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How To Train Your Puppy For Car Rides: Everything You Need To Know

Most of us use our cars every single day to get from A to B. In many cases, dog owners may need their cars to take their dogs to the park, on walks, to the vet, and on adventures!

As a dog owner, you probably want to take your furry friend anywhere you go.

How To Train Your Puppy For Car Rides: Everything You Need To Know

But, for puppies, cars can be a little nerve-wracking at first. Puppies may be scared of getting into cars or walking past cars.

This can make it difficult to take your puppy anywhere without it being a stressful experience for both of you.

If this is the case, then you will need to train your puppy for car rides. We will cover all you need to know in this guide.

Why Is My Puppy Scared Of The Car?

When you get a puppy, everything is new to them. You have to introduce them to pretty much everything.

For many puppies, they have only ever experienced being in a litter and with their breeders, so when they come to you- it’s a whole new world for them.

So, when you bring them home, there are a whole host of ‘firsts’ that they have to get used to.

They have to go on their first walk, their first trip to the vets, their first time to the park, their first time interacting with new people, and so much more.

One of the big hurdles is their first time in the car. For puppies, the car is a completely new thing. They may be fearful because of its large size, or because of the motion when inside of the car.

Other dogs may be scared of the car because of motion sickness, anxiety, or simply because it is new to them.

Most puppies will get over this fear, and even some rescue dogs can get over their fears if you can make the ‘car’ a pleasant and positive experience for them.

How To Introduce Your Puppy To Car Rides

Your puppy will not find riding in a vehicle natural to them, so they may be fearful, anxious, or stressed at first. Luckily, most puppies are fast learners, and they will adapt to new situations very quickly.

All you have to do is establish that the car is a good, nice place that will not harm them. You need to create a positive connection with the car and your puppy.

To start, you can show your puppy the car. Make sure that the engine is off at first, and that you have lots of treats and toys.

Try sitting in the car with your puppy without it moving, and play with toys and offer treats. This can help establish that the car is a ‘good place’.

You may have to be in the car with your puppy for this part, sitting calmly to ensure that they do not feel overwhelmed or stressed at all.

How To Train Your Puppy For Car Rides

If you want to start training your puppy for car rides, then we can help you. Let’s start with making sure that the car is safe for your furry friend!

How To Train Your Puppy For Car Rides: Everything You Need To Know

Start With The Right Equipment

First things first, you have to have the right equipment for car journeys. It is not safe for your puppy to sit on your lap or wander around the car.

This is very dangerous if there is an accident, as your puppy can easily get injured, or could distract you when you are driving.

For the car, your options are either having a crate that fits in the back or a harness that can be secured to the seat belt attachment, or a car seat that is made for dogs.

While you may want your puppy in the front seat with you, it is not the best location for them. Think about it- you shouldn’t have a baby in the front seat, so keep your puppy safe in the back in a car seat, harness, or in a crate.

Set Boundaries

The next thing you need to think about is setting boundaries. You have to start as you mean to go on and have rules from the very first time you go in the car.

This means not letting your puppy clamber around the back seats, climb into the front, or try to get out of the windows and doors.

Always have your puppy secured, either wearing a harness or clipped into a car seat. Of course, you can open the windows but do not open them enough that your puppy could possibly get out of the window.

Practice Getting In And Out Of The Car

Once you have all of your supplies, and you are ready to get your puppy used to the car, it’s time to start introducing and practicing getting in and out of the car. Teaching your dog to get into the car is all about desensitizing them to it.

To start, have your puppy sniff around the car, then open the door, and have your puppy sit down in front of the car, while on a leash.

With your puppy’s favorite toy or some high-value treats, you can try to coax them into the car.

This can help you create a positive association with going into the car. So, throw the treats into the car, and hope your puppy follows them. If they are too small, then you may have to pick them up and place them in the car.

Once inside the car, give your puppy some time to familiarize itself with the new surroundings. Let your puppy sniff around, explore, and reward them for good behavior.

