Traveling by car with a small dog: Ready, set…
You’ve seen it, of course: an adorable, small dog either standing on her owner’s lap while her owner drives or with her front paws on the passenger-side door panel, nose blissfully out the open window and ears flapping in the wind. She loves it! She’s in heaven! She’s also really, really unsafe!!
If I’m describing you and your dog, believe me, I know you’re a terrific driver. Hey, I am too. But remember all those crazy drivers you shake your head at? At some point, one of them is going to hit you and when they do, your dog will suffer. In my last big accident, I was sideswiped at highway speed and spun into a concrete barrier so hard that, despite my seatbelt, the steering wheel bruised my chest. If a dog had been on my lap, she would either have been flattened between me and the steering wheel or she would have ricocheted around the car’s interior. In my current car, the airbag would have killed her (they deploy at about 200 mph!). And keep in mind you don’t have to crash at highway speed for your airbag to deploy — a frontal collision at only 20 mph may do it.
Other hazards? If your dog sees an irresistible squirrel, or another dog, she can be out of even a half-open window in a moment. A sudden swerve or bump can launch her out the window. And that open window is unsafe for reasons you may not have considered: a dog with her head out the window will get pelted in the eyes and face with grit, the wind will dry out and harm her eyes, and the joyous ear-flapping damages the blood vessels in her ears. Keep your windows closed, or just cracked, and use the A/C instead (and remember to disable your car’s electric windows with the child safety lock, so your dog doesn’t open a window, or close one on her own neck, by standing on the control).
So now you’re convinced that some kind of restraint is needed. What are your options? There are three options for small dogs: (1) a harness and strap that latches onto the car’s seatbelt structure, (2) a padded platform, strapped in with a seatbelt, with another strap that attaches to your dog’s harness, and (3) a carrier, strapped in with a seatbelt.
Please note that no matter what option you choose, your dog should ride in the back seat, not in the front passenger seat, for the same reason that parents don’t put their babies in the front seat: in an accident, your car’s airbag will injure or kill your dog. (Owners of the tiniest dogs do have the option to buy a car seat that straps to the console between the front seats.)
Option #1: Harness-and-strap
Take a look at Dog Jaunt’s earlier post about the harness and strap option. It’s convenient if you’re on a road trip away from home (that is, if you aren’t in your own car and you started your trip somewhere other than your own driveway), because the harness and strap occupy so little space in your luggage. It’s not ideal for a small dog, since although some choices allow her to lie down comfortably, she can’t actually see out the window and a view helps some dogs fend off carsickness. (Remember to bring a towel or pad for her to lie on, to protect her from a hot seat — and to protect the seat from her fur, drool, etc.)
Option #2: Car booster seat
For daily use, or for a road trip in your own car, I recommend the Snoozer Lookout. Ours occupies the right rear passenger seat of my car, and is solidly strapped into place with the seatbelt. A separate strap with a clip loops around the seatbelt. I’m glum about paying real money for what is, essentially, a big chunk of foam, but Chloe’s secure and comfortable in it (I lift her onto her padded platform and clip the strap to her harness). She’s high enough that she can see out the window (no more carsick Chloe), and she alternately watches the world go by and sleeps. The Lookout comes in a variety of sizes; the medium works well for our 13 lb. dog. The Model II Lookouts have a drawer in front. I’d like a drawer (for Bitter Apple, poop bags, and extra treats), but it’s pointless in a 4-door car. It would be a nice touch in a 2-door car, since you’d have access to the drawer when the front seat was tipped forward.
Snoozer’s Tiny Size Console Lookout is for the smallest of dogs, and perches on the console between the two front seats (no airbags to cause trouble there). Once again, the owners of truly tiny dogs have an advantage: their dog can ride safely next to them.
There are other raised platform options out there, including the FidoRido seat (which sits lower than the Snoozer Lookout), and the Travelin’ Dog Car Seat (which looks a bit clunky, and it’s too small for Chloe).
