How to Train Your Dog to Behave in the Car

Medium
2-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Are you blessed with a hound that is a happy traveller?

Unfortunately, not all dogs are good in the car. They may exhibit bad behaviors such as chewing the seats, barking at passers-by, or whining.

For example, imagine the dog who cries constantly and poses a distraction risk to the driver. Worse still, the dog can barely travel round the block without drooling heavily and then losing his breakfast all over the backseat. This makes it almost impossible to take pleasure trips to the park and adds a whole new layer of stress to routine vet clinic visits.

Sometimes these behaviors are a reflection of deep-seated issues that need working on, such as being anxious, over-protective, or bored. Some dogs misbehave in the car because they associate the vehicle with feeling sick or it might be they once had a bad experience in the car which makes them fearful on board. However, with time and patience, it's possible to create new, positive association with travel to turn things around for the better.

Defining Tasks

Behaving well in the car enables travel to fun places (for the dog's benefit!) safely, without distracting the driver. To achieve this requires a mixture of training and practical considerations, such as restraining the dog in transit.

The ultimate aim is to have the dog travel in a relaxed manner, so that he feels content to settle down and sleep for the duration of the trip. Depending on your dog's earlier travel experiences, this may take considerable time and retraining or be relatively simple.

Key to success is recognizing the challenges faced by the dog, and then putting a plan in place to overcome this hurdles one by one, until the dog behaves well. For those dogs with the worst problems, you may need to avoid car travel while you rebuild the dog's confidence. For others, the answers could be as simple as taking the dog for a good walk ahead of the journey and providing them with a chew toy en route.

Getting Started

To do the job properly rather than paper over the cracks, requires you to list how your dog misbehaves in the car, and then analyze their behavior to look for triggers. For example, the dog that gets stressed just getting into the car needs to learn new, happier associations with travel.

To get started you will need:

  • Adequate travel restraints for the dog

  • A food bowl and treats

  • A favorite toy

  • A spray bottle containing water

  • Time and patience

  • Medications to prevent travel sickness

The Travel Restraint Method

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Travel Restraint method for Behave in the Car
Step
1
Safety first
Knowing the dog is safe and won't interfere with your ability to drive is crucial, and allows you to ignore bad behavior and stop rewarding it with attention.
Step
2
Travel pods
For toy or small dogs, consider a travelpod or dog booster seat. These are a car restraint that raises the small dog up slightly so they can see out of the window. This can reduce motion sickness and help the dog to settle because they can see where they are going.
Step
3
Invest in a travel harness
Travel harnesses are available in a wide range of sizes from small to giant dogs. The dog wears a special harness which attaches to the car's seat belt system. Look for a crash-test certified harness (Top tip: Some unscrupulous manufacturers state their harnesses are 'crash-tested' - What they fail to add is they were tested and failed...so be sure the harness has crast test approval.)
Step
4
Grills or dividers
For larger dogs that travel in the cargo area, get a sturdy metal grill that confines them there.
Step
5
Travel crates
Consider a crash-test approved crate for transporting medium or larger dogs in the cargo area.
Step
6
Build acceptance of the restraint
Whichever method you choose to secure the dog, get your pet pal used to it first. This could mean wearing the harness indoors or sitting the dog in the travel pod while giving them rewards. Only once you are sure the dog is happy, take them on the road.
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The Undo Bad Memories Method

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Undo Bad Memories method for Behave in the Car
Step
1
Park the car
Take baby steps, start with the car parked and engine off. Open all the car doors so the dog won't feel trapped, and scatter ultra-tasty treats on the back seat. Give the dog as long as he needs to find the treats (never force him - walk away and try again another day if necessary) then praise his boldness.
Step
2
Feed him in the car
Once he is happily jumping in for treats, close one or two of the doors and start regularly feeding his meals in the car.
Step
3
Start the engine
Once he accepts eating in the car, switch the engine on while he eats. Praise his calmness.
Step
4
Out of the drive and back
Now he's happily eating meals with the engine running, reverse out of the driveway and then back in.
Step
5
Short pleasure trip
Finally, only once he shows no sign of stress with steps 1 -4, go for a short drive round the block. Ideally, if there is a park or field at the end of the road, drive there and take the dog for a game so that he realizes the car is a way of making fun things happen.
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The Curtail Howling Method

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Curtail Howling method for Behave in the Car
Step
1
Rule out stress or anxiety
For the inveterate howler, first rule out the possibility he is nervous, anxious, or stressed. Do NOT use the following technique on a stressed dog but use The Undo Bad Memories Method instead.
Step
2
Equip yourself
Take a friend along for training purposes. Equip them with a spray bottle containing water.
Step
3
Respond to the howl
When the dog starts to howl, have the friend immediately spritz the dog's face with the water and say a short, sharp "No".
Step
4
Repeat
The dog will likely fall silent, so continue your trip. Each time the dog starts to howl, repeat the same action of spritzing and saying "No"
Step
5
Phase out the spray
Keep the spray to hand, but start issuing the "No" slightly in advance of the spritz. This gives the dog a chance to quiet, without getting a shower.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Lucky
Labrador Retriever
10 Months
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Question
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Lucky
Labrador Retriever
10 Months

My dog just chewed up a seat belt and a little of the carpet in my car. We don't restrain him in a crate or in the trunk (I have a minivan) while we drive, we put him in the back seat and hope he doesn't climb onto the seats. I want him to lay down when he is on the car, and more importantly, chew proof the car. I already removed everything except the carpet and floor mats.

