A good dog owner will always need to take their dog out of the house—even if only to the vet’s office. Sometimes, a leash is enough to contain your pup. But what if the place you’re going requires carriers, or you think your dog would do better in one?
The right dog carrier for you depends on several factors. You definitely don’t want to carry around a 50-pound dog in a backpack, for example! And some places, like airlines, require specific carrier types.
In this guide, we’ll help you to find the perfect carrier to suit your lifestyle so that you and your pooch can travel in comfort and style!
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Types of Dog Carrier
For most pet owners, the most well-known will do: either a hard-sided or soft-sided carrier. These are the ones you’ll find most often in stores, and which will meet guidelines for airlines, rental cars, and other spaces where your dog is required to be inside of a pet carrier.
Every dog and every life is different, so what works best for you will depend on a lot of factors, including:
- Where and how you want to travel with your pup,
- The size, age and temperament (especially if nervous) of your dog,
- Your own physical capacity for lifting heavy objects,
- And more!
Some people may even want a variety of carriers for different situations.
Let’s dive into the different types of dog carriers to help you make a decision.
Hard-Sided Dog Carriers
Hard-sided dog carriers have firm, rigid sides that do not move or bend. They can be made out of various materials, but most commonly are plastic or metal.
Plastic carriers, in particular, are great because they are lightweight and waterproof. They’re great for travel in cars or even via plane.
Metal is better used as a kennel than a carrier. These carriers are great to contain your pet during car rides, but can be heavy and difficult to carry.
All hard-sided dog carriers are going to be hard to break, which is great if your dog tends to scratch or gnaw on the sides of their carriers.
Most hard-sided dog carriers are also easy to clean.
A downside to hard-sided carriers is that they don’t collapse for easy storage, and they also don’t have much give—which can make them awkward to carry around.
You should also line hard-sided carriers with a bed, blanket, or towel so that your dog is comfortable.
Soft-Sided Dog Carriers
Soft-sided dog carriers are made of fabric rather than harder materials, like plastic or metal. However, they do have a framework that keeps their shape firm.
These carriers work great for travel, whether you’re considering a road trip, vet visit, or airline travel. There are even expandable carriers to give your pet more room.
They’re also great for storing away. Folded down, they are typically only a few inches thick.
Soft-sided carriers are lightweight and somewhat easy to carry, though they don’t have a lot of give. Like plastic carriers, bigger soft-sided carriers can be awkward to lift.
Though soft-sided carriers have a softer bottom than hard-sided carriers, most pups will still appreciate a blanket or towel in the bottom.
A major downside of these carriers is that they’re difficult to clean. If your pup isn’t fully potty trained or gets nervous and pees while traveling, this type of carrier isn’t best for you.
The same applies if your pup frequently gets into mud, or you take swimming trips and put them in the carrier before they’re fully dry. A soft-sided carrier will quickly become stinky in these situations.
Rolling Dog Carriers
Rolling dog carriers are great for travel in cars and on planes. They’re also good choices if you’re going to be walking with your dog inside the carrier, or you aren’t able to lift a carrier with your dog inside.
However, if you want to keep your dog in one of these on a flight, especially in-cargo, you’ll want to ensure the wheels either detach or lock. This is a good feature anyway, as you never want to let go of the carrier and have your pup roll away.
If you’re taking your dog in an airplane cabin with you, make sure you account for the extra height the wheels add to your carrier, if they’re not detachable.
This is because your carrier will have to fit underneath the seat in front of you, and there isn’t a lot of room. A couple of inches might make all the difference!
Rolling dog carriers can be hard or soft-sided, but are typically soft-sided.
Dog backpacks work well when hiking or walking around town, but they don’t work well for traveling in a vehicle.
Because these carriers are made for your dog to be carried further distances, they can be rough on your back, especially if your pup is heavy!
They do make traveling by foot much more convenient, though, as you aren’t required to lug around a bulky carrier. Dog backpacks also look very modern and stylish.
These carriers often give your dog a ton of visibility and ventilation as well. They also have a bit more freedom in some types of backpacks—so make sure your pup can’t wriggle out of the one you buy!
Dog slings allow you to carry your dog close to your chest or back. They’re another solution for walking around that you wouldn’t want to use inside a moving vehicle.
Like backpacks, slings free up your hands and give you a lot of space to do other things while holding your dog.
Another similarity to dog backpacks is the freedom of movement your dog has—which could be good or bad, depending on your dog and their behavior.
Slings can be uncomfortable for a lot of dogs, but some pups take to them very well!
It’s unlikely that anyplace requiring pet carriers will find a dog sling adequate for containing your dog, so be mindful of this when making your decision.