There are also some platforms that hang from the “shoulders” of a seat, including Kurgo’s Skybox Booster Seat, Solvit’s Booster Seat (Medium), and Outward Hound’s Car Booster Seat (Small). Although their marketing photos show them in use on the front seat of a car, they could be used safely on a back seat of a mini-van (and Solvit says that its booster seat will also work on the back seat of a car). The Kurgo and Outward Hound products both collapse for storage (the Kurgo Skybox’s collapsed dimensions are 16Wx2Hx13D; the Outward Hound seat collapses to 13.5Wx2.5Hx13.5D), so they could be packed in a suitcase and used for road trips away from home.
Option #3: Secured carrier
The third option (putting her in a carrier and strapping it in with a seatbelt) also works for road trips departing from somewhere other than home, because the carrier you used for the plane trip can, in many cases, also serve as a safe car carrier. From a dog’s point of view, there’s no pesky harness and strap to contend with. On the other hand, her view is limited to the inside of the carrier and whatever she sees through the mesh ventilation panels. Of the airplane carriers mentioned in Dog Jaunt’s earlier post, the ones that are designed to work as car carriers include the SturdiProducts carriers, the Sherpa carriers, Creature Leisure’s Carry Den, PetEgo’s Jet Set Carrier, and the Sleepypod Mini.
Here’s a clever alternative: some of the carriers are designed both to strap into a car safely and act as a car booster seat for your small dog. Of the options listed in Dog Jaunt’s earlier post (and excluding the ones that are just too darned big for in-cabin airline travel), Creature Leisure’s Pet Pilot XL, FetchDog’s Travel Easy Tote, and Pet Gear’s I-Go2 Weekender and Traveler fall into this category, according to their manufacturers. Clever, but does it work? The carriers have a large central ventilation panel that can be unzipped, allowing your dog an unimpeded view, and a tether to attach to her harness, keeping her in the carrier. However, none of these carriers actually boosts her above seat level. Also, since the carrier’s been unzipped to give your dog a view, only the tether is holding her to the car, and these tethers are significantly less sturdy than the car safety straps sold for use in the harness-and-strap Option #1. I would use these carriers in a car, but would leave them zipped.
Another approach in this category is putting your dog in a enclosure that straps to the seat and, when not in use, collapses for storage or travel. Two examples are The Roof Box Company’s DogBag or Pet Tube (the Pet Tube is also available through PetEgo). This option is nice because it gives your dog more room than a carrier to move around in, while still keeping her safe. For a small dog, the small DogBag (24Hx24Lx24W) is sufficient. It has plenty of mesh netting so your dog has good ventilation and fairly good visibility (though not out of the car), and it can be strapped to the car’s back seat with its “special seatbelts.” It folds up and fits into a normal-sized backpack (provided by Roof Box). The small Pet Tube is 18Wx18L, and straps securely to the car’s back seat. It folds flat and zips shut when not in use. The resulting 18″x2″ pancake could easily be packed in a suitcase and used for road trips away from home (as could the collapsed Dog Bag, in its backpack). If you choose to use the Pet Tube for everyday use at home, please note that you can purchase a “comfort pillow” for it, to pad the bottom.
Other safety and comfort issues
You’ve figured out how you’re going to secure your dog in the car and, if you’ve chosen the harness-and-strap option, you also have a pad or a towel for your dog to lie on. What else do you need to make sure your road warrior is safe?
Consider where your dog will be traveling in your car. If you’re driving across the Midwest eastwards on I-70, a dog in the right rear passenger seat is going to get a lot of sun. You may not realize how warm she’s getting, because you’re on the shady side of the car and your A/C vent is blasting powerfully at you. Similarly, if you own a hatchback and she’s in the back seat, she’ll have the sun pouring in on her all day no matter what direction you’re driving. If you can’t reposition her in the car so she’s safe and out of the direct sun, consider buying one of those window shades that parents buy. Many of them attach to the window with suction-cups, which parents seem to dislike; an interesting alternative is a product that attaches with static cling. Here’s the Amazon link: Cool Shade. It’s a two-pack, so you can use one sheet across part of your rear window, if you have a hatchback car; because the sheets are removable and reusable, you can shift them around as needed.