If you're a dog owner, you'll know few things are ever good enough for your four-legged friend. Top-tier dog food? You'll take it. Doggy daycare with a qualified vet? Sign us up. Pet pedicures? Okay, perhaps not.
But when it comes to driving your dog around town, safety is paramount. In fact, although there's no specific law requiring you to restrain your dog in a car, in most states you can be fined and be slugged with demerit points if your dog is sitting on your lap or preventing you from being fully in control of the vehicle (here's a great summary of the laws in each state).
If travelling in the tray of a ute, dogs are required to be properly tethered or caged to avoid accidents.
Happily, a 2019 study conducted by the University of Adelaide's School of Animal & Veterinary Sciences found that 67 per cent of Aussies restrain their dogs in the car. That's a good 12 per cent more than respondents in the United States, but still five per cent less than those in the United Kingdom.
Speaking to CarAdvice, NRMA Insurance research manager, Robert McDonald, outlined a few different options for owners.
"Number one is a proper harness on the backseat, tethered to one of the luggage hooks in the back. If it's going to be in the rear of the car or an SUV, you should use the rear luggage hooks rather than the front ones to protect them from hitting the backseat," McDonald says.
"If you get stuck without anything, the rear passenger floor - providing the dog is well behaved and will stay there - is a great alternative because it's enclosed and safe and they can still see you."
So beyond proper restraints, what are the other key criteria for truly "dog-friendly" cars in this modern era? We asked Dr Susan Hazel, Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour, Welfare & Ethics at the University of Adelaide, for a checklist.
The must-haves are as follows:
- Ventilation and light: While it's not illegal, having your dog's head hang out a side window is not ideal. When keeping them entirely inside the vehicle, Dr Hazel says light and air is imperative. "You would want the same kind of ventilation and light as you would for any place the dog is in," Dr Hazel explains.
- Visibility: "Individual dogs will vary in whether they want to see the owner or not," Dr Hazel says. Regardless, it helps to have clear visibility to the rear of the car and wide windows to allow the dog to see out.
- Restraint capabilities: "If restraints that are not safe are used then dogs can be injured by them by tangling or even getting choked by them. Small dogs if not restrained can get under brake or accelerator pedals which is a real risk," Dr Hazel explains. Although there are plenty on the market, not all dog restraints and harnesses have been tested and approved. Dr Hazel advises heading here or here for a list of the ones that work.
- Ample boot or back seat size: "Ideally a dog should be able to sit up or down and turn around in the space," Dr Hazel explains.
Easy-to-clean leather seats and the availability of dog-friendly accessories are also welcome additions.
The 10 best cars for dogs
With these things in mind, we've rounded up 10 cars (in no particular order) that tick every box for dog owners - from spacious boots or back seats, to dog-friendly finishes or technology and pooch-approved rear ventilation.
1. Nissan X-Trail
Nissan's top-selling car for 2019, the X-Trail's ample boot space and roomy back seats have more than enough leeway for your furry friend. We're not the only ones who feel this way - in the UK and Japan there have been more than few X-Trail-specific dog accessories developed in a nod to the car's natural pup inclination.
While the aforementioned accessories are no longer available for sale, Nissan does sell a cargo barrier to prevent your dog from flying into the back seat in the event of an accident.
2. Skoda Superb wagon
Not only does the Superb have a generous backseat and boot, it's also low enough to the ground for smaller or more senior dogs who might struggle to jump on board.
Skoda has also gone the extra mile by developing a line of accessories for dogs, including a backseat protection mat, a divider for the boot to keep your pup separate from your luggage, a barrier to prevent the dog climbing into the backseat and a doggie seatbelt. You can shop those accessories here.
3. Land Rover Discovery
No prizes for guessing why this is on the list - based on sheer size alone, this seven-seater SUV should get a look in for dog owners. Boasting 1231 litres of boot loadspace with its third row down, there's plenty of room for a large family plus a dog (in fact, you could even give the dog an entire row to itself).
Additionally, Land Rover offers a Pet Loadspace Protection Pack including a luggage partition divider, quilted loadspace liner and spill-resistant pet bowl. Fair warning, however - less-statuesque breeds may need a boost thanks to the Discovery's loftier ride height.
4. Honda Jazz
While hatchbacks may not be ideal for larger breeds, Honda's Magic Seats system allows the Jazz to be configured any which-way.
You can fold up the rear seats to allow your dog to lounge on the rear floor area, or fold the seats down to provide larger dogs with ample boot space. Magic!
5. Subaru Forester
Given it's another roomy medium-sized SUV, the Forester may already seem like an obvious choice, but add to that the fact it has panoramic windows (one CarAdvice staffer compared it to "driving a glasshouse") plus excellent driver visibility and it's a real winner.
Your dog can see you, you can see your dog, and both of you can enjoy the view.
6. Nissan Navara
When carrying your dog in a ute, tethering them is a must. McDonald advises opting for a harness rather than a neck tether to ensure your dog remains safe in an accident.
Most utes will have plenty of tether points available, but where the Navara adds some extra value is its electric sliding glass window in the glass adjoining the tub area. This allows your dog to see you and, perhaps more importantly, lets your rear passengers give your pooch the occasional pat when necessary.
7. Volkswagen Tiguan
With the option of triple-zone climate control, plus the ability to purchase a sun-blind for the rear window, the Tiguan is perfect for keeping your pet cool in the summer months.
Boot space is also decent - from 615 litres to 1655L with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seating stowed - with plenty of tethering points and configuration options.
8. Volvo V60
This classic wagon gets points for boot space (529 litres), safety and second-row room - all the requirements - but it wins big thanks to Volvo's branded dog accessories. From plastic protective mats for the boot to harnesses and dog gates, you'll be able to kit out any Volvo so it's essentially a travelling kennel.
9. Peugeot 308
Another hatch with a surprising amount of boot space (470 litres, or 1309 litres with the back seats down) and rear leg room, the Peugeot also wins points for great visibility, lower ride height (for easy dog access) and optional 'magic flat' seats, which fold down completely to create a flat floor capable of holding at least two small dogs.
10. Tesla Model X
If you and your pooch are of the eco-friendly persuasion, an electric car makes sense - particularly the ridiculously roomy Tesla Model X. Better yet, the lack of engine noise is great if your dog is a nervous passenger. But while there are a handful of electric cars available in Australia, Tesla has really upped the ante with its "dog mode".
Although leaving your dog unattended in a parked car is discouraged (and in some cases, can be considered an offence), for those short visits inside the petrol station, Tesla's dog mode allows your pet to stay cool while notifying passers-by that you'll return soon.
How does it work? According to Tesla: "In addition to keeping the climate control on, the touchscreen will display the current cabin temperature. To enable Dog Mode, tap the fan icon at the bottom of the touchscreen when your car is parked.
Set 'Keep Climate On' to DOG, make adjustments within temperature limits, then leave knowing your pet will stay comfortable. Dog Mode will stay on after you leave your car. If you your battery reaches less than 20 per cent charge, you will receive a notification on your mobile app."
Of course, it's best to stay close to the car and avoid leaving your dog alone for more than five minutes, particularly on hot days.
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