How to Train Your Dog to Sit in the Car

How to Train Your Dog to Sit in the Car
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-8 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

Your dog hates the car. He only has to look at the car and he starts to shake. Worse still, if you encourage him inside the car, within a few minutes he's drooling saliva and if you start the engine it won't be long until he's sick. 

This makes going anywhere that involves a car trip into an epic journey, where you have to pack mop up cloths, disinfectant, and a plastic bags to dispose of the vomit. 

How you wish your dog would just sit nicely in the car without making such a drama out of even the shortest trip. Now you dread having to take the dog to the vet, because the journey itself is trial enough. But unfortunately, what's now happened is the only time he gets in the car is for something unpleasant such as a vet trip or visiting the kennels. 

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Defining Tasks

Teaching a dog to sit in a car is about keeping him calm and happy, without him becoming over anxious and panicking. This is best done by creating new links in the dog's mind between car travel and nice things. For a while, you may need to factor in time spent with the dog in a stationary car and then progress onto short trips to enjoyable places. Once the dog is happy to sit in the car, then anything becomes possible in terms of travel.

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Getting Started

To teach your dog to sit in the car requires time, patience, and a little ingenuity. It is also helpful to have a friend assisting, by starting the engine while you distract the dog. It's also helpful to introduce the dog to the vehicle at a young age, as part of the dog's socialization, so that they are more accepting and less fearful of car travel. 

Equipment that is helpful to have: 

  • Training treats
  • A pouch or bag to keep accessible at all time
  • A car 
  • The dog's favorite toy
  • Food bowls

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The Like the Car Method

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Understand the idea

A dog that is fearful or anxious when in the car will be restless or try to escape. To overcome this means teaching the dog new associations with the vehicle, so that instead of being afraid he looks forward to the trip.

2

The stationary car

Start with the car parked up in the drive and the engine off. Open all the doors so the dog can see clear through. Then encourage the dog to jump inside, with the aid of a treat or placing a favorite toy inside. This may require you to assist a small dog, but if this is the case, be sure to give him plenty of praise and avoid forcing him inside. Give the dog treats inside the vehicle or a game of tug, such that he finds it a fun place to be. Then allow him to leave.

3

Feed the dog in the car

Add to the positivity by giving his meals in the car. Again, do this with the engine off. If the dog is nervous or hesitant, leave the doors open. However, as he becomes more confident, shut some of the doors, until eventually, he is happy to eat with all the doors closed.

4

Engine running

Once the dog is happily getting into the stationary car, have someone start the engine while you praise the dog and reward calm behavior with treats. Leave the engine running for a while, the whole time praising the dog. Take as long as necessary and as many sessions as necessary for the dog to get used to this. Once he is comfortable with the engine running, try reversing out of the driveway and then driving back in again.

5

Pleasure trips

Now the dog has learned to be calm with the engine running, go on short journeys, but to pleasurable places such as the dog park or woods for a walk. The destination acts as an additional reward that makes a trip in the car worthwhile.

The Teach 'Sit' Method

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Understand the idea

It's helpful to teach the dog to sit outside of the car, and then transfer this skill to inside the vehicle. This is because learning a rock solid 'sit' is best done in a low distraction environment first, and once the dog understands what's required, you can ask for the action in a place surrounded by distractions such as the car.

2

Get the dog's attention

Start in a room or a backyard that is relatively free from distractions. Hold a small tasty treat in your hand and show it to the dog so that he knows you have it. Now place the treat near the dog's nose.

3

Move the treat

Now you have the dog's attention, move the treat in a low arc over and behind the dog's head. The idea is to have the dog follow the treat in such a way that his head goes up and back while his backside drops to the ground.

4

Label the action as 'sit'

The moment the dog's bottom hits the ground say "Sit". This helps understand which action is required when in the future you use the cue word. Reward the dog.

5

Practice

Keep practicing this action. After a few repetitions you can ask the dog to sit, but without showing him the treat. He should link the cue word to the action and sit, at which point make a big fuss of him and give the reward.

