How to Train Your Small Dog to Sit in the Car

Medium
1-3 Weeks
General

Introduction

The great thing about small dogs is that you can take them a lot of places a large dog would not be welcome. Your Malamute may not be welcome at your grandmother's apartment, but your little Yorkie--maybe! This means you'll need to be able to take your small dog safely in the car to transport him or her around. 

Good behavior when traveling in the car is critical, no matter what the size of your dog. A dog that is jumping around when riding in the car, instead of sitting quietly, is distracting for the driver and can cause an accident by interfering with steering or getting under a driver's feet, which are needed for operating pedals. A large dog is not as likely to want to crawl on your lap while driving, although there are some exceptions, we're sure. However, a small dog that is accustomed to sitting on your lap may think that it's a perfectly good place to spend a car trip. Small dogs must be trained to sit quietly in their designated spot and not on your lap, where they can interfere with your ability to operate the motor vehicle. Also, you want your dog to stay safe; a dog that is jumping about freely in your car can become a projectile if you suddenly need to brake. By teaching him to sit quietly in his spot, and possibly use safety restraints when riding in the car, your small dog will be a lot safer while motoring.

Defining Tasks

Your small dog's behavior in the car is very important for his safety and yours. Your small dog should sit comfortably in his designated spot in the car not interfering with or distracting you from driving. Sitting in the car when riding also allows you to use safety restraints to secure your dog, so that in the event of sudden driving maneuvers, braking, or an accident, he does not go flying about the cab of the car, which could result in a severe injury or death. It is also important when you stop to get out of your car that your dog does not bolt out of the door, which could put him in danger, depending on your location, especially if he runs out on the driver's side onto a road. Your dog should sit quietly when you stop your vehicle until you attach his leash and call him out of the car. Never let your small dog sit on your lap when you're driving, as it can interfere with your ability to steer and react in an emergency situation.

Getting Started

You will need to have treats to reinforce sitting behavior, and possibly engage an assistant to provide treats while you are driving, until your dog has learned to sit in the car when traveling. You can also provide chew toys for your small dog to keep him entertained on car rides while sitting in place. There are many car safety restraints to help keep your small dog in the correct spot when traveling and protect him in case of an accident. Car safety devices may help in training your dog to sit in the car and provide much-needed protection. Options include barriers that attach between front bucket seats to keep your dog in the back seat area and cushion him if he should fly forward in a sudden braking situation, harnesses that your dog can wear that attach to seat belts to hold your small dog in place when traveling and will restrain him in case of an accident, and doggy car seats specifically designed for small dogs. These car seats provide some protection with high sides to cushion your dog and raise him up so he can comfortably look out the window. These car seats also provide some containment for your small dog to discourage moving about the cabin during driving and in case of an accident. If you are planning on traveling a lot, getting your small dog one of these devices may be appropriate for your dog's safety and to help him learn to sit quietly in the car.  

The Get Comfortable Method

Effective
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Step
1
Tire him out first
Exercise and play with your small dog prior to car trips so he does not have excess energy to burn off.
Step
2
Prevent motion sickness
Do not feed your small dog immediately prior to car trips if he is liable to become car sick. Open the car windows a crack to provide good ventilation.
Step
3
Introduce short trips
Keep initial car rides short, so your dog is able to sit for the duration of the ride without becoming restless. Set him up for success.
Step
4
Use safety devices
Use a crate, barrier, car seat, or harness to restrain your dog in his spot.
Step
5
Provide entertainment
Provide your small dog with a chew toy, rawhide bone, or Kong filled with peanut butter, providing your small dog is not apt to get car sick, to entertain your dog and establish quiet, riding in place behavior.
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The Reinforce Sitting Method

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Step
1
Be ready to reinforce
Have an assistant come along to provide treats, or have a treat pouch next to you while driving, and your small dog sitting next to you or where you can easily toss treats.
Step
2
Designate his spot
Put your dog in the car, ask him to sit in his spot, designated with a favorite blanket or a doggy car seat. A harness car restraint can also be used, or put on a regular harness, not a neck collar, and attach the leash to the head rest to keep your dog in place.
Step
3
Command 'sit'
Ask your dog to sit. When he complies, have your assistant give him a treat or provide him a treat yourself if safe to do so.
Step
4
Ignore standing, reinforce sit
As you drive, ignore your dog if he stands up or vocalizes. Ask your dog to sit and if he sits quietly, praise him and provide a treat every 10 seconds.
Step
5
Increase sitting time
Gradually start increasing the length between reinforcement for sitting, to 1 minute, several minutes etc.
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The Establish Sit-Stay Method

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0 Votes
Step
1
Teach 'sit-stay' away from car
Teach your dog a strong 'sit-stay' command out of the car. Use treats and increase the length of your dog's 'sit-stay' so that it is several minutes long.
Step
2
Direct to enter car
Have your dog sit and wait while you open the car door. Ask your dog to jump up into the car. Do not let him jump in on his own without being asked. You are establishing that you “own” the car, and that specific behavior is required in and around the car.
Step
3
Command 'sit-stay' in car
Once inside the car ask your dog to 'sit-stay'. Attach a leash to a harness, and attach it to the headrest or seat belt, if it is a doggy car harness designed for that.
Step
4
Reinforce and redirect
While you drive, repeat the 'sit -stay' command as required while moving. Praise your dog for complying and provide a treat. Say "no" and ask for 'sit-stay' if your small dog stands up. If necessary, and safe to do so, stop the car and re-position your dog. Practicing this in a quiet neighborhood where you can stop your car and redirect your dog is recommended, or use an assistant to help establish 'sit-stay' in the car. A doggy car seat can elevate a small dog so he can see out the window while driving and may discourage him from standing up.
Step
5
Wait to exit car
When you get to your destination, ask your dog to remain in 'sit-stay'. Do not let him jump up. Require your small dog to sit while you open the door and attach a leash. Ask your dog to stand and jump out. Be very firm, that getting in and out of the car requires your small dog to wait until asked, and that riding in the car requires him to 'sit-stay'.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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