Pet Connection

Car Quest

A number of factors go into the search for the right dogmobile, owners say

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

We purchased our first Subaru Outback 13 years ago to haul around three cavalier King Charles spaniels and, as needed, two cats and two birds. In the years since, we’ve driven it to San Francisco; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; Wyoming; New Mexico; Utah; Arizona; and Oklahoma. I had hoped it would last us another couple of years, but repair costs were rising higher, so last month we found ourselves in search of a new dog car.

With the need to hold crates, pop-up tents and other equipment for dog shows and canine sports events, choosing the right vehicle is a matter of intense interest to members of the “barkoisie.” Issues such as cargo capacity, the ability to go off road to reach field trial sites, all-wheel drive versus four-wheel drive, and of course gas mileage are all matters to consider when selecting a dog car. The right choice depends on the size and number of dogs and the activities in which owners and dogs participate.

Auto manufacturers recognize that dog owners are an important demographic. Honda no longer makes its Element, which had a large fan base among dog owners, but at last month’s Los Angeles Auto Show, a team of golden and Labrador retrievers introduced Subaru’s three-row SUV, the 2018 Ascent. The company intentionally markets its vehicles to dog owners after a study found that more than half of Subaru owners have dogs. Honda’s roomy CR-V crossover, midsize Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan also find favor with active dog owners or people with large dogs.

What do dog owners look for in a vehicle? Debbie Best of Huntington Beach, California, who lives with two flat-coated retrievers, has a long list of musts as she contemplates trading in her 190,000-mile Subaru Forester for the larger Ascent. They include a boxy shape -- more practical for carrying cargo and offering better visibility than the sloped rears seen on many vehicles -- seats that fold flat, and rear air vents.

“I want to know the dogs are cool, even when the car is packed,” she says. “It’s a plus if they are on the ceiling, as they are with the Ascent.”

Her new vehicle must also be tall enough to hold large dog crates, with at least 44 inches between the wheel wells so she can fit two crates side by side. All-wheel drive is important for field training and trips to the mountains.

Dog trainer Liz Palika of Oceanside, California, searched for five months to find just the right ride for herself and her two 50-pound English shepherds. She decided on a midsize SUV, a 2017 Toyota Highlander, that she describes as “not too small, not too big.” The back seats fold down, allowing her to carry two midsize dog crates and still have room for cargo.

Lillian Huang of Emeryville, California, also likes the 2017 Highlander for its flat backseat floor, making it easy to accommodate folding tables, tents and canopies behind the front seats; the backup camera; and the separate air conditioning vents for the back of the car.

Other factors affecting vehicle choice are a dog’s age and mobility. Jill Gibbs of Billings, Montana, prefers minivans because it’s easier for aging dogs to get in and out of them. “I bought my first one for my 12-year-old golden,” she says.

For advice on selecting a dog-friendly car, turn to a Facebook page called Dog Sport Vehicle Ideas. Edmunds, AutoTrader and other websites also rate cars for their canine suitability. Search “dog-friendly cars” for tips.

In our case, we’re currently down to two cavaliers, but our activities have expanded to canine nose work trials, as well as many road trips to visit family. We went with another Outback, confident that it will carry us and our dogs for at least another dozen years.


How to use

hand targeting

Q: My trainer recommends teaching our dog hand targeting. What are some of the benefits, and what’s the best way to go about it?

A: Teaching a dog to touch his nose to your hand or other object has many uses. Dogs with targeting skills can learn to touch a person’s hand instead of jumping up, move onto the scale at the veterinary clinic, or move away from a forbidden item. Following and touching a target can also help to reduce a dog’s fear of an object such as a stethoscope or nail trimmers. And targeting is useful for teaching tricks such as spinning in a circle or jumping through a hoop.

A target can be your hand or an item such as a wooden spoon or bird perch. To begin, hold the target item a few inches in front of your dog’s nose and slightly to the side. If your dog looks at the target or moves his eyes toward it, say “Yes!” or “Good!” and reward him with a tasty treat. Praise and reward as well if he touches the target with his nose.

Each time your dog responds appropriately, move the target out of sight, then present it again. Your dog should approach the target and touch his nose to it no matter where you present it.

When your dog readily touches his nose to the target, add a cue such as “Touch.” To create an association between the word and the behavior, say the cue just before or just as your dog moves toward the target. As he begins to respond to the verbal cue, start moving your palm farther away from him, using it to indicate where you want him to go. Gradually increase the distance your dog must move before reaching and touching the target. -- Mikkel Becker

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Pet lease programs

pricey, misleading

-- Read purchase contracts carefully to make sure you’re actually buying a pet and not simply signing a lease agreement. A recent Washington Post article reported that some pet stores are offering “payment plans” for pricey pups. Buyers who don’t read the fine print don’t realize that they’ll pay much more than the original price and will have no ownership rights without exercising a purchase option -- a final payment at the end of the lease period, writes Karin Brulliard. The contracts are legal, and pets can be “repossessed” if owners miss payments. California and Nevada ban pet leases; the ASPCA encourages other states to follow suit.

-- Does your dog or cat have a heart murmur? Even if he’s not showing signs of heart disease -- such as lethargy, exercise intolerance, coughing, difficulty breathing or fainting -- he should be seen by a veterinary cardiologist to determine whether his condition is at a stage that requires monitoring or medication. This can be done by a noninvasive exam such as an echocardiogram (ultrasound) to evaluate the heart’s structure and function or an X-ray to see if the heart is enlarged. Identifying and monitoring a potential heart problem in the early stages can increase a dog’s lifespan.

-- The Devon rex is the 10th-most-popular cat breed registered by the Cat Fanciers Association. If you see one, you might think he’s having a bad hair day, but that soft, wavy coat is normal for the breed. The playful and mischievous cats get along with all members of the family, including dogs and kids. Given his sociable nature, it’s not unusual to see a Devon rex riding shotgun in an RV or semi, or making therapy visits to hospitals and other facilities. People can have allergies to this breed, so make several test visits before acquiring one. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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