If you have a dog or dogs, they really are like members of the family. When it comes time to change your car then, it's important to know what the best cars for dogs are in the market at the time. There are lots of things to consider before you decide which new model to go for, and I know I spent a lot more time deciding which model to buy once I had a dog than I ever did before.
The best cars for dogs are the ones that suit the lifestyle of you and your family, but which also take into consideration the needs of your beloved pet. Unfortunately, the choice is far from clear cut as dogs can be as different as the vehicles themselves. While it's easy to think the choice is simply between sedans, hatches, SUVs, crossovers, pickup trucks and the various brands, models and trim levels, what kind of dog we have is equally important.
It isn’t just whether you have a small, medium or large dog either. Different dogs have different temperaments, age and fitness needs to be considered, and the amount of dogs you have or are likely to have in the future also needs to be considered.
Here are the vehicle categories we're going to look at:
- Compact SUVs
- Midsize SUVs
- Large SUVs
- Pickup trucks
Best compact SUVs for dogs
We're perhaps taking a bit of a liberty here with this category, and that's because compact SUVs and crossovers cover quite a range of sizes. We're going to overlook subcompact SUVs for the moment, although if you only have a single small dog, a subcompact model like the Buick Encore or MINI Cooper Countryman might be fine. However, if you have a larger dog, multiple dogs, or a family that wants to travel with you a lot of the time, you are going to be pressed for space.
I'm going to give you my suggestion for a mass-market model and a luxury model in each segment, and here in the compact crossover segment, I'm going to recommend the Kia Sportage for the mass-market model from personal experience. For the money, it's hard to find fault with the Sportage in general. It looks good now we're used to this current generation's slightly aggressive, bug-eyed look, and it's really good value for money.
The EX and SX Turbo models both come with leather upholstery that's easy to wipe and keep clean, and the cloth seats in the base LX model is nice and durable. There are good anchor points for attaching harnesses in the rear seats to keep your dog safe, and there's enough cargo space behind the rear seats to accommodate a good size dog crate if necessary.
A particularly strong feature of the Sportage is the flat load floor in the trunk. There isn’t one of those deep lips that can make it difficult for a dog to jump in or out, although it is a relatively high trunk if you have small, old or infirm dogs. In those cases, an SUV might not be the best idea in any case.
Although the Volvo XC60 has a touch less room behind the rear seats than the Kia, it's still out choice for a luxury compact SUV. It could be questionable how luxurious the Volvo brand is compared to the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac, but the price and sheer quality make it a contender. Once again, it has a nice flat load space area, and if you are going to use the rear seats for a dog, every model has standard leather.
If you were going to choose a midsize SUV based on what you might like to look at outside your home, the Subaru Ascent probably wouldn’t be your first choice. But if you have particularly active dogs that you like to take into the wilderness or to the beach to run wild, the Subaru is a great choice. There's a ton of room in the back, especially with the seats folded flat, and there's that important flat load space I consider vital for dogs to get in and out without injuring themselves. Best of all, the Ascent is standard all-wheel drive, so your vehicle can go most of the places your dogs can.
For my luxury selection in the midsize segment, this is another case of personal experience, and I'm going with the Land Rover Discovery. This is the replacement for the LR4, and it really is something special.
It's not a cheap option by any means, but this is a vehicle that can cope with just about anything you care to throw at it. Leather upholstery, four-wheel drive and seven seats are standard fare, and this is a model that can go anywhere and still look good while it's doing it. It is high, but that's the nature of the beast with SUVs. If you love it as much as I do, you could always buy a ramp for your dog if the height did prove to be a problem.
There's no such thing really as an affordable large SUV, at least not one that's any good, so the lines between mass-market and luxury can get a little blurred. For the mass-market model, I'm going with the Chevrolet Suburban, although you could go for the slightly shorter Tahoe if you don’t need the extra space. Let's face it; the Suburban is another of those models that can do anything, which is probably why it's so popular.
