How to Train a Puppy to Sit in the Car

Medium
1-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

The big day arrives: It's time to collect your new puppy from the breeder. You pick up the precious bundle, wrap him in a blanket and then drive five hours back home. He arrives, exhausted, disorientated, and missing his mother. All of which he associates with the noisy, bumpy contraption that separated him from everything he was familiar with. 

Then, to make matters worse the next day he goes back into the dreaded car. This time he visits a place full of shiny stainless steel that smells of disinfectant and animal fear. A stranger in a white coat sticks a needle in him and then... back in the car again. 

A few days down the line the puppy is old enough to go out for a walk. So you decide to take him to the dog park which is a short drive away. You put pup on the backseat, only to have him throw up and spend a miserable journey shaking and whining. His reaction was so bad that now you dread taking him in the car again. 

What to do? 

Defining Tasks

Training a puppy to sit in a car is more complex than merely having him park his bottom on the seat. It's about keeping him happy and relaxed in the moving car, and reducing the likelihood of him getting motion sickness. However, with most puppies' first experience of a car being a visit to the vet or else leaving their mother, it's little wonder that they view a vehicle as a bone-shaking, sickness-inducing torture that is best avoided. 

To get around this, you need to take your time getting the pup comfortable in a stationary car, and only then think about turning on the engine, then taking short trips to pleasant places. 

That said, it is well worth the effort since the result will be a dog that happily jumps into the car in anticipation of a pleasant adventure, and is a rock solid traveler without a hint of motion sickness. 

Getting Started

Training a dog to sit in the car requires time and patience, as well as a few distractions and a willing friend to help if you are driving. 

  • A driveway where you can sit in the stationary car with the pup
  • The pup's food bowl and dinner
  • A favorite toy with which to distract the dog
  • An appropriate travel restraint suitable for the dog's size
  • A friend to supervise and praise the puppy when the car is moving
  • A fun destination that is near to the house, for those all important first trips out.
  • Treats with which to reward the pup
  • Plenty of time and patience. 

The Happy Memories Method

Effective
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Step
1
Understand why puppies dislike cars
Many dogs dislike cars because their earliest memories were bad ones. When their first experience of a car journey was leaving their mother or visiting the vet for a vaccination, it's small wonder that they think car rides bring bad things and don't want to take part. This method aims to reverse that association and replace it with the impression that a car is a great place to be because nice things happen there.
Step
2
Work with the car parked
To start with, keep the car stationary and without the engine running. It can help to have all four car doors open, so it seems less of a trap. With the puppy being able to see straight through the vehicle, he's likely to be happier about getting in.
Step
3
Feed puppy in the car
Start by giving the pup his meals in the car. Cover the backseat with a towel to protect the upholstery, and put his food bowl on it. Praise him while he eats calmly in the car. Do this for every meal and he'll quickly be asking to go out to the car each times he gets hungry or thinks a meal is due.
Step
4
Play in the car
Take the pup's favorite toy into the car and engage the pup in a game of tug or similar. Likewise, each time he goes for a walk, stop at the car and pop him in and then take him out again to resume the walk. This helps him see the car as a bringer of good things.
Step
5
Change one thing at a time
Once the puppy is happy getting into the car, close one of the doors. Ensure the puppy is distracted and happy, and when he's relaxed close another door. Keep working in this way until all four doors are closed and the puppy thinks nothing other than wondering if he'll get another treat.
Recommend training method?

The Let's Get Moving Method

Effective
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Step
1
Why an anxious pup makes a poor traveler
Hopefully, your pup is now happy to be inside the car without thinking something bad is going to happen. However, sometimes things change drastically when you turn on the engine. The puppy may start to shake, drool, or may even be physically sick. Often this is labeled as motion sickness, but it's interesting to note that many dogs 'anticipate' feeling ill and start to shake and drool within a few minutes of the engine turning on. To prevent this means getting the puppy used to the motion of the car in small steps, so that he doesn't start to get anxious and bring on feelings of nausea.
Step
2
Start the engine
With the car parked in the driveway, briefly start the engine. If the puppy remains calm, praise him, telling him how clever he is for being so brave. Try to time turning off the engine so that it coincides with the puppy being calm and quiet. (If you turn the engine off while he's over-excited or crying, he'll believe that crying will get the engine turned off and he'll get more persistent in future.)
Step
3
Out of the drive...and back
Once pup is coping with a running engine, take the car slowly out of the drive and then straight back in again. It's helpful to have a friend with you, so they can distract the pup from the motion with a favorite toy and praise the puppy when he is calm in the face of movement.
Step
4
The end of the road...and back
Once the puppy is unphased by reversing down the drive, take a short ride to the end of the road (a straight journey is ideal, as bends can be nausea inducing.) Same as before, have someone distract the puppy and praise him for being a star.
Step
5
A short trip to an exciting place
When your puppy shows signs of taking everything in his stride, try a short journey. However, make this to an exciting destination such as the dog park, rather than somewhere potentially unpleasant such as the vet. That way the destination will be a reward in itself, and he'll think the car takes him great places.
Recommend training method?

The Do's and Don'ts Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Do: Work at the puppy's pace
Teach him to sit in the car in stages. Only once he's mastered one step, move onto the next. This will help stop him getting anxious and help him accept car travel.
Step
2
Don't: Yell or shout at the puppy
If you set off on a journey and the puppy whines or is sick, don't shout at him. This will only add to his anxiety and further reinforce that the car is a hateful place to be. He may fall silent, but inside he will be even more upset.
Step
3
Do: Be safety conscious
Always use an appropriate travel restraint for the dog. For a small dog this may be a crash-tested pod and for medium to large dogs this is a crash-tested seat restraint. This will keep both him and you safe in the event of a crash.
Step
4
Don't: Let the dog roam free in the car
When the car is moving never let a dog roam free inside. He is a danger to you (he may get under the brake pedal) or himself (in an emergency stop he'll fly through the windshield.)
Step
5
Do: Use travel sickness medications
If your puppy regularly gets motion sickness, then speak to your vet about medication. There is now an effective non-sedating medication which will solve this problem, and help him to become a better traveler.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

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