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There are a vast number of reasons why pet owners decide to use pet carriers at times. For some, getting their pets to and from the vet or taking them on a long trip requires the use of a carrier. For others, being active with a very young or arthritic dog requires a little additional help from a carrier. Others just love to have their pooch on the go with them. Whatever your reason, choosing the right carrier is very important if you plan to use it frequently.
Your pet will either be enclosed in the carrier like a kennel or will be carried in the carrier in some other way. In any case, their comfort is vital, or the entire operation will crumble. You also have to consider your own needs and comfort, along with many more factors. So how do you choose the right dog carrier? Here are the major things to keep in mind when shopping around:
No matter what type of carrier you will get, all require knowing your dog’s measurements. So, before you begin shopping, you may want to go ahead and get those. For most, you’ll only need your dog’s full height (from ground to tallest point of the shoulders, plus about three inches for a little bit of standing up room in a cage-style carrier) and length (from where the collar sits at the neck, to the base of the tail, plus a few inches for a cage-style carrier). However, if you intend to use a backpack style carrier, you’ll also need your dog’s weight.
The reason for the additional inches is so that your dog can stand up and turn around in the carrier. Your dog should always be able to turn around in a tight circle inside the carrier. This ensures that they can get comfortable. Too much room, however, is just as bad as too little. With too much room, a small dog could slide around and get hurt. Additionally, if the dog can get “away” from one corner by going to another, there is a chance they will use the bathroom inside the carrier.
Next: Consider Your Need
Now that you’ve got the most important information gathered, you’ll need to consider what you’re using your carrier for. Here are some common needs and what carriers generally suit those needs best:
Quick trips to the vet or other errands: If you just need a carrier to keep your pup contained and calm on the way to the vet or around town, then a simple cage-style carrier will do the trick. A carrier with soft sides is lightweight and easy to fold up when not in use, while a carrier with hard sides can be more durable and better for larger dogs.
Flying or long-distance travel: All airlines have specific requirements for pet carriers, so be sure to check what you need before purchasing a carrier! If you are planning a road trip with your pet, where they’ll need to be in their carrier for extended periods of time, their comfort and safety is the most important factor. A cage-style carrier with hard sides may be the best choice.
Carrying during a hike, a walk, etc.: If you want to carry your very young dog, or a dog with arthritis, during a walk or a hike, then you will likely benefit most from a backpack style carrier. These work just like a carrier for an infant: your dog sits with its back against your chest or back, and its belly facing out. This will be the most comfortable for you and your pet.
Multi-purpose carrier: If you need to be able to travel short distances, board airlines, carry your dog, and a variety of other activities, you may wish to look for a carrier that can accommodate all of these. A soft-sided wheeled carrier that allows you to easily pull your dog in airports, or carry them in other situations, could be one solution for you. You may also wish to look into a dog stroller if you want to jog or go for long walks with your pup.
For riding on bikes: Bicyclists can find carriers made specifically for holding their pup, keeping them safe while they go on a quick ride with you. These usually include safety belts to keep your dog in place, and are mounted on both the front and the back depending on the style you choose. These are made for small dogs only. For biking with a larger dog, a pull-behind trailer would be the best choice. These can be found for pets and include safety harnesses.
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of carrier you’ll need, you’ll likely find a lot of options to choose from. You may be able to narrow it down more by considering the type of dog you have – for example, if your dog is very large or very small, your choices will be narrowed. But if you have an average sized dog, how do you continue?
First, it is usually best to go up a size if your dog falls between two sizes. While you may find that you have to clean up an accident or two in a carrier that gives a dog too much space, that is better than not giving your dog enough room. This can make an anxious dog even more anxious, and that can make any trip miserable.
Unlike permanent fixtures like doggie doors, it’s best to choose a carrier based on your dog’s current size. Puppies need the security and safety of a carrier that fits them; too large, and they could be hurt or may have accidents inside the carrier.
When choosing the carrier, try to choose by dimensions rather than weight if you can. Dogs are just like people: they all carry their weight in slightly different ways. A dog may be a size small according to weight, but happens to have unusually tall shoulders for his breed, and would benefit more from a medium. And be sure to consider how wide your dog is as well, especially if your dog is a stocky breed.
