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The Best Dog Crates for Car Travel

The Best Dog Crates for Car Travel

Like many unknowing dog owners, I used to allow my dogs to ride in the back seat or hitch of the car without worrying about their safety. They lay down and were calm, so I never saw a need to use a dog crate for car travel.

When I got Sitka, however, there was no sitting calmly in the car while I drove.

Sitka is anxious in the car, and after the first ride involved him lunging at trucks and motorcycles, pacing back and forth, and whining the entire time, I knew I needed a solution to keep us safe and sane.

Initially, I secured him using a harness system from Kurgo that is crash-tested and kept him from pacing, but he’d spin and tangle himself in the straps resulting in needing to pull over to untangle his legs periodically.

From there, I decided to look into a kennel and began intense research to find the best dog crates for car travel. I asked friends, polled my Instagram audience, read reviews, and emailed brands to create a list of potential candidates.

In this post, I feature the dog crates that I considered purchasing, which means they met the criteria I will explain below. I explain why I chose the one that I did and provide suggestions for why other brands might work best for your car situation and dog.

Don’t feel like reading all the research and just want to know my top pick?

This is the crate I went with for myself.

It was more affordable dog crate than some others, yet still satisfied my safety requirements.

Why Should a Dog be in a Crate in the Car?

Even if your dog was like my first dogs and settled calmly in the car, it’s a good idea to secure them in a dog kennel in the event of a car accident.

Here are the three main reasons:

Safety

Think about it, we buckle up every time we get into the car, but many dog owners don’t often consider securing their dog. In a crash, unsecured dogs will become projectiles and can result in serious injuries and death.

Security

If you are injured in a car accident, your dog will be in a safe and secure spot where they cannot run away or bite anyone. 

Restraint

When I drove with Sitka the first time, I was certain we would get into an accident. His movement and whining was so distracting that I couldn’t concentrate on driving. 

In 2019, Volvo conducted a safety study that determined that unrestrained dogs led to significantly more unsafe driving behaviors, distracted driving, and increased stress for both the human and the dog.

Image from Volvo Study: Unrestrained Pets Increase Stress and Distraction on the Road

In the Event of a Car Accident

In the unfortunate case that you are in a car accident, there are a few preparation steps to take to ensure the utmost safety for your pet. 

This is especially important if you are injured and unable to tend to your dog after a crash.

Secure a laminated form on top of or inside of the kennel with the following information:

  • Your first and last name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Emergency contact for your dog who is authorized to make choices on your behalf
  • Veterinarian
  • Any allergies your dog may have
  • Other pertinent information about your dog

Keep a spare leash and a muzzle in the car and include instructions about how to remove your dog from the kennel and where to take them until you are able to pick them up (i.e. with a friend or e nearest veterinarian).

When working with emergency personnel, if you are able to, communicate to them that you will be the one to remove your dog from the kennel.

I once saw a video posted on Instagram where a dog jumped out and started to run away when the firefighters removed him from his crate. Thankfully, he had his e-collar on and was able to be recalled back.

In stressful situations, dogs can bite or run away. Do as much as possible to prevent that from happening by communicating as best you can with emergency crews and in writing.

What to Look for In a Dog Crate for Car Travel

When deciding on the right dog crate for your needs, there are several factors to take into consideration that will ensure the best fit for your dog and car, and still meet safety requirements.

Size and Fit

When you measure your dog for the crate, you want a snug fit. Too much excess space means that they can become injured due to increased impact from a crash.

You also don’t want it too snug because then your dog won’t be able to move around to get comfortable.

Since most of the kennels in this article are not available to purchase in stores, testing fit is not an option. The best plan is to provide your dog and car’s measurements and dog’s weight to the manufacturer and work with them to determine best fit.

Material

To best protect your dog in the car, look for a dog crate that is made from a single piece of molded polyethylene. A single piece means that there are no weak points in the kennel that can fail in an impact.

Materials to avoid include:

  • Wire
  • Fabric
  • Folding crates
  • Traditional plastic “clamshell” dog crates.

Crash-testing

The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) conducted a series of crash tests for dog crates in partnership with Subaru of America in 2015. CPS evaluated crates that cost between $150 and $1000 and put them to a series of tests, including:

  • The use of dummy dogs weighing 75 lbs
  • Conducted two different crash test with rear seat folded in one and up in the second
  • Simulated crashes at speeds of 30 mph

You can see the test results from the report here.

There are many dog crates out there that claim to be crash-tested, but because there is not the same requirement for testing the safety of dog crates as there is for cars or child seats, purchasers need to do their homework.

