1 May 2014

How To Choose A Car For Your Dog

If you have a dog then sometimes you'll need or want to take it somewhere in the car. If you're not lucky enough to own two cars then you'll need to take the dog into account when choosing a car.

My Border Collie, Kes, in the boot of my Audi TT

I've had a dog since I was 24 - always a Border Collie.  My job for the past 20-odd years has involved  long day trips, so I often take the dog.  That's Kes in the photo. She's three and full of beans.  She travels well and likes to feel safe in the boot but will jump into the driver's seat if I leave her in the car for any time.

The most obvious choice of car for accommodating a dog is an estate.  I've owned plenty over the years - a Mondeo, several BMWs, an S4, a Passat, Mercedes', Subarus - and all were OK but a bit boring (apart from the S4).  Estates tend to handle less well than a saloon or coupe and their image is more conservative.

Also, if you have one dog and an otherwise empty boot the poor mutt can end up flying around in there as you go round corners even at low speeds.

You have to consider what dog you've got. A friend has an estate car but his dog, a Jack Russell, has full roaming rights in the car.  His favourite position, as it is for many dogs, is back feet on rear seat, front feet on armrest between the front seats and looking straight out the windscreen.  The only problem with this is that they can headbutt the windscreen if you stop suddenly, and they do sometimes try and get on your lap.  Also, after a trot round a muddy or wet field he'll leave little paw prints everywhere.

I've owned a few saloons down the years (company cars - little or no choice) and whilst the rear (and sometimes passenger) seat will accommodate a collie the entire interior does soon get covered in mud and hair, even if you use seat covers.

I once had a Vectra saloon hire car for a month whilst between company cars.  The dog came everywhere with me as I was hiking up mountains in North Wales at the time (to assess their mobile phone coverage and how we could improve it). The car got into quite a state, and then broke down (catastrophically so) on the M56.  I never saw the car again and the company I worked for was charged £100 by the hire company to valet it.  If I'd known it was going back I'd have cleaned the car!

Some general things to think about when letting your dog travel in the car.  Leather seats are a must.  Some fabric seats seem designed to allow dog hairs to weave themselves into them to create an extra layer. VW is the worst culprit for this.  I've put cars up for sale and spent hours picking out individual hairs from the fabric before viewers arrive.

Also, dogs have wet noses and like to press them up against windows.  This leaves a lovely smear.  If the dog lives in the boot then the windows all around the boot will become opaque with snot.  Hey, if you love dogs then you'll put up with it, or clean your car every other day.

The next most obvious car shape is a hatchback, but when thinking about dogs, not all hatchbacks are created equal.

Take the humble Mini (BMW).  I owned one for two months.  The boot was too small for even one dog and if you fold the rear seats flat you create a ridge where the boot floor is quite low and the area on top of the folded seats much higher.  The dog was constantly falling and tripping over and I sold the car.  Fiat 500s are similarly afflicted.

Golfs are the best hatch for a dog.  A while ago I had three dogs and all fitted in my old Golf's boot nicely.  There was a decent amount of space, but not so much that they flew all over the place when going round corners.

To be honest most hatchbacks can accommodate a dog but it's worth checking that it can sit up and see out.  I had a Saab 9-3 for a while and the boot was vast, but also very deep.  A Great Dane would have been able to see out, but not a lot else.  This can induce car sickness or, worse, projectile diarrhoea - as happened on a few occasions.  I ended up buying new carpets for the boot.

At this juncture it's also worth considering the accursed car alarm.  If it's an aftermarket unit rip it out as they're horrible nasty things anyway.  If it's factory fitted then it'll have interior motion sensors.  You must buy a car where you can disable these.  A dog in itself is a good enough theft prevention device but you want to be able to lock the car, and if you can't turn the sensors off the alarm will continually sound.  I've often cringed whilst at the till in a shop whilst everyone's wondering who's car alarm is going off, and it was mine - because I couldn't work out how to turn the interior sensors off.  Happily my current car has just such a button.

If, as is the case with me nowadays, you only need two seats and want a sports car, but one that a dog will fit in, there are some surprising choices.

If you've a good budget a BMW Z3M Coupe has a proper hatchback area that'll take a small pony, never mind a dog.  A 130i can also fit a dog quite well.  Then there's the Porsche 924/944/968.  The hatch area is wide, but quite low.  I used to be able to take three dogs in the boot, although the old collie lab cross needed a lift up to the high boot lip.

One of the reasons I went for the Audi TT is that it has a hatch area.  With both rear seats in place it would be cruel to stuff a dog in the boot but with one seat folded flat it makes for an ideal canine car, as you can see in the photo.  Kes has learned to duck her head when I shut the boot and can shuffle forwards if she wants to sit or stand up and bark randomly.

Some coupes are totally rubbish for dogs.  The Toyota GT86 might look like a hatch but it isn't.  Your dog would need to squeeze onto the tiny rear seats.  Similarly you might be able to fit a Chihuahua in the load area of a Porsche Cayman but anything larger would need to lie flat with all four legs splayed out, and that's just mean.

So, if you regularly take your dog in your car have a think about your canine companion whilst choosing what to buy.  There are more things to consider than you might think.

By Matt Hubbard