When you’re choosing a vehicle for shoot days – whether it’s also your regular runabout or not – then it’s not only its comfort and practicality for human occupants (and their guns) that is important, but its suitability for canine ones, too.
You probably already know that if your dog isn’t ‘suitably restrained’ (in accordance with Rule 57 of the Highway Code) then you could be stopped by the police and face fines of up to £5,000 – and up to nine penalty points – for careless driving. Additionally, if you have an accident as a result of an unrestrained animal distracting you, your car insurance could be invalidated.
However, it’s not just legality that many shooters are concerned with – that basic level of in-vehicle safety for dog and owner is thankfully usually a given within a community that values its canine companions so highly – but instead providing the optimal solution for transporting happy, relaxed dogs.
Buying the right car makes a big difference. But what are the features you should look for, and the considerations you should bear in mind? Here are some key questions to ask yourself:
How many dogs do you have, and what are their sizes and temperaments?
If you’re a professional with a pack, you might be better off considering a towing vehicle and a specialist trailer, or maybe a van, though non-professionals with a small pack might be well-served by a pick-up truck with a hard top (which has the benefit of keeping muddy paws and the smell of wet dog out of the passenger compartment).
Selecting a new car on boot space is wise. Larger breeds of course demand larger vehicles, while smaller dogs might be perfectly happy in a more compact vehicle – though you might decide to sit them in the footwell or on the back seat, suitably restrained by a harness of course.
Boot height should also be a consideration – you don’t want to have to lift a muddy dog back into the vehicle after a long day’s picking up, and you don’t want to risk them hurting themselves jumping out of a high vehicle (though the availability of access ramps will help to avoid this problem, if you’re happy to lug about this extra bit of kit).
What’s your attitude to mud, hair, and upholstery damage?
Leather is certainly more durable and easy to clean than cloth, so if you’re intending to travel your dogs in the passenger compartment it may be a better choice – however leather is not scratch resistant, so if you’re concerned with preserving the upholstery (a consideration in maintaining the vehicle’s value), a heavy duty seat cover is a must.
If you want to keep the mucky stuff separate, then an estate, 4x4 or pick-up is the way to go (and the latter is perhaps the most practical in terms of post-shoot cleaning).
How much flexibility do you need in your vehicle’s boot space?
Investing in a crate may involve significant outlay, but it’s probably the safest option for you and your dogs. Crates help keep dogs secure in the event of a crash, meaning they are less likely to escape in the event of the tailgate flying open on impact (though generally only top-of-the-range models are considered to be able to withstand significant impact).
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the more heavy-duty crates are difficult to move or lift out once they’re in. Of course, you can use the space inside the crate for other loads when required, though this prospect doesn’t suit everyone. If you need a less permanent option, a folding travel crate might be a good alternative, though a less secure one.
What other features and options might be useful?
Look for vehicles with rear climate control, to help keep travelling conditions cool for all the vehicles occupants, and consider tinted windows for similar reasons – though obviously these features won’t mean you don’t adhere to the golden rules of always having water available and parking in the shade.
Don’t forget to fit a dog guard if you’re travelling dogs (particularly larger ones) in the boot, to prevent them climbing over the seat, or being thrown into the passenger compartment in the event of an accident. A boot liner is often a good choice for ease of cleaning, too.
Some models have accessory packs available specifically for dog owners. Access ramps, spill-resistant dog bowls, and even dog-washing showers are some of the more canine-specific options.
Our five favourite vehicles for travelling with canine companions:
Land Rover Discovery Sport With a boot volume of 897L the Discovery Sport has one of the biggest load spaces in its class. A number of optional pet products are available, including a quilted loadspace liner, a spill-resistant water bowl, pet access ramp, foldable pet carrier, and even a portable rinse system for hosing down mucky puppies before they get into the vehicle.
Skoda Superb estate A low loading lip and wide opening – plus a roomy 660L of space – makes this estate a good option for dog owners. Optional extras include a dog guard, load space divider (ideal if your dog is smaller), and protective boot liners, as well as a back seat protector and a dog safety belt in four sizes.
Volvo V60 With 529L of load compartment space, and a number of safety grille options (including a load guard, load compartment divider, and a dog grate – essential a built-in crate) makes the V60 very dog-friendly. A load liner or a dirt cover for the load compartment would be a handy extra to have, and you can buy a back seat cover, too.
Mitsubishi L200 With a hardtop such as a Truckman Max – with sliding windows for ventilation – and the addition of a tailgate paw protector, the L200 is hard to beat for practicality and space. You might want to consider fitting a cage so the tailgate can be left open while keeping dogs secure inside.
Nissan X-Trail With a spacious boot of 565L, the X-Trail is a lot of vehicle for its money. Dog owners are well catered for with the optional ‘Paw Pack’, which includes a dog guard, a foldaway ramp for smaller dogs, a machine washable dog bed, a non-spill water bowl, a boot liner, and a seat back tidy.