When we first got our new puppy Apollo he did not like car rides. He would sit there scared, whining and drooling, and after a few minutes he would start chucking up his food. Does your dog love the car? Or is he restless like Apollo? Is he unsettled and whines or drools? Does he get car sick? If your dog does not do well during car rides, the underlying issue is fear. This article will give you a few ways to help your dog get comfortable with the car, help you eliminate his fears, and get him to love traveling by car.
The picture above was taken just after we got Apollo, while we were re-conditioning him to love the car. Don't worry, Jim isn't driving with Apollo on his lab, this was just a picture taking moment. Look at Apollo's body language - ears back, claws out grabbing onto the side of the car window - he isn't comfortable. He is afraid.
To teach Apollo to love car rides, we had to re-condition him. He had to experience the car repeatedly as a positive. Dogs learn to associate over time. He had learned to fear the car rides with his prior experiences at his first owner, so we needed to come up with a gradual process that would allow Apollo to experience the car in a new way.
When it comes to taking your dog with you in your car, most dog owners just do it - meaning they just put the dog into the backseat or cargo area and go. For most dogs, that is not a problem. In fact the “it's not a big deal” attitude of the owner is the best way to approach any training. If your dog trusts you, your relaxed manner conveys that there is nothing to be afraid of. Most dogs quickly become accustomed to riding in the car. In fact, most dogs soon learn to love it.
However, there are a few dogs that are anxious and even afraid in the car. More then likely, they were in a frightened state of mind when they first were put in the vehicle and have started to associate the car with this anxious state of being. Since dogs learn by association, it is important that they are given the opportunity to experience the car in a positive and fun way. Then they can become the car-loving canine companion that can't wait to get into the vehicle and go for a ride!
Is your dog anxiously pacing around the vehicle, panting or drooling? Is he whining or even getting carsick? If any of these are the case, take some time to reintroduce the car to your dog in a positive and fun way. Here is what we did with Apollo to get him used to the car in a new way.
1. Get your dog comfortable inside the car
The first step was to get Apollo to not be afraid of just being inside the car. When we got him, he did not want to get into the car. When he was inside, he would shut down immediately, he would just sit hunched over, scared and uncomfortable.
Most people just get into their car and drive. They don't think about getting the dog used to the interior of a car. The unusual movement and associated noise of the driving car can be quiet frightening for a dog. Getting the dog first accustomed to the car without driving, or even without running the engine, is an important first step to reconditioning a dog that is afraid in the car.
We spend some time and several repeat sessions with Apollo on just being in the car. I got his blanket from the house to cover the backseat. This brought in the familiar smells of home. We parked the truck in the backyard and first had Heidi, our Jack Russel Terrier get in. Since Apollo already bonded to Heidi, her being there was a great comfort for him. Then we just put Apollo in the back seat with her and let him explore. At first he was cautious but then he started to sniff around.
Now we would just sit in our front seats and hang out for a while.
After a few sessions, Apollo's body language became relaxed, he would walk around and then lay down and relax. In this state of mind, he was ready for the engine to be turned on. Since we drive a diesel truck, just running the engine makes the vehicle move. It took a few more sessions to get Apollo relaxed with the engine running.
2. Teach your dog to get in and out of the car on this own four paws
When we first got Apollo, he would not get near the car, let alone jump in on his own. So our next lesson was on teaching him to get in and out of the vehicle on his own four paws.
Many dog owners just pick up their reluctant dogs and put them in the car. This can be very frightening for the dog. If at all possible, dogs should be entering and exiting the vehicle on their own.
Since our truck is pretty high of the ground and Apollo was still pretty small, we brought out our ramp. We have it for our senior dog, Jaeger, since he has arthritis in his front legs and cannot get in and out of the car without it. Apollo loves fetching the tennis ball, so we just had some fun with it and made a game out of getting in and out of the truck.
Watch the short video below to see Apollo getting in and out of the car following the tennis ball:
Once Apollo had fun getting in and out of the truck on this own, he was ready for step three.
3. Go for short rides and have some fun
Once Apollo was accustomed to the noisy truck and able to get in and out of the vehicle on this own, he was ready to go on a ride. I put his crate in the back seat area. Since Apollo was used to sleeping in his crate at night, he was very comfortable laying in it in the car. I like having our dogs travel in the crate at first, because it is a secure place. I don't have to worry about them running around or getting in my way while I drive. Once my dogs learn to lay in their spot in the car, I remove the crate.
So we took Apollo for a short ride to the dog park. This made sure he had a fun destination ahead and he associated the car ride with going someplace fun for him.
It only took a few rides for Apollo to love the car. Now he is a wonderful canine traveler. We can go on long car rides with him and our other dogs and all he does in hop in and lay down on his blanket.
I hope you enjoyed the article. If you like to see our video on training your dog to love the car, you can see it here.