the tail. Neither material is particularly strong; fiberglass can crack and shatter upon any significant impact. Even so, during a rollover, a topper can serve to keep the contents of the truck bed mostly contained while taking the brunt of any initial impact.
Rollovers fall into two categories - tripped and untripped. Tripped rollovers can happen in a number of ways, but generally involve a vehicle sliding into some type of impediment that tips the vehicle (ie, a curb) or redirects it (ie guard rail). Over 70% of rollovers are of the tripped variety. Untripped rollovers are usually caused by excessive speed or steering, for example taking a curve too fast. Traveling across a critical slope (one steeper than 33%) causes most vehicles to overturn.
In the typical rollover, a vehicle rotates about its longitudinal and vertical axis. Both the rate of rotation as well as the angles involved are unpredictable. As a result, just about any point on the surface of a crate is as likely to impact first as any another, assuming the crate has come untethered (or never was so in the first place). The act of the restraints breaking, if attached, will also impart a torque to the crate. Even in the case of a secured crate, there are many possible points of impact.
A search for photos and video of trucks that rolled finds numerous examples of heavily damaged fenders, doors and side panels. The many coming to rest upside down do so on the cab and nose while the bed and tailgate remain suspended above the ground (a result of the heavily forward weight distribution)..
From that historical evidence, it is quite hard to conceive of a scenario that results in a crate impacting flat on its top. The only way this seems at all possible with a pickup truck is were it to do a forward, nose first, flip so that the rotational momentum carried the tail into the road or ground prior to the cab. IMPS did see one example while reviewing video of a truck race on a specially designed, off-road course.
Even for an SUV, it is difficult to envision a crushing force normal to the top of the crate. If the crate is unrestrained, it will be tipped, if not rotating freely. If the restraints break after the vehicle comes to a rest upside down, the crate could land flat on its top, but with far less force than a 630lb weight dropped from over 8 feet (100") high.
An exception might be a crate that is fit so snug into the rear of the SUV that the top of the crate is touching the roof. However SUVs, like pickup trucks, are very forward weighted and the majority of damage to the roof is usually over the front passenger areas. Except for very short and very old SUVs, the rear roof area may be dented but is not significantly crushed. That dynamic factors into how the federal government tests the roof strength of new vehicles.
The IMPS initial analysis of the Gunner advertisement finds there is little, if any, value to their experiment. There are few rollover scenarios that could result in a crate being subjected to a force in the quantity and manner they demonstrate. In fact, because of the significant rotational forces in that type of accident, IMPS believes that it is more likely that a crate is damaged along an edge, side or even corner. This will be explained more fully in part II where rollover dynamics are examined in more detail. Part II will also provide more information about how the Gunner crate withstands edge/corner impacts (preview: not too well)1
As stated in the introductory remarks, video can be designed to make a consumer feel guilty about not purchasing a product or can be so shocking that it is believed to be 'obviously' true. It appears to IMPS that Gunner Kennels has combined those techniques in this video. On the one hand, they show shocking footage of their competitor's products not just being damaged, but destroyed. Next, they pile the guilt on by implicitly suggesting if the pet parent does not use Gunner's crate, the pet parent is putting their pet's life in danger in a rollover accident.
Yet, the Gunner video is not 'obviously true' as it does not show a meaningful safety test. In the opinion of IMPS, the Gunner video is a well done, classic example of a deceptive advertisement. The demonstration does not support the conclusion and is simply theater. Gunner could just as well have dropped a baby grand piano on the crates - that would have been just as irrelevant to assessing safety in a rollover.
Be alert and realize that not all safety claims are true, in whole or part. Marketing departments do not consider safety issues sacred ground and will try to get away with as much as they can. Pet parents must always question shock videos; always question advertising that makes you feel guilty. The real truth may be far from what you hear or see.
In Part II, IMPS will report on the reactions by the manufacturers of the other crates appearing in the Gunner video. IMPS also considers whether how car roofs are strength tested by the government can better inform the choice of methodology applied to travel crate testing.