Most dogs love car rides! But what if your dog turns into a terrified trembling drooling mess the moment you open the car door? Here are some helpful tips to overcoming your dog’s fear of riding in a car! Start with baby step building blocks, using rewards for each step if performed without fear. Can she walk up and sit next to the car confidently? Great, that gets a reward! It is very important during these training exercises detailed below that you try not to get stressed yourself! Pets need to go at their own speed, and can sense if you are feeling frustrated or rushed. That will only add to their anxiety, the opposite of what you are trying to do. Each step will take as long as it takes for your dog. Maybe read a book or sing along to a song on the radio! The fastest you should progress through the steps is one a day. Only advance to the next step if she can do the previous step confidently and happily.
If your dog acts stressed at any step, ignore her. You don’t want to reward anxious behavior inadvertently by giving her anxious behavior any attention, even just looking at her.
Bonus tip: giving your dog a special chew toy stuffed with their dinner or extra tasty treats each time you get into the car can help her associate getting in the car with something positive and fun too.
1. Have her sit next to you and the car, on leash, with the car door shut. Increase time sitting until it is one full minute. If no signs of stress, open the car door and stand there calmly for another full minute.
2. You sit in car, holding her leash with her outside. Again increase time up to one minute. (If she jumps or wants to get in the car that’s fine too, just have her get out again right away and you’ve completed step 3.)
3. Ask her to jump into the car (or put her in the car), then out again immediately.
4. Have her get or put her in the car, wait three seconds, get out of car. This step gets repeated with the “wait” getting longer and longer until she can sit in the car for five minutes, either attached to her dog harness seat belt or inside crate, just as she will be when you are traveling.
5. Sit in the car and car gets turned on for 10 seconds, then turned off. Repeat, gradually lengthening the time the car is on each day until you get up to 5 minutes. After 1 week of 5 minute car sessions, or however long it takes till your dog is sitting calmly with you for those 5 minutes, you are ready to…
6. Drive out of the driveway or parking spot! If your dog shows no signs of distress (no panting, freezing, drooling, pacing) you can drive down the block, but keep the total time in the car under 5 minutes. If she becomes distressed, calmly pull back into your parking spot, and once the pet calms down, try driving off again. If the second time isn’t any better, try again the following day. It may take a number of tries and days.
Once you’ve gone through all the steps above, gradually lengthen the car trips over time. Try to make the car trips going somewhere fun, like her favorite park, the pet supply store to go in with you and buy treats (and she gets to eat one there), a friend’s house she likes visiting. Many pets associate car trips with vet visits, and that can be one big source of their fear.
Happy Trails & Tails!
Plus don’t forget our essential…
5 Tips for Safe Car Trips with Your Pets:
- Pet Seat Belt Harness or Crate. Pets should never be allowed to ride unrestrained inside your car/suv, or outside in the flatbed of a truck. Keep your pets safe in a properly fitted car or flatbed pet harness, secured to the seat-belt or tie-downs, or inside a properly-sized travel crate that is securely strapped in place.
- Windows Open? Oh my, how dogs love to stick their noses out of a moving car window! But is the danger of your pet being blinded or worse worth it? Check out BreezeGuard‘s car window screens! They will let your dog (or even that adventurous cat) enjoy the same windy sensation much more safely. They also keep your pet safely contained, and inside temperatures matching the outside, when you stop.
- Back seat. Just like with kids, the back seat is the safest place for your family pet to ride – not all the way in the back of a wagon or truck, and not in the front, especially where an airbag could deploy in case of an accident.
- Car Sick Pets. Motion sickness is really no fun for you or your pet. Try to not feed them 4-6 hours before the car trip. Make frequent stops if its a long trip. Drive slower than usual, especially around curves. Roll down the window closest to them an inch or two for a safe breeze, or use a BreezeGuard car window screen. If they are a smaller pet, elevating them on a cushion, pet car seat, or in their crate so they can see out the window can help too. You can also get your pet used to car trips and less likely to get sick by taking them on daily short rides around the block, gradually lengthening the trip each time.
- Collar and ID. Every car trip, make sure your pets are wearing a collar with an up-to-date ID tag. Preferably it should have not only your phone number and address, but your emergency contact phone numbers as well – like your vet, or a neighbor/friend who could take in your pet temporarily. What if you are in an accident, your pet escapes, and you are not home or unable to answer your cell phone? Having your pet microchipped with all those up-to-date contacts is a good safety tip too.
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