How to Train Your Small Dog to Sit in the Car

How to Train Your Small Dog to Sit in the Car
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-3 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.  

arrow-up-icon

Top

The Get Comfortable Method

Most Recommended

1 Vote

Ribbon icon

Most Recommended

1 Vote

Ribbon icon
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.

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.

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.

4

Use safety devices

Use a crate, barrier, car seat, or harness to restrain your dog in his spot.

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.

The Reinforce Sitting Method

Effective

1 Vote

Ribbon icon

Effective

1 Vote

Ribbon icon
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.

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.

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.

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.

5

Increase sitting time

Gradually start increasing the length between reinforcement for sitting, to 1 minute, several minutes etc.

The Establish Sit-Stay Method

Least Recommended

2 Votes

Ribbon icon

Least Recommended

2 Votes

Ribbon icon
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.

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.

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.

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.

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'.

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

Have a question?

Training Questions and Answers

Dog nametag icon

Papa and Prince

Dog breed icon

Maltipoo

Dog age icon

4 Months

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

User generated photo

Biting excessively, won’t sit in car, I have to put them in carrier. Bites the leashes, can’t walk them yet because they bite the leashes. I have only had them for two weeks now. They are very smart dogs, they know sit and they are learning go to your bed I haven’t even begun to train anything else because it is such a challenge trying to train 2 dogs at the same time.

Nov. 7, 2021

Papa and Prince's Owner

Expert avatar

Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

Recommendation ribbon

1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would start by desensitizing them to their leashes, using the Drag method. I would use something chew proof for this training. Drag method for introducing the leash: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Once pup is used to the Leash, I would practice the Pressure method from the same article I have linked above, to get used to you being on the other end of the leash and following you. Spend time training one puppy at a time, two separate training sessions, while the second pup is in a crate or exercise pen. Once you get both puppies trained separately then you can combine and both on the together aspect - which will make it a bit harder again until they master that too - that's typical with two dogs. Pups should fight the leash itself less then, but will probably still try some jumping or biting while you practice the Pressure method. I would try two different things to address the leash biting. First, pull the leash into pup's mouth, so it looks like a horse bridle, and is putting pressure on the back part of pup's mouth, where the upper and lower jaws come together. Do this until pup starts to try to spit the leash out on their own, let them do spit it out. Pup will probably spit it out then immediately attack the leash again. Repeat the pressure like you did before each time pup attacks the leash again. After a few tries and the leash causing a little discomfort in their mouth each time consistently, most puppies will decide that biting the leash isn't very fun anymore and start doing it less often. You can also spray the leash with bitter apple or white vinegar. The occasional pup will sometimes like the taste but most hate it and it can be an effective deterrent either by itself, or for more persistent pup's in combination with the pressure of the leash being pulled toward them when they bite it. Many pups also try jumping up a lot while walking. Practice the Turns method from the article I have linked below to keep pup's focus more on you and teach them how to walk with you instead of in all directions, and practice the Step Toward method for the jumping specifically, being careful not to step on pup. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Step Toward method - or leash method can also be tried in some scenarios: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump I know these are a lot of methods to work on. Try not to get overwhelmed. I expect you to work through these over a six month period, not all at the same time, start with the Drag method, then progress to the Pressure method, the Turns method and Step Toward method can be used as needed as pup's begin to be ready for a more formal heel and more manners. The article on jumping is useful not just while walking but also during greetings and daily life. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Nov. 8, 2021

Dog nametag icon

Maya

Dog breed icon

Aussiedoodle

Dog age icon

4 Months

Question icon

Question

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

Thumbs up icon

0 found helpful

We have Maya on a leash (10' long) attached to her kennel so she won't get to our 2 10yo cats. IF they get close, she may "sneak" up and then try to pounce the cat. If a cat's in the area, she tends to try to "sneak" up on her. One cat will hiss & growl, while the other one runs away. We've tried giving them treats together, using "deterrents" such as noise of small chains, shhh noise, having "conferences" with her, canned air (scares all involved!) & citronella collar to little avail.

Aug. 19, 2020

Maya's Owner

Expert avatar

Darlene Stott - Dog Trainer and Groomer

Recommendation ribbon

104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, my apologies for the delay in reply. You may need to call in a trainer if you feel that the situation is causing too much stress for the cats. Remember, always have a place for them to retreat to away from the dog. You can teach Maya the "place" command as shown in this video and instruct her to go there if she shows too much interest in the cats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjCcVXGFvTs. Once you teach her "place," work on the long stay: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-to-stay. Take a look here at the methods, including the Distraction Method:https://wagwalking.com/training/not-chase-cats. Good luck!

Aug. 24, 2020


Training assistant
Need training help?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews

Install


© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.