Traveling with your dog? Automakers are now building canine-friendly cars

Small touches such as a spill-resistant water bowl and a poop-bag dispenser indicate that actual dog owners might have been involved in creating this package. If only they could be there to remind us to refill the bowl and bag holder …


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Not to be outdone by the competition, Toyota is now marketing its Venza with a host of dog safety accessories specially built to fit the mid-size SUV. These include a pet ramp, booster seat with harness, barriers for the cargo area and removable waterproof seat covers.


This won’t surprise the web-savvy among you, but there is an entire website devoted to evaluating the dog-friendliness of cars. The highest rating is five paws. Check out DogCars.com to see where your favorite models rank.


Safety features loom large in the reviews. The reviewers look at how many crates fit into the back and how good air circulation is back there, for example. They comment on how steep a jump is required for dogs to enter and exit the car and whether seats fold flat — and even whether dog-slobber resistant rubber floor mats are an option.


Another website geared toward traveling dogs, BarkBuckleUp.com, lists its top ten picks for safe pet porting. Reviewers look at ease of entry and exit, whether cars offer secure gear stowage and ways to secure a pet or crate, and more.


[image-2]BarkBuckleUp also promotes, sensibly, safety restraints for pets. If you stop quickly, your unsecured pet becomes a flying missile. Not only can the pet be seriously injured or killed, so can the driver and human passengers. Pet seat belt attachments and harnesses are not expensive and can make a huge difference in your family’s safety. For small dogs, the organization favors crating in the car; restraints for crates are also available to keep the crate from bouncing around during an accident. In addition to keeping your pet safe, restraints can prevent anxious or energetic dogs from pacing in the backseat and distracting the driver.


Getting where you’re going safely is only half the battle, though. Whenever you take your dog along for the ride, make sure you’re going someplace that’s dog-friendly. In the summer, it’s usually too hot to safely leave dogs in the car, even for a few minutes. The inside of a car can get very hot — well over 100 degrees — within a few minutes, even with the windows open. Dogs can get heatstroke and die after only a short time in a hot car. If your dog can’t enjoy the entire outing, it’s safer and much kinder to leave him at home where he can stay cool.

When we dream about a new car, we definitely consider whether a model is going to be suitable for our three large pooches. But who knew that carmakers were doing the same? Sure enough, the dog-owning and dog-pampering consumer is a hot niche market for car sales.

Consider the Honda Element. One of the 2010 models is specifically targeted to dog owners. That’s right, the Dog Friendly Element Package is a "bone-a-fide" option. It includes a kennel with bed, a ramp to ease the dog’s entry and exit from the vehicle, specially patterned seat covers and dogbone floor mats, even an electric fan that plugs into a conveniently located rear outlet.

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