Some dogs love to travel. And what better time to take a road trip than during the summer? There are a lot of great tips for traveling with your dog when in a car, and they always include keeping your dog safely in his seat — which is the one rule my dog has never been able to follow.
Snickerdoodle has zig-zagged across the United States with me three times now, and we’re gearing up for a fourth trip. He loves going for rides, but even with frequent walk breaks, he is terrible at staying put while the car is in motion. There is so much to see! So much to smell! So many ways he could get seriously injured!
I tried putting him in his comfy, beloved dog carrier. He spent the whole drive whining and trying to dig his way out. Doggie seatbelt? Somehow he managed to get dangerously tangled up in it. Keeping him down on the floor? He climbed under my tiny car seat and accidentally disconnected some wiring. Did I mention I was driving?
I was pretty excited, then, when I found out about car hammocks. They’re pretty much over-sized backseat covers that extend from the top of the backseat to the top of the front seat, making a big hammock in-between. Not only does this protect your car interior from hair, mud and upchucks, it limits your dog to a safe space that includes a sort of “safety net” over that dangerous between-the-seats zone. It’s great for older dogs, who may get easily stressed during long travel, or active dogs who refuse to stay in their seats (talking about you, Snickerdoodle!) or for any dog who suffers from carsickness.
Looking online, car hammocks tend to run anywhere from $50 to $100. So I figured I’d make my own. Your costs will vary depending on what you have on hand and where you purchase your supplies, but I was able to put together a hammock we both love for less than $20.
Follow these steps to make your own:
1. Measure your car seats.
The two basic measurements you need in order to start are the length of your backseat — either from one end of the bench to the other, or from one car door to the other, depending how much you’d prefer to cover — and what will be the hammock width, which is the distance from the top of your backseat to the top of your front seat. By “hammock width,” I don’t mean stretching the measuring tape straight across. You need to let the tape fall down the backseat, across the cushions and the leg space, sloping it back up to the top of the front seat — just like a hammock. You can make this as tight or as loose as you want, but plan carefully. Too short and your dog will be swaying in the breeze (and possibly throwing up on your neck). Too long and he’ll topple into the leg space.
2. Decide where to place the straps.
Once you have these measurements, you’ll need to figure out where to put the straps that will secure the hammock to the seats. I put straps on just one end of my hammock that attach to the head rests of the front seats. I didn’t need any straps for the back. Because my seats are collapsible, I just tucked the hammock in. But I might add extra straps later for some added security.
3. Measure the distance between the end of the hammock and the front seat’s headrest (or whatever you plan to attach the straps to).
Measuring the distance between the proposed-end of the hammock and the head rests can get a little tricky, so make sure you do it a few times. (You can also measure again after you make the basic hammock, before putting the straps on, just in case.) Keep in mind the kind of straps you’re going to be using, as the width of the strap will make some difference in where it needs to be placed.
Which leads us to…
4. Gather your materials.
The materials you chose will differ depending on what’s available to you and how fancy you want to get. (I love projects you can make super easy or super complicated at whim; don’t you?) No matter what you choose, you can probably pick up at least some of the materials at a fabric store, your local thrift shop or a dollar store. Or use what you have at home.
All you really need are two fabrics you like that are sturdy and easily washable. It’s better if the fabrics are at least a little different; for example, one fuzzy and one smooth fabric. This way you’re prepared for different situations.
I wanted something lightweight, since it’s so hot where I live, so I picked up a couple of old fabric shower curtains at the local thrift store. One is rougher and holds up really well against mud and sand for days when we go hiking; the other is a pretty fabric that I think jazzes up the backseat.
You could also use old sheets, tablecloths, canvas, denim… pick out whatever you like.
If you want to add some type of padding, you can use a thicker fabric (such as a fleece) on one side. Or you can line the space between your two fabrics with a thicker fabric, batting or some old towels — just know that if you go this route, you’re going to need to quilt it to keep the inside materials from shifting around.
Straps for all of these methods can be made out of leftover fabric, or you can use ribbon or adjustable buckles bought at a fabric store or taken off an old backpack. I used a couple of my dog’s old nylon collars as straps, and that worked pretty well.
5. Prepare your fabrics.
Make sure your fabrics are clean and ironed flat. I am horrible at the ironing part, but it really is important so your fabrics line up the way they’re supposed to. Then lay the fabrics on top of each other, with the front or “pretty” sides touching.
6. Measure out the size you need.
Be sure to add at least 1/4 inch all around. When you sew the fabrics together, you’ll be using that space for the stitches.
7. Double check your measurements, and trim the fabrics.
8. Line your fabrics up and pin them together, all the way around.
9. Sew together three sides of the fabrics. If you have a sewing machine, you can finish this up in just a few minutes. Otherwise, it’s time to turn on a movie…
10. Carefully sew the fourth side together.
Leave about 3 or 4 inches undone on one end. This will be the little pocket you use to finish it all off.
11. Flip your hammock right-side out.
Do this by reaching inside that little hole, grabbing the other end of the fabric and pulling it out by feeding it through the hole. Go carefully so you don’t rip any stitches.
12. Hand sew the last couple inches shut.
13. Add the straps.
I suggest using a zigzag stitch if you can, but mostly you just want to make sure it’s secure. Sew it through both layers of fabric for some added reinforcement.
Hook your hammock into the car, plop the pup in the middle, and get ready for an adventure!