Surprise – Your lap is not the safest place for your pup to ride.
My dog, Eli is a PITA. No, that’s not a fancy new breed. It’s a description of how he behaves when it’s time to go somewhere. And that makes him difficult to travel with. Which is tough, because we travel a lot. And, short trips to the park, family gatherings, and vet visits are a necessity. So, we needed a travel solution.
Why Pet Restraints Are So Important
Here’s a scary statistic: 150,000 pets are killed in car crashes each year. Not from the crash, but because being unrestrained, they run from the car when the door is opened and are hit by oncoming traffic.
Many states have enacted pet restraint laws, and with the growing popularity of pets, consider this: A pet can become a projectile in a car crash; not only can the pet be injured or killed, but it can injure other passengers, too.
Add to that the distraction, a pet can cause to a driver and it’s easy to understand how important it is to make sure your fur baby is safely restrained in the car. Knowing this, we looked at different harnesses and soft crates and even bought a few, but with little success. Eli clawed right through the first carrier I bought. He chewed through the strap on the harness I bought (as well as several leashes). But, we love him and want to take him with us. We had to find a solution.
Great Products Start with Great Information— And Crash Testing
Looking for a better solution, a friend recommended Sleepypod. Her trainer told her this was the best brand in the business.
So I took a look. I found that the company conducts independent safety and crash tests on all its products. And not only are their products tested, but they use anthropomorphic crash test dummies that collect data, similar to the test dummies that are used to set safety standards for humans. Then, the company uses high-quality materials designed to perform well in the event of a crash and designed to be comfortable for pets. This last bit is super important to me; the more comfortable Eli is with restraints the easier it is to travel with him.
I reached out to Sleepypod and requested some products to test drive. They sent me two: A harness and a soft carrier.
A Good Harness Will Change Your Walks Forever
When Eli joined our family we did what we see dog owners everywhere doing: We latched the leash to his collar and off we went!
He nearly strangled himself. He wouldn’t listen and was impossible to train. I was afraid he was untrainable and we would be stuck staying home with him.
Then, I discovered the harness. This jumble of nylon cords, once untangled, was magical. The pressure point he feels is not around his throat but across his shoulders. So when we tug on the leash, to him it’s the hand of God giving him direction. Suddenly, he listened, he became trainable and he didn’t hurt himself in his excitement to take a walk.
But it was difficult to untangle, and it was difficult for us to navigate; I am pretty sure that more than one of us put it on him improperly more than a few times.
Clearly, Sleepypod’s designers had this same challenge. Their Clickit (from $69) harness design makes it clear how to put it on your dog, and how to tighten the straps. The harness has a nylon-covered chest plate; his front legs go through two straps below the chest plate, there’s a clip across his shoulders and another around his chest.
The straps can be adjusted before you put the harness on your pup, then just buckle the two buckles at his neck and around his chest. Stainless rings on the buckle at the neck are where a leash can be attached, and reflective straps on the sides of the harness allow you to strap a seat belt through for car travel.
The nylon and straps are super strong; there’s no way Eli could chew through any of it if he tried. And, the chest plate is solid, structured to ‘catch’ him in the event of a crash so the force of energy isn’t inadvertently unleashed on his spine or neck.
In keeping with this idea, Sleepypod has recently introduced more products with these materials, including a line of leashes that can’t be chewed through (or at least not easily!).
A Soft Travel Carrier Opens the Highways and Skyways
The harness is great for car trips, but on an airplane, pets must be in a crate or carrier for takeoff and landing, and ideally, for the entire flight (support pets are not required to adhere to this rule, however). This sounds great, but for PITA dogs, it can be a challenge.
We planned to visit my family for the holidays and wanted to take Eli with us. Which meant he would have to fly (his first time!) and he would need to be crate trained for the first time in his 10 years. I bought a soft carrier on Amazon and started the training process: lots and lots of treats, praise, and fun to make the crate the happiest place on earth. He loved the carrier until the first time I zipped it closed and within minutes he scratched right through it. Hmmm.
The Right Soft Carrier Makes All the Difference
Sleepypod’s soft Air carrier ($169) is made of much stronger nylon and mesh and even though it is specified for the same size and weight dog as the first carrier, is roomier. There’s also a smaller carrier, the Atom ($109), for tiny pets.
Following Sleepypod’s advice, we again made the carrier the happiest place on earth with treats, toys, and praise (to note, we tried some calming treats but they just seemed to make him more anxious). After a few weeks, I wasn’t entirely sure he was ready for his first flight, but it was time to try.
We headed to the airport and when it was time, coaxed him into the Air carrier. He did great. And once we had him in there, it was easier to leave him. A slot on the side of the Air carrier allowed me to slide it over the handle on my suitcase. This made it easy to get through the airport; I was able to wheel Eli from gate to gate without taking him out of the carrier.
Once on the plane, Eli was happy to get out of the crate and ride on our laps when it was safe. He didn’t want to go back into the crate for landing, but he accommodated us (treats certainly help!).
Soft Carrier or Harness: How to Tell Which is Right for Your Fur Baby
If your pet weighs more than 20 lbs a harness is the way to go. Pets smaller than 20 lbs can ride in a soft carrier. While you can find harnesses that fit smaller pets, a soft carrier is safer in the car and necessary on an airplane.
Pets larger than 20 lbs cannot ride in the passenger cabin of airplanes; they will be stowed below in the luggage compartment and need a hard-sided crate.
We are lucky that Eli is 20 lbs so either is an option for us. We have come to rely on the harness for daily travel and I love to have it on him when we go for a walk. He gets excited when he sees it come out of the drawer and has learned to sit patiently while I put it on him.
Maybe it’s the promise of a walk, maybe it’s the comfort of the harness, maybe it’s the treats in my pocket, but a good travel system makes him just a bit less of a PITA and all the more lovable.
Disclosure: Sleepypod provided the harness and carrier for my review; all opinions are my own.