Road-tripping with Rover

The Baltimore Sun

Gone are the days of throwing old Fido into the back of the pickup truck, a bandanna around his neck and miles of unfettered highway travel ahead.

He may still travel far, but these days he's likely to hit the roads with a bit more style and protection. In an era of organic dog treats and canine acupuncture, pet owners are increasingly mulling what's best for their pooches when they shop for cars.

Safety, as well as concerns about fabric and the height of the threshold, rank high. Some manufacturers have tuned into these desires to sell vehicles with dog-friendly features.

When traveling in a car, "animals need to be treated like people," said Joe Wiesenfelder, a senior editor at in Chicago.

"The absolute best thing is to have the pet restrained, in a crate or in a harness," he said.

Restraints keep the driver and pet safe if the car crashes.

Volvo is one of the handful of car manufacturers that advertises features specifically designed for dog hauling.

The unit of Ford Motor Co. offers an option in its V70 station wagon, which carries a starting price tag of $30,045, to place a steel barrier between the cargo area and the back seat ($312 -- not including installation).

If you don't want your pooch to tear into the groceries, you can add metal partitions to the cargo hold. Volvo sells a vertical divider for $157 and a back gate that swings open for $95.

Some dog owners who travel a lot use airline crates to keep all the accoutrements of traveling with pets -- the wads of hair, the canine slobber, the unfortunate results of queasy stomachs -- contained.

Lisa Peterson, a dog breeder and director of club communications for the American Kennel Club, says she's driven as far as Denver from her home in Connecticut to enter her three Norwegian elkhounds in dog shows.

So when she shopped for her second minivan, she first checked to see which vans could fit the dogs' large travel crates.

"I measured my back clearance and made sure I had 48 inches across the back," she said.

She also chose leather seats, which are less likely to catch the elkhounds' long, thick hair. And she preferred a vehicle with a cargo hold that was low to the ground.

"It's easier on the wear and tear of their hips, and it's easier to lift the kennels," she said.

Some 47 percent of dog owners think of their pets when buying a car, according to a recent study by the American Kennel Club. Most are looking for a vehicle suitable for bringing their four-legged friend to the beach or park.

And despite the trendiness of lap dogs, Americans still prefer big woofers. Labrador retriever was the most owned breed of dog last year, according to a survey of owners who registered with the American Kennel Club. Small-breed Yorkshire terriers leapt into second place, followed by German shepherds and golden retrievers. Dogs that require a lot of exercise made up nearly half of the registry.

So some features are geared toward what happens when the dog (and mud, leaves and sand) returns to the car from that great romp in the woods.

Subaru and other car manufacturers sell rubber or plastic mats and trays that can cover the bottom of the wagon's cargo hold. These can be taken out, hosed off and replaced.

The Subaru Outback wagon, which carries a starting price of $21,995, and Forester ($21,195), also offer the option of installing a steel barrier between the cargo areas and their back seats.

Honda Motor Co. spokesman Chris Martin suggests dog owners look at the Element, which features washable urethane flooring, an expandable cargo hold and fabric designed to resist stains from dirt or oil.

Dodge, a unit of DaimlerChrysler, also advertises a stain- and spill-resistant fabric for interiors in its Aspen, Pacifica, Caliber and other models.

And if you already have a car, the booming pet-supply industry has accessories to make it safer and easier to travel with the pooch.

Petco Animal Supplies Inc., and other pet retailers sell removable plastic ramps that help old or arthritic dogs climb into cars.

If your dog is more of a back-seat driver, the Humane Society of the United States advises buying a restraint that hooks into the seatbelt. This dog-modified seat belt should keep the animal from a friendly but potentially fatal bound into the driver's lap.

For smaller dogs that like to look out the window, manufacturer Pet Lookout sells dog booster seats and slings. The latter attach to a car's headrests and look a bit like the vinyl lunch boxes office workers carry. Pampered pets can sit in sheepskin, their harnesses attached to seatbelts.

And a pet-products maker near Sacramento, Calif., has found a growing niche for its "doggles" -- goggles that fend off flying rocks, insects and harmful rays when the dog sticks his snout out the window.

The one issue the car and pet industries haven't yet tackled?

"How to get the nose prints off the windows," says the American Kennel Club's Peterson.

Travels with Fido

Here are some tips for traveling with your pet:

Bring a favorite toy to make your dog feel secure.

Do not let your dog stick its head out of the window or travel in the back of an open pickup truck.

To help prevent motion sickness in your dog, feed your dog lightly.

Restrain dogs in carriers or with a harness.

Because most cats are not as comfortable traveling in cars, keep them in a carrier and secure the carrier to keep it from bouncing around.

It's safest to place pets in the back seat.

Stop frequently to allow your pet to exercise and eliminate.

Never permit your pet to leave the car without a collar, ID tag, and leash.

Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car. On warm days, the temperature in your car can rise to 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, even with the windows opened slightly.

[ American Kennel Club and the Humane Society of the United States]

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