Since the most recent CPS test was performed in 2015, there are likely suitable kennels that didn’t make the list or new additions to the market that weren’t tested.

Email the manufacturer to ask about their crash testing protocols and read reviews from people whose dogs were in car crashes to validate the claims.

Strap Loops

Some dog crates come with strap loops that allow you to secure the kennel into your car. This is especially important for those whose dogs will ride in open bed trucks.

Different manufacturers may recommend different types of straps to tie down the kennel. Check in with them before purchasing if you plan to secure the kennel in your car.

Ventilation

It can get hot and stuffy inside of a plastic box, so when you’re looking for a crate for your dog for the car, make sure that it has good ventilation.

This means there are plenty of air holes on the sides that provide cross breezes.

Sizing Your Dog Crate for the Car

Depending on the kind of car you have and your dog’s size, different crates will fit differently. Further, placement depends on where your car’s crumple zones are located. 

For example, the front and rear of many cars feature a crumple zone, designed to protect passengers, but that’s not where you want the kennel to sit.

You’ll want to check with your car’s manufacturer to determine where the crumple zones in your specific car are located. Next, measure to ensure the kennel will fit in the designated safe location.

Best dog crates for car travel Pinterest Image

The Best Dog Crates for Car Travel

I conducted deep research on several dog crates for car travel before making a decision. I visited several different websites and combed through reviews and talked to my community on Instagram to get their take on different kennels.

Some key features to look for include:

  • carrying handles
  • air vents
  • warranties
  • stackability for multiple dogs
  • tie down options
  • weight

A quality dog kennel that will protect your dog in the event of an accent is not cheap and you get what you pay for in most cases.

The typical wire cages or clamshell airline kennels are not suitable for safety in the event of a car crash. They will not protect your dog.

After all of my research, these are the brands that I considered, including the one I ultimately chose.

Here’s a quick table overview of the picks below:

[wptb id=16944]

Gunner

Gunner is an industry leader when it comes to dog crates the car. They are the only crate that passed in the 2015 CPS study and have a 5-Star Crash Test Rated designation from the organization.

Practically indestructible, Gunner tested the kennels by tossing the crate off a 200-foot cliff, dropping a 630-lb sled on it, shot it with a shotgun, and applying 4,000 lbs of pressure to it. All tests resulted in very little damage.

Dakota 283

This is the kennel I decided to purchase after putting in a ton of research. It came out after CPS conducted the safety studies. 

I went with the Dakota G3 medium because it seemed like a good mix of the Ruffland and the Gunner Kennel. The military strength crate is made from a single piece of rotomolded Polyethylene that resists extreme impact.

I reached out to the brand to ask about crash testing and here’s what they had to say: 

“We have done internal testing of our kennels through a variety of impact tests including 25 ft drop testing for impact and durability. Our testing drives us to test to failure on most tests so that we know limitations and strengths.

Additionally, and most important is that our kennels have been involved in several rollover accidents with the dog surviving uninjured. This is the ultimate test and testimonial to our design and performance.”

Dakota 283 generously provided a discount code for Long Haul Trekkers followers. Get 10% off your order with code SITKA10 at checkout.

RuffLand

RuffLand Kennels (formerly known as Ruff Tuff Kennels) are the one of the most popular kennels for car travel. They’re very affordable and made from a durable one-piece roto-molded construction that can withstand heavy impact.

They were tested in the CPS crash test and performed well when placed in the rear cargo area against the rear seatback, however in the test without the seatback for reinforcement, the door completely separated from the crate and the dummy dog was not retained.

You can read more about the testing here.

RuffLand kennels are tapered to ensure full breathability, even with gear stacked right up against the crate. The brand also makes tie downs specifically for their kennels to ensure further security in the car.

MIM Variocage

Regarded among the safest crash-tested dog kennels for car travel, Sweden-based MIM Variocages are the only dog cage in the world certified crash-tested for front, rear, and rollover impacts. 

The brand will provide a free replacement in the event of an accident.

Variocages can be tailored to various vehicles and come in 4 models with over 14 adjustable sizes. The cages are designed with a crumple zone, similar to that of cars and feature a locking mechanism.

Do you use a dog crate for car travel?

Have you been in a car accident with your dog and have any tips to share?

