by Andrea Marx CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, FFCP
Many puppies and dogs are afraid of car rides. Often this resolves by itself by taking the puppy to fun places in the car. But sometimes a more linear approach to treating car phobias is needed because the fear doesn’t go away or even gets worse over time.
Fun fact: If your puppy’s breeder took the time to desensitize the litter to the car and take them to a few places or just had them experience some fun car rides before they were 6 weeks old, car phobias are much less likely to happen.
But here you are now with your scared puppy that doesn’t want anything to do with car rides.
If your puppy is already scrambling to get away from the car, change his emotions by playing near the car in a safe place of course. Games that work well are chasing treats around the car, doing hand targets (touch) around the car, playing tug of war, chasing you, or chasing a flirt pole.
It depends on your dog how often you will have to do this to change his emotion from being afraid of going towards the car to being happily excited. You are looking for happy butt wiggles before proceeding to the next step. This can take a few days or even weeks, it all depends on your dog. Changing emotions is not a race, slow and steady!
Your pup is now happily approaching the car, the next step is to open a car door, play, chase, eat treats, and all that fun stuff now happens once the car door is open. Again, look for happy butt wiggles to make sure you are on your way to changing your dog’s fear response.
Playing, eating, and training in the car. You can start with two paws up on the car frame, or nose touching close to the car. Feeding meals in the car, playing tug of war, etc. Jumping up in the car or using a ramp or stool to hop in the car for treats or toys.
Your pup should be happily getting in the car now. So, you can feed meals in the car, possibly with the engine turned on but not driving yet.
Before you start driving, your pup should be taught to lay calmly in the car in his safe and designated area, this can be a crate, attached to a seat belt or a doggy car seat.
Perfect your puppy can lay in the car in his spot for at least 5 to 10 minutes? Now it’s time to start driving, but you will only drive a few feet in your driveway. Back and forth, no longer than your pup can be calm. Increase the time of you driving slowly until you can drive to a close by park or another fun thing to do for your pup.
Yes, this seems like a long endeavor, but it will be worth it because you will be able to take your dog anywhere soon.
Your dog gets sick in the car? There are a few things you can try. Medication for motion sickness from your vet, covering the crate, training your dog to wear a thunder cap in the car can help decrease anxiety and motion sickness, anxiety medication from your vet in case you have to take your dog on a car ride that he is not ready for.
About the Author
My specialty is problem behaviors like aggression, anxiety, and shyness. For the last ten years, I have educated myself on treating behavior problems safely and kindly. Lasting behavior change takes time, patience, and working together as a team.
If you need treatment plans for behavior issues like separation anxiety, aggressive behaviors, or any other behavior modification and are committed to your dog’s well being please make an appointment with me.