To a dog, cars and trucks are terribly fascinating, strange things. Some dogs become stiffly terrified at even the sound of a running automobile and will struggle with all their might to avoid getting near one.
Imagine that dog as your own four-legged best friend that you’re trying to coax into the car for a ride.
It’s frustrating and confusing for you, but it’s traumatizing to your dog. Soothing it may unintentionally reinforce this difficult behavior. Scolding it will only worsen its aversion, as will a prolonged, physical struggle. It’s the kind of standoff you can both come away the better for enduring, but only with careful, patient assurances that your pal really has nothing to fear.
- Starting Young
Young dog in car are quite possibly some of the easiest to teach that a ride in the car can be fun. Even then, the surest approach is to start letting your puppy get comfortable under three months playing and exploring in a running, parked car with the engine running and the air conditioner on. This will keep the youngster comfortable and cool while getting it used to the motor’s rumble. Put a small bed on the seat and even feed your puppy a meal. Keep some toys and treats handy to keep the mood light.
At first, keep your dog restrained in a crate or with a harness for safety. Putting the harness on at home, complete with treats when taking it on and off, will keep it calm while you gradually increase the time in it each session. Don’t forget to offer a nice, distracting bone or chew two for “company” while restrained. Follow a similar process to get your puppy used to a crate before crating it in the car itself.
Next, build up to drives around the block with shorter rides to work out any motion sickness your puppy may experience at first – just little drives in and out of the driveway once or twice a day for the first 2-3 days. Once you’ve made it around the block, try a five-minute drive and keep an eye out for panting, whining, trembling, drooling or cowering before going for progressively longer trips over a few weeks.
Start out getting your dog used to driving to fun places, like a favorite park, pet store or hiking spot. Once it starts to associate the car with going someplace enjoyable, you’ll have diminished the chances it’s just going to be associated with being boarded or taken to the vet.
Bigger breed especially should be taught early to get in and out of the car themselves – your back will thank you when it isn’t a full-grown dog who still needs a push. Get your puppy used to a consistent “in” command, luring with treats and toys at first if you must. Follow the same process for the “out” command, but add “wait” to the routine and use a leash at first so it won’t bound off immediately.
- Final Thoughts
The good news is, what works for training a puppy will typically work for training a juvenile or adult dog. Puppies are just much more impressionable and lack the sometimes ingrained nervousness of dogs that have matured and settled into their habits.
Ongoing motion sickness often will only solidify that nervousness, but vets can prescribe medications that will alleviate flare-ups. The key is to always keep the car comfortable and associated not just with unpleasant places, but more often, good times. That association can be strengthened by always keeping plenty of cool air flowing throughout the cabin and never, under any circumstances, leaving your dog in a car with closed windows. Overheating can kill a dog in the time it takes to finish grocery shopping.
If your dog is constantly fearful whenever it even gets near a car, forcing the issue won’t solve the problem any more quickly than over-comforting. A relaxed posture with normal breathing, normal eating, wagging and tail and ears held normally are signs your dog is comfortable. On the other hand, watching out for trembling, panting, whining, drooling, cowering or a tucked tail, as these are all giveaways that your dog is uncomfortable.
One of the best ways to ensure a fun trip for your pooch? Take to the highway. In addition to getting your dog used to longer trips together, the uninterrupted motion will eventually make your dog very sleepy. Ride on.