How should I chew proof him, and should I restrain him? I want him to lay down while we drive and have him be able to chew his toys.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kien, The easiest way to teach him to lay down in the car is to purchase a padded back-clip harness and a seat-belt tether and clip the the harness so that he stays in the seated or down position. Ruffwear and Kurgo make riding harnesses. Ruffwear's regular (not car specific) webmaster harness is also padded and has a back-clip and can probably be used for car riding also. To help him learn to lay down you can also practice "Down" in the car while the car is parked at home to build a habit of him riding in the car in that position. This will also let you supervise him more carefully to stop the chewing when the car is stationary. For the chewing, he needs to ride somewhere where a passenger (not driver) can supervise him while riding and interrupt any chewing. You can give him a deer antler or other durable chew toy, but also use the "Leave It" command when he starts to chew something he shouldn't, give him a correct toy to chew instead, and then discipline him for chewing what he was told to leave alone after he has been told not to chew it. A remote e-collar is useful for this. A good e-collar has both stimulation levels and vibration. The vibration can be used to interrupt him chewing what he shouldn't once he has been told to leave it alone. Practice all of this while the car is not moving ahead of time, then practice it while someone simply drives the car around a neighborhood with someone sitting in the back with him. (the driver's only job should be driving). Restraining him and teaching the down is very important because a dog laying down is less likely to get into trouble, less anxious and overexcited in the car...and thus less likely to be unsafe or to get carsick. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Plutus
German Shepherd
4 Years
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Plutus
German Shepherd
4 Years

My dogs get very excited for car rides. But two of them are terrible. Constantly barking at cars and people when I drive. How can I retrain them to be good in the car

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
65 Dog owners recommended

Hello, this is a tricky question. If you have a few dogs with the same problem, it will take time and patience. I thought it best to give you this extensive article that covers the topic so well, rather than try to explain: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-To-Get-Your-Dog-To-Behave-In-The-Car. Perhaps buy a barrier that keeps them safely in the back and you able to drive carefully in the front. Consider safely belts. Lastly, teach them the Leave it Command and utilize the phrase when they bark at cars and people while you drive: https://wagwalking.com/training/leave-it. Good luck!

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Question
Darcy
cockapoo
13 Years
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Question
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Darcy
cockapoo
13 Years

Darcy was frightened or hurt as a pup in the back of a pickup. He was not with me, he was with my daughter and was unrestrained. We live full time in a motorhome, so we travel a lot. He shivers and shakes the entire time we're moving. He doesn't whine, but he is clearly anxious. I'd like to add a puppy to our family but we are concerned that the puppy will learn this travel anxiety. What can we try?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, spend a lot of time in the car and motorhome with puppy while it is stationary. Make it as normal as possible by practicing obedience in there, feeding meals, having quiet time on the computer/reading while pup chews a bone. Make it as normal as spending time in a certain room in your house would be. Keep your other dog out of there while pup is developing a good association with the vehicles if you can (practicing these things with your other dog at separate times could help them too though). If you have to go somewhere with both dogs while in this introduction phase, keep them in separate parts of the vehicle - like puppy in a crate in one area or riding on the floor and wearing a car seat belt harness tethered to something secure on the floorboard, while older pup is in a crate or seat on the far end of the vehicle - you want pup to pick up on your energy while first deciding about the vehicle - not your other dog's. Once pup feels confident securely with the vehicle the other dog's attitude will have less of a potential negative effect. Take puppy with you as many places as you can and if the weather is nice, allow pup to take naps in a crate in the car and spend longer periods of time in there with you (as weather outside or air conditioning/heat allows). The goal should be for the car to become a completely normal place to be. It should be associated with fun or boring short trips to places like the park, pet store, and friends' homes most of the time. Pup should practice calming obedience commands in there such as Down-stay and Place. While in the vehicle with it moving, pup needs to ride somewhere calm like the floor with a doggie harness, in a seat in the down position with a doggie seatbelt harness, or in a crate - No wandering about the vehicle and climbing into laps or sticking their head out the window (I know that's fun - but calm is what you need to encourage to reduce anxiety). All of my own dogs typically ride in the car in a crate or wearing a seat-belt harness for at least the first year of their life until they are in the habit of riding calmly in the down position always (our family also used to live on the road for work in the past, so dogs went across the country with us constantly also). Creating a calm mindset and lying in the down position while riding can also help to prevent nausea - less nausea also helps with anxiety prevention. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Balou
German Shepherd
4 Years
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Question
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Balou
German Shepherd
4 Years

I trained my dog myself from a puppy and hes so smart! Unfortunately the second he gets in my small SUV he forgets all commands and acts has major anxiety. I want take him places but i cant get him to sit, stay, stop barking nothing. I want to take him places, he used to be ok in the car but winters here are long and over those months her forgets how to act in the car come summer. I will definitely try just hanging out in the car to see if that helps. Thanks in advance for any advice

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Apr, Definitely practice just spending boring time in the car. Practice a long Down-Stay for 30-minutes to an hour so often that the car is boring again. I suggest purchasing a dog seat-belt harness that clips or tethers into the seat belt, and getting him used to wearing that when not in the car first using food rewards - Reward all calm responses to the harness, not bouncing up and down and getting super excited. When he is used to the harness, then practice clipping in and out in the car but never going anywhere. Practice getting in and out of the car over and over also without moving the car. Finally, have someone drive or ride with you and enforce the Down-Command you have been practicing while the other person focuses on the road. Pup should be buckled into the car while wearing the car harness so that he has to ride in a down or sit position - a lot of moving around, head out the window and standing can add to car sickness and anxiety, so Sit and Down should be standard requirements to keep his arousal low. Practice going a lot of boring places often - nowhere scary like the vet if you don't have to, but just places where he gets out, goes on a short structured walk, then gets back in, or never even gets out of the car - just drives around the neighborhood and goes home after. You want to encourage a calm and bored mindset in the car to decrease arousal and anxiety. When he is doing well, add in trips to more fun places like a park or pet store. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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