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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.
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.
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
The Like the Car Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now you are ready to practice the 'sit' in a variety of places, including the car.
The What NOT To Do Method
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.
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
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.
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.
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