Best Dog Crates for Car Travel Pinterest Image

Rose

Thursday 19th of August 2021

This is a great article, it evaluates the kennels fairly but I would be hesitant to invest $500+ into a kennel (Dakota 283) if it has never been crash test certified by a third-party. Put it this way: would you feel comfortable using a seat belt for 12-15 years knowing that it had never been formally crash tested OR certified, even if the manufacturer told you, "Trust me, it's fine"?

Gunner is the most expensive option, but when it comes to safety over 12-15 years of a dog's life, that extra $300 is, arguably, negligible. If your dog sprains a muscle on a hike, you might spend that much on a vet visit. And if, God forbid you ever get into an accident, you will make up that cost in an instant.

Lucky Duck Kennels (a Gunner clone) also passed the Center for Pet Safety crash testing with 5 stars. It's at a similar (high) price point, but safety isn't where you want to cut costs.

I will be interested to see how the Dakota holds up. I bought a Gunner after months of similar research. It sounds silly, but I love having an excuse to use it every day. You can physically FEEL the quality. Maybe one of the best products I've ever bought, period.

Jen Sotolongo

Friday 20th of August 2021

I totally get the hesitation to spend several hundred dollars on a kennel that hasn't been third-party tested. They came out on the market after the PSC did their last round of testing, which was several years ago now. Not sure if they plan to do another round any time soon.

I will say that Dakota said more than just "trust me, it's fine." I exchanged several emails with them, read reviews, and talked with them on the phone. For me that was convincing enough to spend the money and I think the Dakotas are a great option if you want something in between the Gunner and the RuffLand.

Glad you love your Gunner! It's so nice knowing that your dog will be safe in the event of an accident!

Tanya Maier

Thursday 12th of August 2021

Hi Jen! Love this post… thanks so much for sharing your research. I’m looking for a kennel like one of these, but they don’t seem to come in a large enough size. We need at least a 40” length for our leggy greyhound. Any suggestions? Would like to stay around the $500 price range if possible. Thanks again!

Jen Sotolongo

Sunday 15th of August 2021

Hi Tanya! I have the Medium kennel from Dakota and it's pretty spacious! Perhaps one size up would fit your leggy pup pretty well. I'd give them a call to verify because they would know better than I would in terms of sizing.

Ava Wilson

Thursday 15th of July 2021

Great post, Jen! Because I enjoy traveling during vacations, driving with my dog in the car was stressful. I must admit, dog crates are extremely useful. I can now drive without distraction, making the journey more enjoyable for both of us. However, before taking the pet outside, crate training is essential.

Jen Sotolongo

Monday 19th of July 2021

The dog crate in the car has been a game changer! And yes, absolutely, crate training beforehand is a must!

C in PDX

Sunday 11th of July 2021

Great post! I just had to sell my brandnew intermediate sized Gunner because it was too small for my dog, AND it didn't fit in my car (taking a car's measurements these days with all the curved angles, non-flat folding seats, etc is HARD). Exchanging it for a large didn't make sense since that for sure would not fit in my SUV. Here's another brand to consider, they make their trunk inserts based on the car make and model - transk9. They're from Scotland but they have an office in San Diego, CA. Unfortunately the model I need won't be available until August, so until then, my pup chills in his car hammock.

C Orem

Friday 11th of February 2022

@Mary Basso, I had the same issue with my Gunner and GSD. I purchased a Dakota XL which is 29” in height. I think Gunner makes the best crate out there but the Dakota seems like a quality crate

Mary Basso

Sunday 25th of July 2021

I hand the same problem. The Gunner crate is definitely a wonderful crate. First my GSD female loves crates. Ever since she was a puppy she has willingly gone in her crate on command. After researching and talking to my dog's trainer I purchased a Gunner crate. She will not go in the crate. I think because she is really long 49" and the crate is about 30". So I called Gunner. They were so nice on the phone and because she is long she will need the biggest one they make. Unfortunately it won't fit in the new car I'm purchasing. It requires 33 inches and my Subaru Ascent only has about 31 inches. So I'll unfortunately need to find another crate. The Variocrate I was told is difficult to take in and out of the car but is very open and not confining. So I'm not sure what crate I'll choose yet.

Jen Sotolongo

Monday 12th of July 2021

Measuring a car is definitely not a fun task! That's too bad that you had to sell your Gunner, but I'm glad that you found TransK9! Someone had actually told me about them when I was doing my initial research and I couldn't remember the brand when I did this post, so thanks! I'll have to see about adding them to the list!

Ari

Sunday 11th of July 2021

Great review! Thanks for the thorough research.

Jen Sotolongo

Sunday 1st of August 2021

You're very welcome! I hope it was helpful!