If you are having a hard time choosing between soft-sided carriers and hard-sided for travel, consider these characteristics:
Smaller dogs usually feel more comfortable in soft-sided carriers, while larger dogs need the sturdiness of a hard-sided carrier.
Soft-sided carriers are easier for you to carry, while hard-sided carriers will stay put better in a moving vehicle.
Hard-sided carriers are easier to clean but don’t provide the same cozy feeling for your dog. Anxious dogs may feel more comfortable in a soft-sided carrier.
Hard-sided carriers are usually required for shipping a dog via the cargo area of a plane, while soft-sided carriers are usually the only carriers accepted for bringing a dog onto the plane with you.
Anxious dogs often feel more comfortable in a soft-sided carrier with mesh, because they can see outside. Hard-sided carriers may be better for dogs who bark at strangers.
Troubleshooting Your Carrier
Let’s say that you love the way a soft-sided carrier works for your pup and yourself, but you’ve had an issue with messes. This is a common complaint with these types of carriers because they are harder to clean. And once your dog begins to associate the carrier with the smell of accidents, it begins to think that that area is okay to “go” in.
One thing you can do in this situation is to insert a carrier pad, like the DryFur inserts that come in a variety of sizes. These keep your pet dry and the carrier clean. All you have to do is toss one when it’s dirty and replace it. That’s an easy fix.
The usual complaint with hard-sided carriers is that they aren’t comfortable enough for your pet. Toss a blanket or towel inside, and you’ve got the problem solved, or you can add a carrier liner or small dog bed that fits inside. Choosing something that smells like your dog’s bed at home, such as a favorite blanket, is a great way to make the carrier feel more like a safe place.
If you still haven’t decided which carrier is right for you, and you have eliminated your concerns over comfort and cleanliness, the next best thing is to look at the details of the carriers themselves. Many have extra features that can make one carrier stand above the others.
For example, does the bicycle carrier you like have a seat belt or some kind of safety strap? Are the zippers or connectors all very high quality? If you are choosing a backpack carrier, do all the straps and buckles seem well-made? If you are choosing a dog stroller, consider the brakes and other safety features.
Mesh carriers are usually great options because they give your dog some air inside that stuffy bag or box. Mesh is also very lightweight for you. Be sure to think about how much the carrier will weigh with your dog in it – chances are, you don’t want to add too much weight. Be sure to consider this if you are choosing a carrier that will be on your body, such as a backpack or a purse-style carrier.
Does your dog balk at the process of getting into a carrier? You may find it easier to get a carrier that has both a front hatch and a top-loading opening. This way, you can lift your pet down into the carrier, rather than trying to shove them through the small front door. Any other extra features like side pockets, places for food and water, removable liners for washing, and so on, are added bonuses that can help you find what you need.
If your dog is very anxious about being in a carrier, try to find one that is as open as possible, and has plenty of mesh all the way around. If they can see and hear the outside world, feel fresh air coming into their carrier, and feel as though they are still close to you, it may help your dog feel less anxious.
If you want a carrier that can do it all, look for convertible features. Handles that fold down so you can use shoulder straps instead, for example, are great options for a dog carrier that can do it all.
Go for Quality
In many cases, I would tell you that buying quality isn’t necessarily a must when it comes to pet accessories. Inexpensive items can often be just as good for your pet and for you. But with pet carriers, quality does matter. The safety of your pets and your own physical comfort is more important than saving a few extra dollars.
If you get the chance to look at the carrier before you buy, be sure to test the straps and any openings. The worst thing would be to have your carrier break mid-trip, or for your dog to escape thanks to a cheap fixture. Also, if the carrier has pockets for food or water on the outside, be sure that your pup won’t be able to get into those from the inside.
Now Have Fun!
Now that you’ve narrowed down your options to the final contenders, just have fun! Choose the carrier that fits your budget, or one that reveals your dog’s personality. With younger dogs or dogs that have never been trained to be carried before, it may take more than one carrier to discover what they are comfortable with. Don’t give up on your pet, though; a doggie carrier can be one of the best investments for a pet owner.
Be sure to check any requirements for traveling before you get your carrier! All airlines have requirements that they must follow in order to keep your pet safe. And once you have your carrier, it’s time to head out and enjoy the world together.