I don’t generally use blackmail to get guest bloggers (0nly because I don’t generally have any leverage) but in the case of my car safety series I mentioned in public that I’d asked my two favorite pet travel bloggers to help me out. What else could they do but identify themselves by complying? Rod Burkert of GoPetfriendly was first. Now I present for your edification a piece by Mary-Alice Pompitius of DogJaunt. I didn’t think anyone could be more detail oriented than Rod and his wife, Amy, but Mary-Alice outgeeks them. And when it comes to keeping your dog safe, geeky is great. It doesn’t hurt that Mary-Alice has another site, Pet Carrier Reviews, where she does exactly what her site’s name promises. And very well, I might add.
Without further ado…
By Mary-Alice Pomputius
This is, alas, an example of how it pays to procrastinate. Because Rod Burkert responded more promptly than I did to Edie’s request [Ed: Mary-Alice is just being nice, as is her wont] with an article about traveling with large, and multiple, dogs, that means that I can simply refer you to the excellent information Rod provided about how hazardous it is to drive with an unrestrained dog.
The points Rod made apply equally to driving with a small dog. I don’t want to be too graphic, but I do want to convince you that securing your dog to the car and limiting her range of motion is important not only for your dog’s safety, but for yours. Even a 2-lb. dog becomes a missile in an accident: At 50 mph, little Fluff will hit you with the force of 40 lbs. At the same speed, a 20 lb. dog will hit with the force of 440 lbs. Fluff won’t survive, and neither will you. Other hazards? A small, active dog may distract you, or even dart under your brake pedal, at a crucial moment.
Our dog, Chloe, is a 13-lb. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. We drive with her around town and on road trips that depart from our driveway, but we also fly with her to distant destinations and drive with her in rental cars. We’ve had the chance to consider and try a variety of solutions for those situations, and here are my favorites.
Short Trips from Home
For trips that start in our driveway, whether they’re short errand runs or longer treks, we rely on a medium-sized Snoozer Lookout I (the model without the drawer in front). It’s a good size for Chloe (you can also find small and large Snoozer booster seats), and she likes being able to see out the window. The cover (ours is denim, with faux sheepskin in Chloe’s resting area) comes off and can be washed. Our Snoozer is installed in the right rear passenger seat, which gives me good access to Chloe but keeps her away from the front-seat airbag (although you will see plenty of advertising pictures of dogs next to their owners in booster seats, that location only works if you disable the passenger seat airbag). The Snoozer itself is strapped to the car with the seatbelt.
Chloe is attached to the car by way of a sturdy strap, sold by Snoozer, through which the same seatbelt passes. Other booster seats I’ve seen have a sewn-in strap, but I’ve found them to be relatively flimsy, and I don’t really trust the stitching. I prefer to have Chloe attached directly to the car’s seatbelt. The strap is fairly short, but it does allow Chloe to look out the window and curl up. The Snoozer strap in turn attaches to Chloe’s harness, which deserves a paragraph of its own.
It took me a long time to find a car harness for Chloe. After some early trial and error, I learned to look for a harness that is well-padded through the chest (to protect your dog from the force of impact), has a clip towards the center of your dog’s back rather than high on her shoulders (allowing her to move around more comfortably while she’s clipped in), and is made as sturdily as possible without being too heavy for a small dog. For a dog that weighs 20 lbs. or over, consider the Solvit Pet Vehicle Safety Harness. For a dog Chloe’s size or smaller, I haven’t found anything better than her CanineFriendly 3-in-1 vest.
Trips in Rental Cars
If we are not traveling in our own car, but have instead flown somewhere else and are renting a car, we use a different solution. Chloe’s Snoozer seat is just too bulky to bring along. The most appealing of the collapsible booster seats I’ve seen (the Kurgo Skybox) works if you rent a car with free-standing back seats, or if you disable the airbag for the passenger seat, but it too occupies a good deal of suitcase space. We choose instead to have Chloe travel on the back seat, wearing her CanineFriendly 3-in-1 vest and attached to the car with a really marvelous strap: the PetBuckle Kwik-Connect Tether. Solidly constructed, it has a sturdy clip on one end that attaches to Chloe’s harness ring. At the other end, it hooks directly onto the car’s LATCH system (just as a baby’s carseat does); it also comes with an attachment that allows you to attach the strap instead to the car’s seatbelt. This combination gives Chloe room to move easily and curl up, but it does not let her see out the window. It packs easily, since the strap and the harness together fit into a quart-sized Ziploc bag.
We prefer this solution to the other one we could easily implement, which is putting Chloe in her beloved in-cabin airplane carrier (a large SturdiBag), which features straps that allow it to be secured to the car with a seatbelt. That works, and keeps her safe, but it doesn’t give her much room to move. You will find many carriers that claim to double as good car seats for dogs, but in my experience the provided restraining strap is wimpy, and carriers don’t give your dog room for much movement.
One other solution you might consider is the PetEgo Pet Tube. It’s, well, a tube of nylon and mesh that occupies either half or all of your back seat (depending on which size you get). Your small dog can move around freely within the space, but the tube will contain her in case of an accident. When you’re not using it, it collapses to a relatively thin disc for packing or storage. We own one, though I haven’t yet used it for Chloe (it also works for cats), and I recommend buying the Comfort Pillow accessory, which creates a well-padded and flat surface within the tube for your pet to lie on. On the bright side, it gives your dog the freedom to move around that a harness and strap don’t, and you have good visual access to your dog; on the negative side, your pet won’t be able to see out the window, and while driving, you’ll only be able to touch her through the mesh.
Mary-Alice Pomputius has two blogs. Dog Jaunt offers advice about traveling with a small dog and Pet Carrier Reviews offers unbiased reviews of carriers and crates for dogs, cats and other pets.