There are many ways to travel with a dog, some more complicated than others. There are vaccinations to consider if you’re going abroad, airlines, how easily you’ll be able to get around with your dog at your destination, and so on. But aside from all those things, an important factor to consider is how safe your dog will be during said travels. Regardless of mode of transport, your dog may need a carrier or crate, for the sake of safety.

A train ride usually doesn’t require any kind of carrier. Oftentimes, you can just have your dog on your lap, or on the floor, or perhaps on the seat next to you, if available. But overall, a carrier or crate is worth considering.

What is a carrier/crate?

A carrier or crate is essentially a cage, though without the negative connotations. It’s not meant to trap the dog or keep it locked up against its will, but rather meant to keep the dog safe and comfortable. When traveling by car, shorter trips can be managed without, but ideally, your dog should have a crate in the back of the car. There, the crate can be strapped in safely, and the sturdy structure will protect the dog if there’s an accident. Just make sure there’s a nice window view for your dog ― a car ride is supposed to be fun and exciting, not isolating and miserable.

A carrier is essentially a smaller version of this, meant for smaller dogs that might have a harder time moving through crowds and busy places without getting stressed, or lost. A big dog can be walked on a leash, but a little Yorkie may have some trouble doing the same. A carrier is an easy and safe way to keep your dog by your side, while protecting it from bumps and disturbances. If done correctly, your dog will even enjoy being in the carrier, as it should create a safe, comforting space in the chaos that for instance an airport might entail.

Why use a carrier or crate in a car?

When it comes to traveling with pets, the fact that your dog needs to be safely locked in a crate during a flight makes perfect sense. No one is going to argue this ― anything could happen during a plane ride. But when it comes to driving, people tend to be a little less careful. You’ll often see a dog riding with their head stuck out of the window, jumping between seats, sometimes even sitting on the driver’s lap. And while this paints a cute, fun image, it’s not exactly a safe practice.

Having a dog essentially loose in the car presents several risks. Aside from the dog being at risk if an accident were to occur, which is enough to consider, people can be affected, too. If the dog gets excited or upset, it can be very distracting for the driver, which in itself makes for dangerous driving. A dog jumping from one seat to another could lead to accidents, which could have serious consequences both for the dog, the driver, and others. Crating your dog, or at the very least securing them with a special seat belt for dogs, is crucial in keeping your dog ― and others ― safe.

Carriers and crates come in different styles and sizes, meant for different kinds of travel.

The right size

Needless to say that when it comes to a carrier or crate, one size does not fit all. A dog should have enough space to stand, turn around, and comfortably lie down. Especially when kept in the crate for hours at a time ― which can be the case with traveling ― the dog needs to be able to feel safe and comfortable, the whole time. On the other hand, though, the crate shouldn’t be too big; the dog might get comfortable enough to do its business in one end of it, which is not a good thing.

There is a certain formula for finding the right size of crate for your dog. First, measure the length of your dog, from the nose to the base of the tail. Then, measure from the elbow joint to the ground. Measure across your dog’s shoulders, and from the ground to the top of your dog’s head, when standing. If your dog has erect ears, include them, as well. Now, the height of the crate should be the same as the dog’s height, and the crate’s width should be twice that of the dog’s shoulders. The length of the crate should be the length of the dog, plus half the distance between the elbow and the ground. Makes sense? If you want to simplify a little, you can go by a certain rule of thumb; the crate should be at least 6″ longer and 6″ higher than your dog’s head. Now, these are the minimum measurements, but it gives you a good idea of where to start.

From small to XXL

In general, crates come in sizes from Extra Small to Extra Large, but the definitions can differ depending on where you look. Some will also focus more on the weight of a dog, but size is more important, in this case.

Extra Small/Small: Depending on the size of your dog, you can go with either of these crate-sizes. ES is 18″-24″, while S is 30″, both meant for dogs that weigh up to 25 pounds. These crates are appropriate for breeds like Chihuahua, Maltese, Boston Terrier, Pomeranian, and Affenpinscher.

Medium: This size (30″) is suitable for breeds that weigh 26-40 pounds, such as American Pit Bull Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Miniature Schnauzer, Dachshund, and Shetland Sheepdog.

Intermediate: At 36″, this crate size is appropriate for breeds weighing between 41 and 70 pounds.  This refers to breeds like Basset Hound, Bullterrier, English Setter, Whippet, and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

Large: This crate is 42″, and suitable for breeds that weigh 71-90 pounds. Such breeds include American Bulldog, Border Collie, Labrador Retriever, Standard Poodle, and Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Extra Large: At 48″, this crate is appropriate for breeds like Afghan Hound, Collie, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, and Greyhound. It’s suitable for breeds that weigh between 91 and 110 pounds.

XXL: Finally, there’s the biggest size, 54″ and suitable for breeds that weigh over 110 pounds. Such breeds include Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, St. Bernard, Leonberger, and Mastiff.

With the right training and the right crate, your dog will have a safe and happy car ride.

The right type

Depending on what you plan on using the crate for ― car, airplane, or even just at home ― you’ll need different types. The type used for crate training in the house is generally of a lighter, collapsible model, while the one meant for cars is more of a sturdy cage. The type used for flights resembles a giant carrier, with tough plastic casing, and a metal mesh front that opens. While a carrier or crate meant for cars of course needs to be adjusted to the space of your car, airlines have their own rules and regulations when it comes to transporting pets. The crate sizes listed above are pretty standard, regardless of the type of carrier or crate, but make sure to check with your airline before you fly.

If you do your research, and keep the safety of your dog and others in mind, your trip together will hopefully be a smooth one.