When you love your dog, you want to take them with you wherever you go, even if it means driving in the car. Although many dogs look forward to riding in the car, other dogs dread the experience and whine, drool, or even vomit. This can be due to motion sickness, a previous bad event in the car like an accident, or anxiety about being trapped inside a giant, moving machine. A dog can even be put off car trips entirely if the usual destination is somewhere unpleasant like the vet.
If your dog isn’t happy in the car, it can make everybody else miserable too. Teach your dog to ride in the car calmly and comfortably so your travel companion becomes a first-rate passenger.
Teaching Your Dog to Love the Car
Although it’s easiest to prevent car problems in new puppies, any dog can be taught to associate the car with wonderful things using desensitization and counter-conditioning. Desensitization is a step-by-step method of gradually introducing your dog to the car. Counter-conditioning changes your dog’s emotional response from negative to positive by having great stuff happen near and inside the car.
Depending on how severely your dog reacts, you might have to teach your dog to ride in the car starting from 10 feet away, while the car is parked in the driveway. You can also start with your dog on the back seat. The trick is to find the point where your dog is comfortable and relaxed then slowly move closer and closer.
At each stage of the process, give your dog something beloved like a special toy, delicious treats, or a meal. You can even play games together or have a trick training session. Anything goes if it helps your dog link the car with food and fun.
Only move closer when your dog is completely relaxed at the current stage. If your dog stops eating or playing, you’ve moved too fast. Simply take a step or two backward until your dog relaxes then start again. You might be inside the car in minutes, or it might take weeks. Be patient and move at your dog’s pace.
Now it’s time to add the other elements that precede a drive. For example, sitting in the driver’s seat, closing the doors, or making the remote locks beep. Again, pair each step with something wonderful. Toss treats in the back seat or play tug-of-war together. Remember, dogs should be safely secured in a moving car, so incorporate a crate or car harness attached to a seat belt into your dog training routine. To teach your dog to ride in the car, your final step should be turning the car on and off. Don’t go anywhere yet, just let your dog associate the sound of the engine with food, fun, and games.
Teaching Your Dog to Enjoy Riding in the Car
Now that your dog looks forward to getting in the car, you can add motion to the mix. Start with short distances, like the end of the driveway and back. Continue to build the time spent driving by short increments. Just as you did before, make every trip as pleasant as possible. Praise your dog while you drive and use encouraging cheerful banter. If you can enlist a helper to ride beside your dog and give positive rewards as you travel, even better. When you start venturing away from home, choose destinations you know your dog will enjoy. For example, drive to the park a few blocks away or the woods outside of your neighborhood. Get out and let your dog play and explore before returning home.
In no time, your dog should look forward to car trips because the drive itself is enjoyable and the destinations are fun. Of course, after you teach your dog to ride in the car, not all your destinations will be pleasant. Trips to the vet or groomer may be stressful. Be sure those destinations are few and far between and when they are necessary, always take toys or treats to sweeten the deal.
Preventing Dog Motion Sickness
Puppies are more likely than adult dogs to get sick in the car, but many will grow out of their motion sickness as they mature. For those who don’t, fortunately, the steps above can help your dog become accustomed to a moving car. But if an upset stomach from motion sickness or anxiety still bothers your dog, here are a few tips to help ease your dog’s tummy:
- Keep the temperature inside the car cool.
- Lower the windows for fresh air.
- Limit your dog’s food and water for a few hours before the trip.
- Consult your vet about motion sickness medication or anti-anxiety medication.
- Exercise your dog about twenty minutes before your trip to decrease stress.
- Spray dog pheromones in the car. Available as collars, diffusers, and sprays, these pheromones mimic the odor of a nursing mother dog and relax even adult dogs.