Some dogs are born to ride in cars. They are happy. They are excited. And, you have to worry more about how they behave in the car rather than getting them into the car. With others, they may exhibit signs of fear and anxiety and may even become nauseous during the ride.
This usually occurs due to socialization or the lack of socialization of your pet. You may never know exactly why your dog sees the car the way he does. Maybe, he associates that a car ride equates to an unpleasant trip to the vet’s office for shots. He may even associate it with getting sick during his first car ride. Or, he may have never been in the car and does not know what to expect. Whatever the reason, you need to take steps to help him so that he will associate a car ride as a positive experience … like a ride to the park.
How do you train your dog to ride in the car?
First, you take your dog to the car (on a leash) with the door open and walk around it slowly and praise him as you do. Stop occasionally at the door and praise as well. If he remains calm or positive, we can continue. If he freaks out, back away from the car until you find a spot that is comfortable for him. Encourage him, but do not baby or nurture him. This will only make the unwanted behavior stronger. Slowly work him closer and closer to the car and the open door until he is calm and relaxed.
Note: If the dog has had real dog obedience training this exercise should not be difficult.
One everyone is comfortable we are ready for the next step. Get you dog’s favorite treats (break it into very small pieces). It actually will help if he is hungry when you do this. Go back to the car door and have him sit. Here is where we may have to try different some methods:
Try to coax him into jumping into the car using the treats as sort of a breadcrumb trail … at the door jamb, the car floor and a small bounty on the seat. I always use a command of some sort in a very encouraging, positive manner. This could take a few attempts, but it is considered progress if you can get him to eat the treats at the door jamb and move closer.
If the above doesn’t work, try having someone on the other side of the car calling him through the car. This person needs to be very encouraging and have some treats or even a favorite toy to tempt him.
If neither of these steps work, try backing your dog away from the car and then running up to the door and encouraging his momentum to take him further in.
If any of these are successful, lay on the praise as if it is the best thing that has happened in your life. Once in, make sure that you keep the doors open at all times. He can leave if the pressure becomes too much for him.; but try to encourage him to stay. Allow him to sniff around and inspect your car if he shows an inclination. Whatever you do, do not acknowledge his anxiety!
The next step to training your dog to ride is to close the doors with you and your dog inside. Make sure the windows are down for good air flow and again, do not start the car. Turn on some light music. Pet your dog and talk to him in a normal tone. Again, if your dog shows signs of nervousness, ignore it as it will only reinforce that behavior. If your dog sits easily, give him a treat and praise him. Keep this first enclosed experience to just a few minutes. Repeat the training process with your dog.
Once your dog is comfortable in the car, start the engine. Don’t go anywhere. Just let the engine idle with both you and your dog inside. If your dog seems amenable, go for a quick drive around the block. Reward your dog for good behavior while in the car. If he shows signs of fear, ignore it and return home. This may take a few days until your dog is relaxed enough with a trip around the block. Note: Never feed him prior to one of these trips or allow him to drink a lot of water.
After you dog is fully adjusted and doesn’t freak out at the short car ride, take him some place fun like the park or a nature trail where he can sniff and explore to his heart’s content. We want him to have a good time and you should be enjoying yourself too. By this time, your dog should start to associate the car (and the dog training) with pleasant feelings.
Before you know it, you and your dog will be going everywhere together!
If for some reason you can’t get your dog to get into a car with the above tips, consult with a dog trainer. It is amazing what you and a professional dog trainer can accomplish together.