Striving for correct, healthy, performance-driven, versatility

Traveling with your Ridgeback

Getting in the car to travel somewhere with our pets is something that is common. It is probably so common that we do it without thinking. Each year in the US there are more than 6 million car accidents. To protect the general public, seat belt laws were put in place. Unfortunately as more pets became family members, their safety has not been a high priority. 

We spend a lot on our dogs. The initial purchase price is typically around $2000 or more. So why do most people let their dogs ride unsecured in a vehicle? Because it's easy. It is cumbersome to put a harness on a dog and tether them to the vehicle, or to accommodate for a crate in our vehicle. 

It is estimated that tens of thousands of accidents per year are caused by pets distracting a driver. Similar to a child, the front airbag system is deadly to dogs riding in the front seat, even if they are restrained. Unrestrained pets can become projectiles during an accident and easily be thrown from the vehicle. The front seat is not a safe place for your dog to ride. The safest place for your dog to ride is in the back seat or cargo area. 

When you get into an accident many things can happen if your dog is not restrained. It can become a projectile, being thrown from the vehicle, it can become seriously injured or die, it could escape through a broken window, or bolt from the vehicle when someone approaches and opens a door. Accidents are traumatizing to dogs. It is up to us to protect them. We buckle our children into the car, so why don't we restrain our pets?

Options for Restraining Your Pet in the Car

I have extensively researched products to safely travel with my own dogs. The following is what I have learned by traveling with dogs for almost 20 years. 

I personally prefer traveling with dogs restrained in a safe kennel. However I will go over some various kennel and harness options here.

I have owned and used both the Variocage and the Trans K9 kennel. There are pros and cons to each. The price point is about the same for both styles of side-by-side kennels ($1200-$1500 depending on size). They both come with a removable divider for the double kennel or in a single kennel style. 

Trans K9 Kennel:

Hands down these are personally my favorite kennels and I think I will probably use this kennel for years to come. 
These are designed, manufactured, and crash-tested in Scotland. No assembly required, they come either drop-shipped or you can pick them up from the nearest hub. They arrive completely surrounded in foam, cardboard and plastic wrapping from the manufacturer. The Trans K9 is Independently crash tested, for front and rear impacts as well as roll-over testing. There are many non-adjustable sizes to fit pretty much all vehicles on the market. They also have a few models available not listed on their US website. They are fully aluminum and powder coated. They have double locking rear doors, a removable divider for the double kennels, and a front escape hatch in case the rear of the vehicle is damaged in an accident. They are 100% silent as you drive down the road, (unlike the Variocage). The US customer service is really good when you contact them. They are communicative and can help you decide which kennel(s) best fit into each model of vehicle. They are active on social media and host a Facebook page for used kennels for sale. The kennel is bulky and heavy, so moving in and out of a vehicle is cumbersome and requires two people. The Trans K9 company also sells several accessories, replacement parts, as well as storage drawers that fit under the kennel floor. 

The Vario is designed, manufactured, and crash-tested in Sweden. They are also made of aluminum and fully powder coated. Vario does offer financing though the 4x4 America website. Extensive assembly is required (unless you get one used). The Vario is adjustable front to rear, but has a set width and height. They are designed to "crunch down" upon rear or front impact, when the kennel slides into the back of the upright seats. They advise they are only to be used with the seats in the upright position. The Vario has lockable rear doors, and a front escape hatch in case the rear of the vehicle is damaged in an accident. The downside to this kennel that I personally found was that over time it became very noisy and rattled as you drove down the road. I suspect this was due to the side sliding tubes and the length adjustability feature. The advantage to the adjustability is that it can perhaps fit in more than one type of vehicle, depending on height, and could potentially be assembled inside the vehicle if the vehicle opening were too small (but the interior was large enough). I personally did not like the style of the holes for tying down in a vehicle (the kennel is sold with nylon cam straps to be used). I have not personally dealt with their customer service (as I purchased mine used and fully assembled) but I have heard they are very good and can help determine which kennel is the best fit. The kennel is bulky and heavy, so moving in and out of a vehicle is cumbersome and requires two people. The Mim Safe company also sells many accessories for their kennels as well as other safety-related items. 

Other Car/SUV Travel solutions-

Roto-Molded Crates:

There are several roto-molded type kennels on the market. Some are really good, some are ok. These are much better than the typical plastic kennels you can get at the pet store that have a top and bottom that screw together. The advantage to the roto-molded kennels over the Vario or Trans k9 is that they are a bit wider, although for most SUVs the largest size may not fit more than one crate. Most of the roto-molded kennels do run a bit smaller in length, however. The biggest thing to check is the interior AND exterior dimensions (especially for the Gunner since it is double-walled).   

Gunner Kennels:
Double-wall roto-molded for better insulation, crash tested. Various sizes are available. Lifetime warranty. 

Ruff Land Kennels (previously Ruff Tuff):
Crash tested, roto-molded, plastic or metal doors available. 

Dakota 283 Kennel:
Roto-molded kennel, similar to the above. Slightly different design with straighter side walls. 

I would not recommend either the simple plastic screw-together kennels (vari-kennel) or a wire dog crate in a vehicle. In a roll-over crash or side or rear impact, the plastic kennels will fail/be crushed/break apart and the doors will pop off. The wire kennels easily bend, welds pop and could puncture the animal or even become projectiles to the driver or other passengers. 

Crash tested harnesses:

I personally prefer a crash-tested harness over a wire crate.... IF and only if it is correctly fitted and a short tether is correctly used. I recommend and have used both of the following:

This harness has wider straps and is fairly easy to put on the dog. The price point is higher. It is easy to attach the dog to the tether by running through the straps on the back of the harness or using a seatbelt to accomplish the same. Crash tests meet US, UK, and AUS standards. Because the straps are wider this is best for full-grown dogs. I use the Kurgo below for growing puppies.

This is a second good option, a bit cheaper, but the buckles are difficult to get onto a wiggling dog. The straps are thinner, but it can double as an everyday harness with a front clip.