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

ribbon-method-2
Most Recommended
1 Vote
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.
Recommend training method?

The Undo Bad Memories Method

ribbon-method-1
Effective
3 Votes
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.
Recommend training method?

The Curtail Howling Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
0 Votes
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.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/06/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Gravel
Labrador Retriever
2 Years
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Question
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Gravel
Labrador Retriever
2 Years

My lab has ripped all the window rubber seal from inside the truck and has started on the panels. We started putting on a muzzle until we get to the field but now he has worked out he can still chew a bit of the side!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lesley, There are a couple of options here. First, you could crate pup in the car to prevent access to the window. Second, teach Leave It. Once pup is good at leave it, find other opportunities when you are around when pup tends to chew things they shouldn't, command Leave It, then leave the room while spying on pup from a camera you have set up (which can be a phone or ipad with skype or facetime on mute, gopro with live app, security camera, video baby monitor, just to name a few). When pup goes to chew the item they have been told not to, you can use a remote training collar that you have previously fitten and determined pup's working level on, to correct pup remotely while you are out of the room. It's important that pup understand what the correction is for so the Leave It command needs to be understood first, then the correction be for disobeying. The remote aspect of the collar help pup connect the correction with the act of chewing that thing and not just with you, since you need pup to stop doing this behavior when you are not there. Leave It section of this article: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-not-to-chew/ Once pup is great at leave it and understands from general practice that the correction is for disobeying leave it, then set up a camera to spy on pup in the car and do the same protocol in the car, commanding leave it, leaving, spying on pup, then correcting pup remotely each time they start to put their mouth on the car door. Additionally, I would provide pup with something appropriate to chew while in the car, like a Kong chew toy to help with boredom and potential anxiety. Until pup is 100% about not chewing in the car pup should only ride in the car in a crate where they can't access things to chew, or do this while spying on pup so you can correct every single time. If pup is allowed to chew part of the time and is corrected part of the time, pup will likely just learn to ignore the corrections. You want to convince pup that that always happens now when they chew that particular thing. This should only be done with a high quality remote training collar, such as E-collar technologies, Garmin, Sportdog, or Dogtra. A good collar should have a minimum of 40 levels to ensure you can use the lowest level possible. You don't want to terrify pup with a high level, you simply want the correction to be a bit unpleasant and annoying, but extremely consistent even without you there - the point of the collar isn't a high level correction but being able to correct while not present. Most high quality remote training collars will also have a vibration option. You can try that setting first. Some dogs will ignore the vibration, others will find it much more unpleasant than low level stimulation, and for others it works great. It depends a lot on the individual dog. Collar fitting and and level finding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Skye
Border Collie
4 Years
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Question
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Skye
Border Collie
4 Years

Car behavior horrible. She is barking, jumping at passing vehicles, panting, hair and spit flies everywhere ... at the end of my rope. We like to go camping but she’s horrible and I have to board her

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ann, First, pup needs to be physically restrained while in the car to help pup learn calmness, keep arousal lower by avoiding her looking out the windows so much, and keep you safer while driving. I would either crate pup in the car or use a padded car harness that can be clipped to where pup rides on the floorboard of the car if there is space for pup there, if not the middle row seats. I would avoid pup riding in the front for your safety. The back can be used, but the middle row if an option is less likely to make pup car sick. Second, I would work on desensitizing pup to the car in general, and working on a Down-Stay in the car. Start by simply feeding beside the car while its off, then feeding treats along the runner with the door open, then inside the car with it still. For at least a couple of weeks practice the Down Stay command on the middle seats' floorboard or seats (if a row seat). Gradually move to practicing with the car in the driveway but still while on - don't turn on in the garage for gas breathing reasons. When pup is completely relaxed in the car and can do a solid down-stay, recruit a second person to drive or train, so the driver can only focus on driving. Have the person training enforce Down, while the driver simply pulls out of the driveway and back in When pup can stay relaxed during that (which will require a lot of repetition before pup relaxes then too - once pup sees that the driving is boring through repetition), then drive down the block and back. Gradually increase the distance and level of excitement as pup improves, only moving onto further distances or more exciting locations once pup can stay relaxed at the current level of training. For most dogs who are simply overly excited, this protocol alone is enough. Since your dog may also be reacting to the passing of other cars due to their prey or herding drive, you may find that you need professional help to go a step further with the training. For a dog who is reacting out of instinct like prey or herding, you may also need to do some low level e-collar training to interrupt the fixation on other vehicles. This is done in combination with teaching Down-Stay, desensitizing pup to the car in general, safely restraining pup during the ride, and recruiting someone to help you drive/train so the driver can focus on just driving. To do the low level e-collar training, pup would wear the e-collar around with it turned off for a few days to get them used to it, and avoid them becoming "collar wise". You would find pup's "working level" on the collar, which is the lowest stimulation or vibration level pup response to when calm. You would then practice a down stay in the car, but start using the e-collar to briefly correct pup when they tried to stand up, guiding them back into the down position with a leash, and using treats to reward pup for lying down or staying in the down position. This should be practiced calmly with the car off. As pup improves, you would gradually move through your desensitizing/down training again, this time with the e-collar for interrupting as needed. Progressing from next to the car, in the car, car on and still, car driving in driveway, in neighborhood, to a calm location, to a more exciting location, to longer trips, ect... At all points pup would be physically restrained, probably with a car harness that allowed a little movement from sitting to down position but not walking around, be required to stay Down, and be calmly rewarded for staying in a calm mindset and in the down position. This would all need to be done very gradually and often to keep pup calm enough for them to be able to learn and not get overly aroused. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Desmond
Spaniel mix
9 Years
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Question
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Desmond
Spaniel mix
9 Years