After a few minutes, have your puppy sit and wait before you open the door again. This can start to teach your puppy about thresholds and about impulse control instead of darting out of the door.

Without threshold training, your puppy could be in danger, so this is really important.

So, with your puppy sitting and waiting, take hold of the leash and guide them to encourage them to jump back out of the door.

Again, if they are too small, then pick them up and carry them, and praise them when they are back outside of the car.

Repeat this multiple times, so that your puppy associates the car with good things and lots of treats.

This can help you build up your puppy’s confidence going in and out of the car, and making it a fun game rather than anything to be afraid of.

Positive Reinforcement

The most important thing to remember is that dogs respond better to positive reinforcement rather than negative.

Yelling, chastising, and shouting at your puppy will not help them, it will actually make them more nervous and stressed.

Instead, you have to apply positive reinforcement. This can be lots of praise, a positive tone of voice, high-value treats, and rewards such as toys to keep them focused and happy when training.

This ensures that your puppy understands that whatever you are doing is a good, fun, and positive thing- and they will not demonstrate anxious or fearful behavior.

Accompany Them At First

If your puppy is scared to get into the car when you try the above methods, then you may need to accompany them at first and help lessen their fear.

Climb into the car first, and beckon them into the vehicle, rewarding when they do.

Puppies often feel safer and more comfortable when their owner is around them, so lead by example and show them that there is nothing to be afraid of.

If your puppy is very nervous in the car, then it could be a good idea to sit with them in the backseat (while they are restrained in a car seat or harness) and have someone else drive for the first few journeys.

Having a little bit of company can help them settle at first and grow their confidence.

After a few trips, your puppy should be desensitized to it, and you can start leaving them in the backseat by themselves.

Know What To Do To Set The Bar

When you think that your puppy is ready to go on an actual car journey, you have to know what to do to set the bar or the precedent for how these car journeys will go.

At first, you will want to do what makes them comfortable, by having someone in the back with them to give treats and reassurance.

When your puppy cries or whines, then it is best to avoid comforting them or baby-talking them.

Instead, ignore the whines and cries, and wait for them to settle down. Then, once they are calm, they can be rewarded again.

You should also be sure to drive very carefully. You will want to take corners and turns slowly and steadily so that your puppy does not get scared, or get whipped about too much in the car.

This can also ensure that they do not get car sick, as some puppies do not handle the motion of the car very well.

It might be useful for you to have a toy in the back with your puppy to keep them occupied, and it acts as a sort of comforter, as it is familiar to your puppy.

Take Them To Lots Of Fun Places!

Another thing to remember is that the car has to be a fun thing. If you only take your puppy to the veterinarian in your car, and nowhere else, they will start to associate the car with going to the vet, which can be a stressful experience.

So, try to take your puppy to various places such as the park, a beach, on different walks, to coffee shops, and various other places that can be exciting for your dog.

Do Puppies Grow Out Of Car Anxiety?

Most puppies are anxious about going into the car at first. It is completely normal. The majority of puppies will grow out of this issue, but if your puppy has had a negative experience with the car, then the anxiety can persist for longer.

If so, then just keep building up the positive connection with the car. If your puppy still is not comfortable, then it could be time to speak to a dog behaviorist.

What To Do If Your Puppy Gets Car Sick

Some puppies may get car sick on their first time in the car. This is due to the motion of the vehicle, which is unfamiliar to them. Don’t despair- it is fairly common.

One of the best things that you can do to avoid car sickness is not to feed them before a car ride. You do not want them to have a full stomach when they get into the car.

You should avoid food or water for up to 2 hours before the car ride, and always let your puppy go to the potty before going in the car.

In addition, have your puppy sit up rather than lie down, and open some windows slightly to give them some fresh air while in the car.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, most puppies find car journeys anxiety-inducing at first. This is completely normal, it is brand new to them, and the motion of the car is unfamiliar.

However, with a little practice and patience, your puppy will soon start to understand that the car is a positive thing- and it takes them to all of the best places!

Sharon Isaacs