I’m not a professional dog trainer, but I have had my fair share of professionally trained pups. Currently, I own two dogs who I found on the streets of Thailand. Needless to say, they have their quirks — living outside for the first 8 months of life will do that to ya’.
Whatever the case, anyone who’s seen my car will know I love to take my dogs places (the Weathertech seat protector for pets is a dead giveaway). This means I’ve had to train them to ride, and do so without anxiety.
Here’s how to train your dog to ride in a car, whether you’re cruising through a US scenic byway or just heading to the local park.
Is your dog a newbie, or are they already anxious when they ride in a car?
If you have a puppy who’s hardly been in a vehicle before, you have a fresh start to get things right. But just because your dog is already anxious in the car doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause. It just means you need to take things in reverse and start from scratch. Both scenarios call for similar training, though you will likely need to give some more patience to your older, more anxious dog.
Start parked in the driveway, and progress to a neighborhood cruise
Believe it or not, training your dog how to ride in a car starts in park. Pull into the driveway or parking spot and leave the car off. Open the door and hide a treat in the backseat or trunk (wherever you plan to have them sit), then release your dog to do some searching.
Play this hide-and-seek-style game a few times before turning the car engine on and doing it again. They’ll get used to the sound of the vehicle and the slight rumbling without the distraction of being in motion. At this stage, it’s all about positive reinforcement.
I recommend sticking to this stage for a couple of days before going any further, but listen to your dog. They may need more, or less, time.
Take it slow — rushing can set your dog back
Once you’ve positively associated your parked vehicle, you can have your dog hop in and drive around one block, then two, then the entire neighborhood. If you’re not patient, this is where things can go awry.
If your dog has vehicle trauma or anxiety, you really don’t want to push them past their comfort limits. Taking things slow is the only way to ensure a comfortable ride for the long term.
When you’re done your loop, reward them with treats. Eventually, they’ll make it all the way to the park and realize just how amazing the car is.
If your dog gets motion sick, go through this checklist
Anxiety isn’t the only ailment that plagues car-riding pups. Many experience motion sickness, and it’s no pretty picture. If your dog is one of them, consider these options:
- Seat your dog beside a window, and open it so they can let their head out. The wind helps soothe nausea.
- If your dog is short, you can get a seat that lets them sit a bit higher. Why’s this help? Because a lot of nausea in this scenario is caused by your dog’s vantage point misaligned with the moving scene. If they feel like they’re moving, but it looks like they’re staying still, they’ll get sick.
- Buy a bag of ginger biscuits and give your dog a little piece about 30-60 minutes before the ride. Keep these to a minimum, because you’ll need to conserve that treat allocation for all the rewards they’ll be getting during training.
- If all else fails, talk to your vet about anti-nausea medication for longer car rides. It’s better than having them suffer during the journey.
Train your dog by setting boundaries
Dogs thrive with structure. Teaching them to keep their paws off the center console and their butts out of the front seat can make them more well behaved overall. Sometimes, you need to pick your battles — but for the most part, choose your boundaries and stick to them.
Check yourself — drive smoother
I tell you this because your dog can’t. Be soft with the brake and be gentle around those turns. Dogs take a long time to figure out the nuances of the road, so why not save them some hassle?
Say hello to the world’s cutest backseat driver
Once you successfully train your dog to ride in a car, you’ll be able to go on trips big and small with your best pal. As long as you associate the car with fun destinations and yummy treats, they’ll be eager to hop in and buckle up (figuratively, of course) on command.