Although even in its all-wheel drive form it's not as good off-road as something like the Subaru, it's still suitable for a little off-pavement action, and it's a model you probably won’t mind the dogs messing up a bit from time to time. A couple of dog crates or one very large one will sit nicely in the back. There is a bit of a lip, but it's a step up from the edge of the load space area and not a drop down.
It would have been easy to go for the Cadillac Escalade as the luxury alternative, but I'm going to go with a Range Rover instead. It has all the space and luxury you could wish for, and the drop-down section of the tailgate comes in useful for lots of reasons. You'll love it; your dogs will love it. Your bank balance? Not so much.
If you're going to be transporting your dogs a lot, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'm not a fan of sedans. Some states like New Jersey and Rhode Island require dogs to be restrained when in transit, so you'll have to have them secured by a harness to the seats, and that can be a hassle on repeated short journeys.
If you must have a sedan and you’re prepared for your dogs to occupy the rear seats, the Honda Accord is a great call. It's pretty huge in the back, it's easy to get in and out of, and dogs will love the moonroof that's standard on EX models and higher. Active noise cancellation is standard across the range, but it won’t do anything to quieten a barking dog! And if you want to save the planet for dogs and families of the future, there's also a pretty excellent Accord hybrid.
There is a luxury sedan we can wholeheartedly recommend to dog owners, and if you have a dog that's not exactly spritely, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon is a better option than an SUV. It's a great car for the family, and there a ton of room in the back for dogs or crates that's easy to access thanks to the tailgate and low load level. Both trim levels are also standard all-wheel drive too, so this really is a great choice for discerning dog owners.
I know hatches are not a popular body style with American buyers, but they're a great choice for dog owners shopping on a budget, especially if you only have the one dog to worry about. The combination of rear doors for accessing the back seat, and a practical hatch to access the load space behind the rear seats makes a hatch a great car for our doggie friends.
There aren't too many hatches to choose from at the moment, but even if there were as many hatches as there are SUVs, I'd still probably opt for the Volkswagen Golf. It's practical, affordable, good-looking, affordable to buy and run, and just a great vehicle all around. It's even available in performance and all-wheel drive wagon formats, so there's s Golf for every owner and just about every dog.
To be honest, luxury hatches are more than a little thin on the ground, so we're going to cheat a little by going for the Jaguar XF Wagon. It could have gone in the sedan class, but it would have been beaten by the E-Class we chose. Anyhow, it's not far behind the Mercedes and it's also standard all-wheel drive. Your dog won’t know it's not a real hatchback, and at least it will be easy to pick out in a crowded parking lot.
If you don’t mind, I'll forgo trying to make a case for something being a luxury pickup, and just make the case for which pickup is best for you and your furry friends. It would have been easy to just go straight for the Ford F-150, but although it's easy to make a case for it being the best pickup of all, there is a model that beats it for dog owners, and that model is the Nissan Titan.
The reason for choosing the Titan is its optional rear seat cargo organizer, and benches that when folded flush can safely transport a dog and non-animate objects at the same time, without worrying about incompatibilities. The Nissan also offers a slew of bed additions and accessories that make hunting, camping, sailing and any other types of trips easier, depending upon what you need kennelled in the cab or tethered in the truck bed during the night.
Whichever vehicle or model you decide to go for, just make sure you've thought things through properly before you commit. For example, your dog might be fit and healthy right now but what if you intend to keep your vehicle for five years or more? Will your pet still be good with jumping up into the back of a Suburban after three or four more years?
I have a Dobermann, and he's an incredibly fit an agile dog who had no trouble getting up into the back of a Kia Sportage. However, when it was time to change, I had to think of what he would be like towards the end of my next lease, and by then he would have been 10 years old. For that reason, I went for a sedan instead of another SUV, so it would be lower for him getting in and out. The things we do for our dogs!