How to Train a Puppy to Travel in a Car

While your pup may enjoy sticking his head outside the window, it's not safe.
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The sight of your dog smiling in the rearview mirror can make even a traffic jam bearable. He doesn't care if you're making good time, he's content just to be with you. The adoration dogs have for the car ride is epic, but helping your canine achieve that level of appreciation for the journey may take some work. A slow approach can help your pup adapt to life in the passenger seat.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The key to helping your puppy adapt to new situations is to introduce him slowly to the unknown. Whether or not he traveled in a car to get to his new home, it still remains new to him. Before you consider taking him for a ride, introduce him to your vehicle by putting him on the backseat, or in the rear of the car, depending on where you plan to put him during car rides. Periodically reinforce the positive experience of being in the vehicle by giving your puppy a treat. If your puppy is fearful, a short time in the car during which nothing frightens him will help to allay his fears.

Gentlemen Start Your Engines

Once you've had a few sessions with your pup in a parked car, start the car and allow it to run with your pup in the seat where he'll be traveling. Speak to him in a soft voice and reinforce the experience with a treat from time to time. If he becomes fearful or overly excited, turn off the engine and remove him from the car. Repeat the experience until he is calm and well-behaved for longer periods of time, and consider bringing along a toy he is familiar with to heighten his sense of security.

Safety First

The most important aspect of car travel with your puppy is safety. Things happen unexpectedly on all roads, and keeping your pup restrained is safer for him, and for you as the driver. If your puppy is crate trained, consider a travel crate for car rides. This will give him a greater sense of security inside the vehicle and will protect him in the event of an accident or sudden stop. You also may consider a safety harness and belt for your puppy, but do your homework. Not all dog safety belts perform equally. Never allow your puppy to ride in the front seat, unless you deactivate the air bags. Air bag deployment may cause serious or fatal injury to your puppy.

To the Roadway

Once your puppy has demonstrated that he is content in the car with its engine running, take a short trip around the block. If he begins to misbehave or panic, return home and remove him from the vehicle. Give him a treat to remind him that a car ride is a positive experience. Repeat a short ride frequently, extending the length of the trip as he becomes more comfortable. Once he tolerates riding in your vehicle for an extended period of time, take him someplace fun, such as a dog park. This will reinforce the enjoyment car travel affords.