User Login

Bark 'n' ride

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday March 25, 2011

Amy Cooper

There's a large market for dog-friendly vehicles and accessories, writes Amy Cooper. Look closely at the passengers in the next passing car and chances are they're four-legged. These days more drivers than ever are travelling with their dogs on board.Research from the Petcare Information and Advisory Service shows that last year 47 per cent of Australian dog owners living alone took their dog with them when they went out for the day and 37 per cent took their dogs on holidays. This compares with just 14 per cent of dog owners who always took their pets away on holidays a decade before.With canines clocking up so many hours on the road, it's little wonder their needs are being taken seriously by drivers and car manufacturers alike.This year's Geneva motor show featured a Bentley station wagon custom-built for a dog lover, with a specially lowered luggage compartment and water bowl in co-ordinated leather trim.Bentley wasn't the first to tailor a car for a dog, though. Honda's WOW (Wonderful Open-hearted Wagon) concept car was designed "from the point of view of a dog" and exhibited at the Tokyo auto show six years ago. It featured various areas for dogs, including a glove compartment crate for smaller pooches. It's surprising the WOW never went into production because dog owners are increasingly choosing cars with the family pet in mind.A dog-grooming salon owner, Renai Warner, from Revesby, recently upgraded her car for her dogs. "I told the dealer they had very specific needs," she says. Warner opted for the four-door Nissan Dualis so her shih-tzus Duke and Duchess could climb easily into the rear passenger seat."A two-door was proving too much hassle for them," she says. "There's nothing silly about buying a car for your dogs. If you love them, it's important."Those with the means will often buy a second car just for dog transportation, the president of the Motor Trades Association of Australia, Colin Clark, says."It might be a vehicle more suited to sand, water and generally being mucked up than the first car," he says. "Dogs are like family and people look after them like family."Car manufacturers around the world are taking heed. As well as the WOW, Honda has its own dog-dedicated website called Honda Dog, featuring dog-friendly dealerships, canine travel tales and car-related dog toys. The site is Japanese but in Australia the manufacturer aims to be as dog-friendly as possible."We have lots of Honda owners who take their dogs anywhere and everywhere with them," a Honda spokesman, Mark Higgins, says.Dog lovers, he says, favour the CR-V soft-roader and the Odyssey people-mover, thanks to their ample space and separate cargo area with flat floor. "The Odyssey has a low load height so it's easy for a dog to jump in and the CR-V has a low window line, so smaller dogs like my maltese-cavalier, Barney, can still enjoy the scenery," he says.Australia's best-selling compact soft-roader, the Subaru Forester, might be able to thank dogs for its popularity. "In the last year over 43 per cent of Forester buyers also bought a cargo tray and more than 34 per cent a rear-step panel," a spokesman for Subaru, David Rowley, says. "We understand a significant number of these were dog owners looking for added car protection and convenience."Our research indicates Subaru has a definite appeal among dog owners, with a preference for wagons including Forester, Liberty, Outback and Tribeca."Volvo has a hefty canine fan base, too. Its XC90 and XC70 recently received awards for dog friendliness from American pet magazine Animal Fair. In Australia, the manufacturer offers equipment to enhance dog travel including rear seat guards, a reversible and waterproof load-compartment mat and a longitudinal cargo compartment to separate pooch from luggage.There's canine merchandise, too; Volvo's doggie miscellany includes a fleece blanket, bowl, dog scarf and towel.Jeep is also wise to the power of the dog dollar. As well as offering a dog bed and partition for the cargo compartment, the brand has lent its name to an eclectic variety of dog paraphernalia. On Jeep enthusiasts' websites, you'll find everything from Jeep dog backpacks to dog T-shirts and a rubber steering wheel chew toy.Their popularity is no surprise to the owner of Dogue pet store, Margaret Hennessy. She reports a steady demand for car-related dog accessories. Best-sellers include a booster seat for small dogs, a hammock-style seat cover, pop-up travel cups and the Travelpetics natural carsickness remedy. Dogs who enjoy the regulation nose-out-window position can wear Doggles