Canines in the Car

Puppy's First Car Experience

Your puppy's first experiences riding in a car will influence his or her future reactions to being taken for a car ride. Fortunately, owners can take steps to prevent or reduce their puppy's stress and fear.

  1. For the first few days or so, introduce your puppy to your car by putting him in the car, praising him and offering him a small meal or a few treats, then taking him back out of the vehicle.
  2. Once your puppy appears comfortable being put in the car, turn the engine on while he eats, chews on a rawhide bone, plays with a new toy or just sits on your lap (or in his crate) in the back seat.
  3. Once your puppy feels confident being in the car while the engine is running, begin taking your puppy for short, pleasant daily car rides, preferably in his crate, or in a puppy safety seat. Once or twice around the block will suffice.

    Keep in mind that both your mood and the attitude you project, as well as the destination of each ride, can greatly influence your puppy's experience. Handle the situation calmly and cheerfully, and choose a destination that your puppy enjoys (such as a nearby dog run or local park), so that he associates car rides with going somewhere pleasant.

    If instead, the first several car rides together end up with your puppy getting his "shots" at the vet's office or his nails clipped at the groomer, or with your losing your temper in traffic jams, your puppy may become nervous and reluctant to repeat the experience.
  4. If your puppy is crate trained, crate him when going for a ride. A sturdy crate will help to make your puppy feel secure, and can help protect your puppy in case of an accident or if you should have to brake suddenly. It also prevents your puppy from suddenly jumping onto the driver or the gas pedal, which can cause a serious accident. Crating your puppy or dog will also protect your car seats from your puppy's shedding fur and dirty paws. And should he become ill or decide to "do his business" en route, a crate will save your seats from a real mess!
  5. To help prevent vomiting, don't feed your puppy for at least a few hours prior to taking any lengthy trips. Signs of impending nausea include sudden restlessness and heavy drooling.

    If your puppy does vomit in the car, do not reprimand him! This would only serve to stress him more, making vomiting all the more likely next time around. Besides, vomiting is involuntary; it's something your puppy has no control over.
  6. If your puppy is not crate trained, there are now doggie car seats available, as well special safety harnesses which attach to your car's seat belts!
  7. If you cannot crate, harness or safety seat your puppy, be sure to either keep the back windows closed (temperature permitting) or open only few inches, while the car is moving. This will help prevent your puppy from being able to jump out of the car, or from hanging his head out of the car windows (which can result in eye or neck injuries).
  8. Gradually increase the distance of your rides over the next few weeks. The entire process and duration of time needed to properly acclimate a puppy to riding in a car varies according to each individual. Some puppies enjoy going for car rides almost immediately, while others may take a few weeks of being introduced to riding in a car before they feel comfortable.
  9. During warm weather travel, take care to prevent your puppy from becoming overheated.

Making Long Trips More Comfortable For Your Dog

Once your puppy is acclimated to riding in your car, you may want to take a nice long trip. Here are a few suggestions for a successful trip with your puppy:

  1. Because frantic last-minute departures can be particularly stressful on a puppy, organize your departures well in advance.
  2. Bring your puppy' s food and water bowls, a large container of ice water (with ice cubes), and enough of your puppy' s usual brand of dog food to last the trip (because the brand your puppy eats may not be available where your going, and sudden dietary changes may cause diarrhea).
  3. Like with any small child, always make sure your puppy relieves himself prior to taking him on any car ride.
  4. Lengthy car trips can he very stressful for some puppies. To reduce your puppy's stress, remain upbeat and cheerful throughout your trip together, and offer your puppy some exercise, playtime, cool water and "bathroom" breaks at rest stops. A general rule of thumb is to offer a puppy a 5-15 minute bathroom break every I or 2 hours of each car trip.
  5. If at any time your puppy appears to be getting carsick let him out of the car for a few minutes. However, make sure to keep him leashed, as a puppy is especially vulnerable should he become lost in an area unfamiliar to him.
  6. Do not leave your puppy unattended in your car. In addition to the risk of heatstroke during summer months (or freezing, during winter) a puppy or dog risks the possibility of being stolen. Also, some puppies and adult dogs can become very destructive when left alone in a car.
  7. When traveling with your puppy, always be sure that he is wearing a flat buckle collar with identification tags which include your address and two telephone numbers. Additionally, license and rabies tags should also be attached to your puppy's collar.

Training Your Puppy To Wait

If your puppy does a reliable "wait" or "stay" at street corners, at the front door, or before being released to eat his food, he shouldn't have much difficulty learning to wait before entering and exiting your car.

Begin by practicing having him do a brief on-leash sit-stay when opening the car door. Once the door is open, pause three seconds then release your puppy into the car by saying "Lucy...Hup!"

Before releasing him from the car, tell him to "Wait" or "Stay" (so that he pauses prior to exiting), then release him by saying "OK!" . Praise him when he responds properly.