6

Vary locations

Now you are ready to practice the 'sit' in a variety of places, including the car.

The What NOT To Do Method

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Avoid unnecessary travel

When teaching the dog to sit nicely in the car, try to avoid unnecessary journeys where he might get upset. This helps keep all his associations with the vehicle positive, which will greatly help training.

2

Avoid forcing the dog inside the car

In all but emergency situations, it's best to avoid forcing the dog inside the car. If you enter into a battle of wills and the dog becomes distressed, all that will happen is that he resents the vehicle even more, making him more likely to want to escape rather than stay sitting in the car

3

Don't punish the dog

Never punish the dog if he is restless or moves out of position in the car. This will only make him more fearful or anxious. However, in some circumstances it is appropriate to say a stern "No" if the dog is going to put himself or you in danger. With this in mind it is also best if the dog is restrained either in a carrier or in an appropriate crash-tested harness.

4

Don't overlook motion sickness

Some dogs suffer from motion sickness, which makes them dislike car journeys. If necessary, speak to your vet about medication to reduce the dog's feelings of nausea when the vehicle is moving.

5

Never travel with an unrestrained dog

In an emergency situation or a crash, an unrestrained dog becomes like a missile inside the car. It is always best to travel with the dog restrained in an appropriate harness or carrier, in order to prevent him being a distraction to the driver or a hazard in the event of a crash.

By Pippa Elliott

Published: 12/27/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Samson

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Siberian Husky

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4 Months

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Question

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Hi there! Samson appears to be fine with the car in general. He has no issue hopping in by himself. By nature, he is a very energetic puppy. So, while in the car, he won’t sit still and is constantly on his feet, moving around (while pulling on his safety harness). He knows how to ‘sit’, but won’t listen to any commands while in the car (even when offering a treat). It means we always need to travel with someone in the back seat, to ensure he doesn’t hurt himself. Many thanks for your help!

July 30, 2021

Samson's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mary, Pup likely needs to work up to a Down-Stay gradually, starting with a calmer situation, like while the car is off, and working up to a harder one, like the car driving down the road, as pup's self-control improves through practice. The training portion is going to require a second person once you work up to the car driving, but the goal is for the practice to lead to not needing that second person with time. I recommend desensitizing pup to the car and slowing the overall process down. 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. When pup tries to get up, use the Leash Pressure method to get pup back into the down position gently and calmly. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-lay-down Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 30, 2021

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Ollie

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Havanese

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4 Months

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Making her sit in the carrier... She sits on the seat in the car or would sit on the lap but we want her to get used to the carrier so that we can travel with her easily and also it's an airline approved carrier, want to train her so that we could travel with her in the cabin.

Nov. 29, 2020

Ollie's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Akanksha, First, I recommend working on pup learning to Sit in general out of the carrier, if she doesn't already know that command well. Sit - Treat Luring method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-sit Second, work on getting pup used to being in the carrier in general, using the Surprise method from the article I have linked below, if she isn't already okay in there. Surprise method: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate/ Third, once those two things have been practiced separately, practice pup sitting in the carrier when it's not in the car until she is reliable at that. Give treats for sitting initially and for staying seated for a few seconds. Once pup can do that, then practice sitting in the carrier in the garage or driveway next to the car (with pup on a leash if outside), while the car is off. Then practice pup in the car with it turned off sitting in the carrier - while you reward with treats for obeying. Next, recruit a second person, and have one person drive while the other trains, and practice sit while the driver simply turns the car on (outside so you aren't filling the garage with fumes while you sit idle), practice sit in the carrier with the car running. Next practice pulling in and out of the driveway while pup stays seated, stop the car to get pup seated again if they pop up and won't sit back down while the car is moving, wait until pup is seated to move again. Practice until pup will stay seated while you drive up and down the driveway. Next, practice the same thing as the driveway but in a calm part of your neighborhood or nearby neighborhood if your driveway is off a busy road. The driver should only be focused on the road while the other person trains. Wait until pup has mastered the current level of sit before you add more difficulty with the car running, moving, or driving further each time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 1, 2020


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