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The Perfect Malamute Vehicle

A vehicle is a very personal thing, so everyone will have a different opinion of what is best. But having multiple, big hairy dogs over the years can give you a new perspective on what features should come "standard". While most vehicles are sold with people in mind, there are ways you can make most vehicles more dog friendly. Seat covers, additional hooks for leashes and removable ramps come to mind.

Restraints are the most important feature - a vehicle that has room for a crate or seatbelt is best. In a 35 mph impact a 60 lb. dog becomes a 2,700 pound projectile. Not good for either of you! If he is thrown from the vehicle, he will likely be killed in spite of a dog's amazing resiliency. We once had an accident on our way up to get Homer - Penny was riding at my feet in the front seat because the car was packed and that was the only space left. When the car was hit on an icy patch of freeway, then was hit where she was sitting - somehow she leapt into Dan's arms in the driver's seat and wasn't hurt. I shutter to think what would have happened had she not been an agile 2 year old! After that we used a crate or confined our dogs to the back seat most of the time.

A friend had an accident and her dogs went flying through the windshield - amazingly they were fine. Because she was OK, she was able to call them to her and grab collars and wait for help to arrive. However, what if she hadn't been concious? At least a crate would have contained them until help arrived. How much safer they would have been wearing seat belts. We all learn from our experiences, and hopefully those experiences aren't tragic lessons. Therefore, safety and where the dog will ride has to be your number one concern in buying a "dog vehicle".

I'll never forget seeing a travel trailer smashed to tiny pieces when it was hit by a small car. (There's an episode about this on Mythbusters too). And to think of how many people let their dogs ride in the travel trailer towed behind the car on vacation...it's just scary!

A crate is the safest way your dog can ride in your vehicle. It provides another layer of protection in an accident. A well secured crate prevents your dog from being that 2,700 pound projectile. Unfortunately, even in most SUV's it's a tight fit. Always measure your cargo area and the crate you plan to use or you may be disappointed. I was able to fit 6 Icrates in my full size Ford Econoline after careful measurement and calculation - and still have room for a back seat. But it wasn't easy - I had to do some serious crate shopping to find ones that fit - most were too tall or too wide - or wouldn't hold a full-grown malamute. And don't forget to allow for design bulges - most cargo areas are NOT uniformly square. Some 47% of Malamute owners consider their Malamutes in buying a vehicle - so you would think the manufacturers' would make vehicles more dog friendly!

Anyway, I did a little research as to what are considered the best "dog friendly" vehicles available. I personally like my Econoline - but it's probably overkill for most people that don't travel with a half-dozen dogs! Here are my suggestions of things to look for in a Malamute-friendly vehicle:

  • Roll down windows. My beef with most car manufacturer's is that they have those tilt-out windows - that are absolutely useless. They are fine while you are driving, but once you stop the Malamute overheats. A window you can roll down is much much better - even better is one that you can fit a crate fan into. Why isn't this a standard feature? It would even be nice for people waiting in the car on a warm day.
  • Obviously you need a larger vehicle with a malamute or two...so a Yugo isn't going to cut it. Look at the huge selection of SUV's and Vans and choose something from that genre.
  • If you must have a pick-up, get an enclosed cover for the back. Safer for the dog!
  • Personally I prefer leather seats, mainly due to hair removal issues - cloth collects everything. Though I have known of some mals that considered them "rawhides" so vynal may be better in that case. A mid-tone color shows the least hair - black will show every hair your dog sheds including dog "dust". White will be brown in no time. Tans or grays are probably the most practical colors.
  • Get a heavy duty battery and invest in some battery powered fans. You can plug them into the cigarette lighter and they'll run for hours.
  • Wasn't there a mini-van that had a built-in cooler? Don't recall the make, but it would be awesome for keeping cool water available for the dog (and people).
  • Electric windows should only be operable from the front seat...for safety reasons.
  • If you have a van or large vehicle, invest in the rear air and heat - it will make your Malamute so much more comfortable (as well as any human passengers).
  • The thing I like best about my Econoline van is the fact it has no carpeting - the floors are a kind of rubberized vynal (I don't know what it is, but I like it). I can just vacuum and mop the floor without extensive hair removal issues. It also stays cleaner!
  • If your dogs ride free, your dashboard will last longer (knobs knocked off and lights accidentally turned on by a waiting Malamute), and it is safer if you get them a seatbelt or use a barrier to keep them out of the front seats. It's also easier to see out of windows when you return to the vehicle if they aren't covered in dog slobber!

