While most dogs would love an automated T-bone steak dispenser in the back seat, automakers aren’t quite there yet. In the meantime, dogs do have some requirements to keep in mind when you’re car shopping. How easy is it for them to enter or leave the car? Are there comfy spots that suit their size and shape? How can you keep the temperature just right? And is everyone safe during the drive?
In celebration of National Dog Day (August 26), we’ve compiled a list of the top eight dog-friendly attributes that address these safety, comfort and convenience needs, along with examples of vehicles that have them, as demonstrated by Edmunds pets and a guest star from an L.A. rescue group. Look for these car features when you’re shopping for your next car, truck or SUV purchase. Your dog will give you a happy paws up.
1. All-season floor mats and seat covers
Good example: Toyota 4Runner
Owning a pet can sometimes be a constant battle for cleanliness. It certainly is with Archie. Muddy paws, fur and carsickness can wreak havoc with the upholstery. Keep your interior looking and smelling fresh with protective seat covers and heavy-duty floor mats.
2. Backseat shape
Good example: Nissan Titan XD
What’s the proper shape of a back seat’s bottom cushion and backrest? It depends on the size of your dog. Small dogs will fare much better with sculpted, bucket-style seats that they can “nest” into. But larger dogs, like Mya, will find such thrones lumpy and uncomfortable. For canines who are longer of torso, look instead for a bench seat that allows them to spread out and enjoy uniform support. Either way, look for easy-to-access seat belt buckles in order to facilitate fastening your dog’s harness. This is especially relevant for dogs that are heavy, squirmy or both.
3. Backseat climate control
Good example: Mazda CX-9
Dogs don’t sweat. They pant to stay cool. But some dogs pant regularly anyway, so it can be difficult to tell when they’re feeling warm. You can ensure they’re getting adequate fresh air by looking for a car with backseat air ducts, which Lu certainly enjoys. You’ll find these rear-facing ducts on the back of the center console and sometimes on the side roof pillars. In large SUVs, they will be above the windows. The ideal vehicles are those that let you alter the backseat climate control independently from the front seats. On the flip side, a heated back seat is a great way to give your furry friend a rapid warm-up in colder climates.
4. Low backseat height
Good example: Honda Civic
It’s easy to take a dog’s energy for granted. In time, though, a dog’s willingness to leap wanes. For these elderly dogs, a back seat that sits closer to the floor poses much less of an obstacle for them to conquer when clambering in. Likewise, it makes for a gentler and less precarious step down and exit for dogs like Koha.
5. Low liftover height
Good example: Mazda 3 hatchback
If you’re going to carry your dog in the cargo area of a hatchback, wagon or crossover equipped with a pet barrier, a low liftover height will make it much easier for him to leap into and out of the vehicle. Hatchbacks are more readily compatible with folding ramps. There’s no door to get in the way, as demonstrated by Nacho, who came to our photo shoot courtesy of the League of Extraordinary Mutts rescue group.
6. Pet gate
Good example: Volvo XC90
Some manufacturers offer factory- or dealer-installed pet barriers for the cargo area. This is a great way to keep your dog safe in a dedicated portion of the cargo area while allowing room for items of your own. A latching door on the gated area gives you the option of leaving the hatch open when you reach your destination without any risk of a dog, like the energetic Dudley, leaping out.
7. Sliding doors
Good example: Honda Odyssey
Vehicles with wide-opening rear doors and lots of backseat legroom will more easily allow dogs, such as Cody, to pull off a two-stage dismount: They can step from the seat to the floor, and then out the door. A bonus attribute to seek out is a sliding back seat, which makes this process even easier.
Good example: Genesis G90
Even with the window closed and the climate control on, the heat from the sun can be intense inside a car, making passengers feel as if they’re baking. This is especially true for dogs that are harnessed in place. When you’re taking long north-south road trips and the sun beats on one side of the car for many hours, strap your pup on the shady side. If that’s not an option, rear window sunshades are a nice way to dial down the heat (Cairo likes them). These shades can be manually deployed and stowed by those with opposable thumbs.