Pet strollers are very similar to rolling carriers, except they’re more for foot travel than vehicle travel.
Strollers are convenient if your pup cannot walk far distances with you, and you have options when it comes to how contained your pup will be. You could screen them in so that they’re fully contained, or clip a leash to the stroller and let them poke their head out.
However, strollers are also bulky and will need to be folded and unfolded while traveling. This can take up a lot of space in your vehicle, and even your house or garage.
You also want to make sure the wheels are lockable so that your pup doesn’t roll downhill or get blown by the wind when you’re not looking.
Is My Dog Too Big for a Carrier?
Unfortunately, many dogs are just too big for a carrier. Most carriers don’t hold more than 20 pounds, so if your pup weighs more, you’ll just have to keep them on a leash.
You should also think about how much you can carry. A 20-pound dog might fit in a carrier, but some humans don’t have the strength to carry that much weight very far.
That said, even if your dog is too big for a carrier, you can still use a crate if needed for traveling by car or plane. You can even still crate train big dogs at home!
Choosing the Right Size Dog Carrier
When looking at carriers, you want to know both the size and weight of your dog. Start by measuring your dog from their snout to the base of their tail (or begin at their shoulders and add inches, if that’s easier for you!). Then, measure from their feet to the top of their head.
Most companies will list measurements and weight limits on the carrier listings, or even on a separate page as Petsmart has done here.
The ideal carrier will allow your dog to stand up and turn around comfortably, so you want your carrier to be a size bigger than your dog. They shouldn’t “just fit” in most cases, although carriers like a dog sling are the exception to this rule.
What if your dog is in between sizes? Or, what if their measurements suit a small carrier, but their weight would be better supported by a medium?
When in doubt, select the bigger size. You don’t want your dog to be cramped!
Features to Look for When Choosing a Pet Carrier
Carriers can get rather fancy, with a ton of extra features to choose from. Of course, the more features, the more expensive the product!
How do you know which features are worth the cost?
Here are some features to look out for, with benefits included so you can decide for yourself!
- Pouches or pockets to hold extra supplies like waste bags, treats, a leash, or your cell phone
- Easy access, such as a top opening door
- Waterproof and easy-to-clean material in case of accidents or other mess
- Sturdiness, so you aren’t buying another in two months!
- A good view so your pup can experience the world around them—or less viewing area for reactive or nervous dogs
- Lightweight material to make it easier for you to carry
- Well-ventilated with mesh screens or open sides, so that your pup can breathe easy (especially important for air travel!)
- Attached pet bowls for easy storage and feeding—but again, mostly if you have a flight in mind!
You also, of course, want it to be comfortable for both you and your pup. They should be able to rest and move around, and you should be able to carry them easily!
The Best Carrier for Taking Your Dog on an Airplane
Flying with a dog is both exciting and nerve-wracking! A big step to success is choosing the right carrier to get them through.
The type of carrier you’ll need will depend on whether your dog is flying in the cabin with you or in cargo.
Your dog carrier for flying in-cabin should:
- Be large enough for your dog to stand and turn around in, but small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
- Contain your dog fully—they cannot stick their head out.
- Be waterproof in case your pup has an accident.
- Have ventilation on multiple sides.
- Have a strap or handle that makes the carrier comfortable for you to carry.
- Be comfortable for your dog—this can be achieved with a soft towel or blanket, a toy, and a good plan for heating and cooling if the plane’s temperatures become uncomfortable.
Hard-sided and soft-sided carriers are best for plane trips. You may also use a rolling carrier, so long as you can take the wheels off or lock them so that your pup isn’t rolling down the aisle!
Be sure to check with your airline’s specific regulations before your trip as well, as every airline is different.
In-cargo carriers must follow the IATA Live Animal Regulations.
This means that they should:
- Be large enough for your dog to stand and turn around in.
- Contain your dog fully.
- Be waterproof, with no leakage.
- Have handles on the outside.
- Be well-ventilated.
- Have a secure door that keeps your pup contained.
- Have food and water bowls attached to the inside that can be filled without opening the door.
- Have stickers that state a live animal is inside, as well as one to record the time your dog was last fed and watered.
- Have yours and your pet’s information listed somewhere on the carrier.
Only hard-sided, non-collapsible carriers are permitted on in-cargo flights. Rolling carriers are allowed if the wheels are removable.
You also want your pup to be comfortable in their carrier. You may want to include a soft bed or a comforting toy in their crate, for example.
We hope this has helped you with choosing the best carrier for you and your pup. It’s so important to invest in one that keeps you both comfortable and happy!