    <-- Mocha's Treehouse

  • If your vehicle is large enough - use crates for safety and security. A crated dog is safer in an accident than one riding free. It also prevents fights that could happen in the back seat, and gives him his own place to ride. We stack the crates in the back of my van and Mocha prefers to ride nowhere else. We jokingly call her crate "Mocha's Tree house" because she happily hops up into it and has the best view of all. If there is no room for a crate, use a dog seatbelt.
  • Many of the newer vehicles advertise "dog friendly" features such as fold down seats, covers, and even ramps - maybe they are starting to listen to us dog owners!
  • If you use crates, a rubber backed rug (such as a bathroom rug) is great for traction, absorbing accidents, and giving the dog something to grip with his nails when you turn, stop and start. All our crates have one (unless it's a puppy that will eat it!).
  • You may want to install hooks for leashes and a clip on water bucket.
  • A white vehicle is the best exterior color - it stays cool in summer.
  • Larger vehicles do not heat up as fast as smaller vehicles.
  • Tinted windows keep the interior cooler - or buy some of those silver window shades to block the heat.
  • A moon roof that opens is wonderful for ventilation driving or parked. (Just don't let your dog stick his head out - there is the danger of bugs in eyes, ears or up noses.
  • Off road capability if you plan to go places your malamute will enjoy - like hiking, camping and sledding.

Top Malamute Friendly Vehicles I researched (in no particular order).

I find it disappointing to find that most vehicles brag about having a lot of space, but actually have very few actual Malamute features beyond optional spill proof bowls or spill resistant interiors (someone needs to come up with a vehicle with air conditioning run by an on board generator when the vehicle is parked, and snot-resistant windows!):

  1. Honda Element SUV - 74 cu ft, mpg 20 city/25 hwy, $20,275 - special Malamute accessory package (including: stowable ramp, Malamute bed, bowl, electric fan, doggy theme, and washable urethane flooring.
  2. Mitsubishi Outlander SUV - 72.6 cu ft, 20 city/25 hwy, $19,990
  3. Volvo XC90 SUV - 88.8 cu ft, 14 city/20 hwy, $37,000
  4. Land Rover Ranger Rover Sport Supercharged - 71 cu ft, mpg 12 city/18 hwy, $78,450
  5. Toyota FJ Cruiser - generous cargo area and swing out back door and a back window that opens
  6. Jeep Liberty SUV - rear multi-fold seats that lock down and a breezy moon roof
  7. Dodge Aspen, Pacifica, Caliber offer spill-resistant fabric for interiors
  8. Suzuki Forenza - 68.3 cu ft, mpg 20 city/26 hwy, $19,995
  9. Ford F-150 Pickup - 81.2 cu ft (cargo bed), 15 city/21 hwy, $20,345 - make sure you get that cargo bed cover or let your dog ride in the back seat!!!
  10. Dodge Grand Caravan Minivan - 143 cu ft, mpg 17 city/32 hwy, $28,500
  11. Toyota Venza - low ground clearance for easier loading, flat-folding seats and cargo hooks for securing crates. Available are waterproof seat covers, Malamute restraints, and cargo area barriers.
  12. Subaru Outback $21,995 and Forester $21,195, offer the option of installing a steel barrier between cargo areas and back seats.
  13. GMC Yukon XL

and for bikers...if you want to take your dog - a side car is the perfect option. Sidestrider makes a wide assortment of fun and practical sidecars for bikers that can be used for dogs!

Malamute friendly auto resources:

Malamute Friendly Insurance

It's now possible to get coverage on your Malamute included on your policy.  Progressive Direct is in the forefront of vehicle insurers that covers Malamutes too.  Unfortunately it doesn't go far enough -It will pay up to $500 if a customer's dog or cat is hurt or dies in an accident.  That isn't very much considering a routine vet visit can run $200 or more.  If you have an accident, odds are good if your Malamute is hurt the bill will be more in the $5,000 range...and multiple Malamutes would be more...but I guess it's a start.  It's too soon to say if other companies will follow suit - State Farm and Allstate for example, do not cover Malamutes.