I am at my wits end with my dog and I’ve read through questions and feedback here and all seems useless to me and my situation. I’ve had my dog 6 years and he has been in the car many times. For the first maybe year or so he was completely fine riding in the car. Would just lay on the floor of the passenger seat. Then his behavior changed and to this day nothing has worked to calm him or restrain him. Dog seat belts and seat covers don’t work. Even with it being short it doesn’t keep him from being able to scratch up the doors or the front seats. He manages to pull as hard as he can stretching the seatbelt and his harness and since cars aren’t that big, he tries to make it to the floor even it it just means he’s hanging suspended or tangled in his harness. It’s kind of hard to explain but nothing has been able to restrain him. He is a burrowing breed so he’ll find any small space and paw as hard as he can to get past barriers or seat covers and manages to bunch up and pull the sides in even a sturdy cover until he gets under it. It wouldn’t be so bad if he just crawled to the floor and stayed there but he always ends up coming to the front and getting on my lap or crawling all over the center console. Lastly, I got him a crate and trained him at home with it and he does completely fine no problem. He does fine getting into it in the car. With the crate and every other method of restraint the bad behavior starts when the car starts and he won’t give up. Ever. I made the crate comfy and put his blanket in there and give him treats but he paws at all sides and the corners until he tires then starts again. He exerts himself so much that he got his paw tangled in his harness. Desensitizing him is pointless because he’s been on many car rides for many years. I don’t have someone to help me sit with him in the back every day to try to train or anything and it wouldn’t work anyway. He is relentless and I can’t stand to hear him just continue to stress in a crate/kennel until he hurts himself or can’t breathe because it’s not like they have a ton of air circulation. I adopted him as a adult and haven’t been able to correct any of his bad behaviors. He’s usually a good boy and listens to me but when the car is moving is when he refuses to obey. I’ve taken him on road trips and as long as he’s not being restrained he just sleeps the whole time and is fine but obviously it’s not safe and sometimes I use a car that isn’t mine so I’m not trying to leave it covered in dog hair. Just looking for any other possible solutions because I love traveling with him but he’s a difficult one

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brianna, I would pursue the type of training sometimes used for separation anxiety, with pup in the crate to start with. Check out Jeff Gellman from SolidK9Training on Youtube and how he addressed more extreme separation anxiety cases when dogs are crated. I would work on that type of training, ideally with an assistant to make driving safer for you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ozzy
Border Collie
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Ozzy
Border Collie
2 Years

Hi there. My dog is super well behaved in the car until we get on the highway. We’ve tried a leash tie, and now a soft crate, but he will start trying to paw or bite/rearrange things in the back seat. He doesn’t chew anything up. He occasionally whines, but only when we’re on the highway.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Erica, He may be reacting to the vibrations involved in with faster speeds. I would try desensitizing him to those vibrations by recruiting someone to help train in the back with him, while the other person focuses just on the road. Even though he is fine at slower speeds, I would go back to the basics and work up to the highway, so that pup understands before you hit the highway what's expected of him and is conditioned to react more calmly by that point. Start by simply feeding beside the car while its off, then feeding treats along the runner with the door open, then inside the car with it still. For at least a couple of weeks practice the Down Stay command on the middle seats' floorboard or seats (if a row seat). Gradually move to practicing with the car in the driveway but still while on - don't turn on in the garage for gas breathing reasons. When pup is completely relaxed in the car and can do a solid down-stay, recruit a second person to drive or train, so the driver can only focus on driving. Have the person training enforce Down, while the driver simply pulls out of the driveway and back in When pup can stay relaxed during that (which will require a lot of repetition before pup relaxes then too - once pup sees that the driving is boring through repetition), then drive down the block and back. Gradually increase the distance and level of excitement as pup improves, only moving onto further distances or more exciting locations once pup can stay relaxed at the current level of training. I would also teach pup a Leave It command, so that that can be used when pup is doing a Down command fine, but still chewing things. Leave It section of article: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-not-to-chew/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Phoebe
Blue Pit
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Phoebe
Blue Pit
1 Year

Her and I travel quite often, I buckle her into a doggie seat belt and also keep travel bowls for her close. Lately, whenever I get out to go into a store or run inside to pay a bill she will chew my seat. Only the drivers seat, and has chewed the leather into shreds. She hasn't chewed on anything else until a month ago when she tore my seat up. Since the 1st time, it has happened a few more times. I bought seat covers and she has now began chewing my seat cover into shreds. Help me please!!!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kourtney, Because the behavior is happening when you aren't there you will either need to crate pup in the car until she is a bit older and less likely to chew after 18 months to 2 years, or use a remote vibration collar and camera to spy on pup and interrupt pup every time they attempt to chew. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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