People are always interested and impressed with our “dog mobile” so I thought I would share with you how exactly how we set up our mini van to be dog-friendly, and how we chose our van and our crates. You will notice you don’t see Grizz anywhere in these photos – he’s NOT a fan of car rides, so I let him off the hook for this one!
Back in 2005, Ron and I went shopping for our very first “dog-friendly” vehicle. We had already done some research, and had determined that a Honda mini van would be the ideal vehicle for us. We didn’t have the cash to own more than one vehicle, so the one we chose had to be comfortable, good on gas, safe, and easy to transport our three dogs.
During our first visit to the Honda dealership we were interested only in the Honda Odyssey van, however the salesman was bound and determined to put us into their new “dog-friendly” vehicle created just for dog people called the Honda Element (I just noticed that they no longer make this vehicle).
While I think SUVs are a fine vehicle for dogs, we were looking for something we could put crates inside to make travel for our furkids safer and more comfortable. Most SUVs simply had a back area, behind the seats to place dogs in where they would remain loose and possibly gated behind a partition where we couldn’t really see them.
We also had three dogs – one whom got reactive when seeing other dogs and since the possibility of him seeing other dogs while back there and redirecting his anger on OUR dogs was very likely, this wasn’t an option for us. We just couldn’t risk the possibility of a fight if they were loose together as we’d be in no position to break it up while driving!
To appease the salesman, we decided to test drive the Element and as we suspected it didn’t have the comfort that we required in our only vehicle.
After much convincing, the dealership finally let us test drive their Honda Odyssey and we loved it! A mini van is designed for comfort, and this model had rear seats we could remove and set crates in their place. Ron had to get over the stigma of driving a mini van, but it had enough power to “race” people when the light turned green, so this seemed to be enough to keep him happy.
What are we currently driving?
Although we drove our Honda Odyssey for over ten years, a car accident last year wrote it off and we had to go shopping for a new van. We weren’t happy with the aesthetic of the new Odyssey models, so we looked into the Chrysler Pacifica. Although it was hard to abandon a ten year relationship with Honda, we gave the Pacifica a try.
Why I love my new mini van
Instead of having removable seats in the back like the 2005 Odyssey, the Pacifica’s rear seats actually quickly and easily hide into the floor! We love this because the biggest downfall of the Odyssey was that we could never transport more than 2 people, even if the dogs weren’t with us, because the seats were stored in our garage. Now, we can pop a seat out of the floor any time we need one! #gamechanger
If you have a senior dog, or a dog with limited mobility, a crate can be set up inside the side door of the mini van. The side door is a low point of entry making it easier for a dog to jump up, or for you to assist your dog into the van.
Initially we had collapsible wire creates, three deep (one for each dog), that covered the entire back area of the van. It worked well, but I started to feel uneasy about the safety of transporting them this way. So, this began our research into safer transport options for our pups.
Enter the Variocage
The Variocage is a revolutionary dog crate designed in Sweden. What really stood out to me about these crates was that although many crate manufacturers claim they are safe, Variocage actually crash tests theirs in the same facilities that cars are crash tested in.
It’s made of powder coated steel, and straps into place to ensure the crate is in the safest position during impact. The side bars of the cage compress during impact to absorb some of the shock of impact without crumpling. Check out the videos below to learn more!
The model we purchased is designed to sit in the back of our vehicle, and has a divider so the dogs each have their own side. Here are Pebbles and Kingsley demonstrating! There are also single dog models available.
The size of Variocage we purchased (and pictured below) is the Variocage Double XXL, but you can learn more about how to size for your vehicle here.
The doors automatically stay open as they are on hydraulics, so no worries about one closing on your pup if you are parked on a slight hill.
Both doors come equipped with locks so your dogs are safe and secure should you need to open your hatch for air and unload your vehicle, or just to step away for a few minutes.
This matt sits under the crates, and rolls up and tucks away when not in use. No scratches on your bumper from dogs jumping in and out of the vehicle!
These straps attach to the vans existing metal bars to keep the crate from sliding around during travel. There are four straps total – one for each corner. It also keeps the crate in the safest position for impact.
There is an emergency hatch on the back of the cage to get your dogs out should you have to in the case of an emergency. You simply just unscrew three red knobs, just like the one pictured below.
When we travel with just the two pups, and put the second row of seating into the floor, we still have plenty of room for groceries and supplies. We can even set in a third crate if Grizz decides to come along for a ride.
If you need the seats up for actual people (why???), this particular van has some storage in the floors for things like a first aid kit, or booster cables.
We have been through a lot of different setups over the years, and this is by far our favourite. The only small downfalls are that the Variocage is just the teeniest bit too small for Kingsley to sleep comfortably with his head down. For long trips, we may have to put in him a larger crate behind the front seats. It’s just fine for running errands as he can comfortably stand should he need to stretch his legs. It would be great if the middle divider was adjustable to suit two different sized dogs like Pebbles and Kingsley.
Also, the cage takes a bit of work to assemble, but this keeps shipping costs down, and there are plenty of videos online to walk you through the process.
You can purchase the Variocage in Canada at Bravepoint Kennels, and Norm has given BrindleBerry followers an exclusive coupon code. Just enter “BrindleBerry” on checkout to save $50.
Do you have a favourite way to transport your pups? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Brands – please contact for purchase/usage of photography or copy.