Best cars for dog owners 2021

  • Pooch perfect: the best cars for dogs revealed
  • Rules and regulations explained
  • What's the best way to transport a dog?

Britain is a nation of dog lovers and that means we often need to transport our hounds by car. Whether it’s for walks in the park, packing for a comfortable family holiday or simply heading off to the vet, animal lovers need a car that can safely and comfortably carry dogs.

In this explainer Parkers picks 2021’s best cars for dogs and their owners, naming the finest vehicles on sale today - in a variety of sizes and price points for every need and budget.

>> Our pick of the best small cars with big boots

Which type of car is best for dogs?

Let’s cover the basics first. It sounds blindingly obvious, but you’ll need a vehicle with a decent-sized boot - your furry friend won’t appreciate being bundled into a tiny loadbay. Good cars for dogs will have a boot commensurately sized for the animal in question, like the Lexus NX in our gallery above: if you have a Chihuahua, you’ll be fine in a small hatchback, whereas owners of a Great Dane are going to need something more substantial. 

Use a dog grille to keep your pet safe in the car

Just as car buyers’ shopping lists are tailored to their size of family and typical use cases, so your choice of car should take into account the needs of your four-legged friends. As far as pets are concerned, this means you should look out for a generously sized and easy-to-access boot. 

We’re looking for a large opening, typically found on a hatchback, estate car or SUV (sometimes called a crossover or 4x4). Sports cars, convertibles and saloons are less practical in this regard, and you’ll be forced to carry your dog in the passenger compartment in these types of car. You should never shut a dog in a boot with no window, and this rules out a surprising number of popular makes and models, including saloon cars.

Just remember to unlatch the luggage cover or parcel shelf; you'll need to leave these at home, so your dog can see out and watch the world go by.

Read on for our FAQ with advice on the best dog guards and national rules about transporting dogs safely.

Best estate car for dogs

Best cars for dogs - Cupra Leon (2021) Sportstourer

Dog-friendly car boots are often found in estate cars. These family workhorses have the advantage of being lower to the ground than SUVs, which makes it easier to climb in and out of for our canine chums - and this becomes more important when your pooch reaches a pensionable age. Smaller breeds, in particular, may not find it easy to leap into a boot high from ground level. Any boot opening 60-70cm off the ground should make for easy dog access. 

Estate cars typically have a boxier, more upright rear end for a voluminous bootspace and we find that dogs can easily get comfortable in most wagons. We often recommend that the best car for large dogs is an estate car for that reason, and you can usually fit a divider so you can carry your pet and your possessions without your shopping being at risk of being eaten on the run back from the supermarket.

Our best big boot cars for dogs include:

SEAT and Cupra Leon Estate (above) Really fun to drive, plus plenty of space for Fido with a 620-litre boot. One of the best-value estate cars on sale

Skoda Superb Estate If you need a really large 660-litre boot and a huge cabin, look no further. A highly recommended estate car, and perfect for dog owners

Volkswagen Passat Estate Another capacious estate, with a 650-litre loadbay and low access to make getting in and out a cinch 

Best SUV for dogs

Mercedes-Benz GLB: loads of space for mutts

The best cars for big dogs are often SUVs (short for sports utility vehicles). These are raised-up 4x4 style cars whose proportions are bloated outside and in, making them a popular choice for families seeking extra space - for people and pups.

>> Our guide to the best SUVs

Just be mindful that the raised driving position that affords that usefully elevated view out also means that the loadbay of an SUV is typically higher from the ground (this type of car can have the boot floor 80cm off the ground). Can your dog jump in unaided? Or will you constantly have to lift your pride and joy in and out? This could become mucky after winter walks in Mudfordshire…

The best boots for large dogs can be found among this lot:

SEAT Tarraco A capacious seven-seater with a generous 700-litre boot when the third-row seats are folded away (or 230 litres with every seat in place). Parkers’ best large family car of 2021

Mercedes-Benz GLB (above) Our reigning medium family car has the smart Merc badge and clever tech, alongside a 700-litre loadbay and a choice of five or seven seats

Dacia Duster If you’re after SUV space on a budget, the Duster is king. Extraordinary value, a fair 445-litre boot and tough-as-nails character

>> The best family cars on sale today

Best hatchback for dogs

Ford Puma: a great dog-carrying hatch

Your typical hatchback can normally carry most dogs in reasonable comfort - but bootspace is inevitably smaller than in an equivalent SUV or estate car. More compact breeds of dog should be fine in here, but larger dogs may get a little claustrophobic. Be sure to measure up before you decide.

Hatchbacks have the advantage of being cheaper and more plentiful, so can be a smart buy, especially if you don’t need acres of space. The best small car for dogs on our shortlist are:

Ford Puma (above) A brilliant compact hatchback with a dose of crossover cool: a reasonable 456-litre boot that includes a wash-out-able compartment below for muddy dog clobber. Our 2021 Car of the Year

Skoda Octavia A family hatch with an enormous 600-litre loadbay and generously sized tailgate, making canine manoeuvres a doddle. A lot of car for your money (and mutt) 

Volkswagen Golf A good old-fashioned hatchback like the Golf with its 380-litre boot actually makes perfect sense for many owners of smaller and medium-sized dogs


Can dogs travel in the boot of a car?
Yes, but you must do so safely and humanely. The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 and The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Wales) Order 2007 dictate that you must not transport your dog in a way that may cause injury or suffering to the animal.

Consider using a harness to keep your dog safe

How to transport a dog in a car in the UK
The Highway Code instructs drivers to make sure any pets are sufficiently restrained, so that they won’t distract or injure the driver and occupants of the car in an emergency stop. This is why we recommend the use of a dog crate or harness, or a simple divider to keep your hound safely in the boot.

My dog finds it hard to climb into the car. What do you recommend?
Look for a boot that’s lower to the ground. Take a tape measure to the showroom with you, so you can compare access. More expensive cars with air suspension often let you lower the car for ease of loading - look out for a button in the boot for this. Alternatively, consider a dog ramp for cars - we list the best here in our handy round-up.

How much space does my dog need in a car?
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) says: ‘When transporting your dog in a crate or container, you should ensure that it has enough room to sit and stand up at full height, turn around easily and lie down in a natural position. You should also ensure that your dog is able to see out of the container and that there is enough ventilation and airflow. Suitable bedding should be placed on the floor to prevent the dog from slipping around during the journey.’

The best cars for dog owners 2021

Can I leave my dog in the car when parked up?
Yes, but only for short periods of time. Always leave a window ajar for fresh air, remember to disable your alarm’s interior motion sensor (read the handbook) and never leave your pet in a hot car. Interiors can quickly become stifling and dangerous to dogs on a hot sunny day. This is cruel and illegal.

What else do I need to carry my dog in the boot?
Prepare the space. We’d recommend a plastic boot liner, widely available for most models, to keep muddy paw prints, water and any accidents off your carpet. This will make it easier to keep your car clean - and pay dividends come resale time, so you don’t have to sell your vehicle with that soiled, doggy smell. It’s useful to have a dog bed that you can keep in your car: somewhere your pet can call home and snooze in while you drive off on adventures anew. And don’t forget a supply of treats, dog poo bags and a portable water bowl so you can look after pup on his or her travels.

Further reading

>> Need something cheaper? The best-value used estate cars

>> No animals here: the best vegan-friendly cars

>> Best seven-seaters