glasses to protect their eyes from flying dirt.Hennessy says car restraints sell well, too, as pet owners become more mindful of travel safety.The RSPCA supports the use of car restraints for pets within vehicles for the safety of canines and humans alike, although it also points out that there is no Australian standard for dog car restraints. An RSPCA spokeswoman, Jade Norris, says "further research is needed to establish the safest and most effective ways to restrain pets".There are special safety concerns for the most typical Australian canine passenger of all: the working dog on a ute. Laws in all states now require dogs on open vehicles to be restrained - and with good reason, says the TV dog behaviourist Farmer Dave (David Graham), who has trained more than 200 working dogs on his property near Goondiwindi."Working in the country I've seen terrible things happen with dogs on utes," he says. "Kelpies are stimulated by anything they see and might grab a branch and hang by it. I've seen dogs go under wheels because they're freaked out and have jumped off."But the wrong sort of restraint can be as lethal as none, he warns. "With too long a lead, the dog can get over the side and hang himself. The longest lead should be a foot; you need a quick-release clip on there and a swivel attaching the tether at either end to prevent him from getting tangled in it and choking."And a final, crucial piece of safety advice: never leave a dog in a car. Dogs left in parked cars can develop heat stroke and die in just six minutes because they can't sweat. On a typical day, the NRMA says, the temperature inside a parked car can be 30-40 degrees hotter than outside.A director of the NRMA, Dawn Fraser, who is also a dog lover, has saved the lives of heat-stressed dogs inside cars twice - once breaking the car window - and is working to raise more awareness of the lethal consequences of leaving pets in cars. "People don't realise that it's an instant deadly hot box," she says. "It's like leaving children in a car - it's just not on."A HEAVYWEIGHT PASSENGERROWDY is no lapdog. The 82-kilogram Newfoundland dwarfs pooches and people but that doesn't stop his television presenter owner, Kylie Speer, from driving with him daily in her Mercedes-Benz ML350 four-wheel-drive."I chose my car for Rowdy," she says. "I love Minis but there is no way you could have one with a Newfoundland. With a dog this size, serious consideration needs to go into your car choice. I needed one where he could fit in the back without having to fold the seats down and that he could jump into easily. There's no way I can lift him!"Safety is important, too. "There's a little metal hook on the floor of the cargo area that I can attach his lead to," Speer says. "It's nice for security and for preventing him from diving out super-fast if he's excited."Speer is mindful of cleanliness. "I bought a picnic blanket for the boot section and I always have wet wipes for drool and nose marks and a vanilla air freshener plugged into the airconditioning vent," she says."People's reactions to Rowdy when we're out driving are the funniest. When we pull up at lights, they think he's a bear! It's lovely that he brings as much surprise and enjoyment to others as he does to me."All-paw optionsTV VET Dr Katrina Warren has spent her career travelling in cars with dogs and is currently looking for a new vehicle to transport Riley, her foster dog from Golden Retriever Rescue. Her tips:"Leather seats are much better for dogs than fabric, as the fur doesn't stick to them," she says. "Ventilation is crucial [and] rear air vents ensure airflow reaches the dog in the back."Low load height is important, particularly if you've got an older dog. And larger dogs will have to jump into the car on their own [not you lifting them], so low is better."Station wagons are a good option because you can separate your dog at the back with a partition. I have a child travelling in the car so I don't want a dog jumping around."People are a lot more aware of their pet's safety now, so they are using harnesses, which I recommend, or carrying their small dogs in strap-in crates."Riley isn't always keen to get in the car so I wonder if he's had some negative experiences. I am trying to make it a happier place for him little treats, taking him to the park."Most dogs love being in cars. They enjoy the adventure ... If your dog only gets in the car to go to the vet it becomes a negative experience. So do lots of happy things, start off with short trips and if you are doing a longer one, break it up regularly."

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

Back to News Index | Back to Home

News Archive

2011

2010

2009