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What To Do If Your Dog Hates The Car

Sooner or later, your dog will probably have to endure a car ride. Whether you’re taking your pup on holiday, to the vet, or just for a walk in some faraway park, your dog is going to encounter a car sooner or later.

Some dogs love car rides - they leap into the boot or backseat as soon as possible, eager for an adventure. Other dogs only tolerate car rides. Other dogs can’t stand riding in the car. They might cry, whine, bark, or even refuse to get in altogether. They might get carsick or try and escape from their seatbelt or dog car crate.

What can you do if your dog hates car rides? Can you train them out of it? Let’s find out.

Why Do Dogs Hate Cars?

Your dog might hate car rides for the same reason some humans do - motion sickness. This is especially true if your dog has vomited when they’re in the car. Car rides can be stressful for dogs - they don’t understand what’s going on, where they’re going, or why they feel ill. This can cause a lot of anxiety.

Dogs can also pick up on your anxiety - they can tell if you’re stressed about taking your pup in the car.

Your dog might also associate the car with previous bad experiences - going to the vet, feeling ill, or even getting into trouble.

Before you convince your dog that the car is okay, you’ll need to ensure you’re addressing any underlying problems, like travel sickness. Speak to a vet about tablets or e-collars to reduce feelings of sickness.

Travelling Safely With A Dog In The Car

Before you can begin training your dog to feel comfortable in the car, you need to make sure they’re safely restrained.

In the UK, you must not travel with an unsecured dog in the car. This amounts to driving without due care and attention and could result in hefty fines and points on your license. If you get into an accident and it’s found that your dog was unsecured, your insurance company may not pay out. And, of course, if you get into an accident, you or your dog could be hurt.

So, your dog mustn’t be set loose in the vehicle, whether they’re comfortable with car journeys or not. This means not letting your dog sit on your knee or stick its head out of the window. They love it, but it’s dangerous!

You can get proper dog seatbelts to attach to the seatbelt buckles in cars. These seatbelts work like human seatbelts in case of an accident and prevent your dog from being injured. They also stop your dog from roaming around the vehicle while you’re driving.

Some dog owners put their dogs in the car's boot, in a specially designed dog crate for travelling. Make sure that being in the boot of the car isn’t going to stress your pooch out further!

Training Your Dog

So, how can you train your dog to be comfortable in the car? Let’s take a look at a few critical elements of retraining.

  • Start from the beginning

The best thing you can do to help your dog get used to the car is to start when they’re puppies. Take your puppy for a short, slow car ride around the block, and do this regularly until they seem comfortable.

Be aware that your puppy’s first encounter with the car could be when you first pick it up and take it home. This isn’t the best first experience - your puppy will be scared, confused, and missing its mother and siblings, and the car experience on top of that will make it more anxious. So, be sure to organize a few positive car experiences.

If your dog is already grown up, or you’ve missed the boat for training your puppy, you’ll need to focus on retraining instead.

  • Use positive reinforcement

Always use positive reinforcement. Never scold your dog or get angry when they seem nervous in the car - even if you have a vomity mess to clean up. Use praise, treats, and attention to make every aspect of a car journey fun.

Reward your dog for being calm around the car. Gradually, your dog will start to associate the car with treats, praise, and good things.

Be sure to take them on car rides to fun activities, like walks, puppy playdates, and so on - not just the vets!

  • Take things slowly

Don’t rush your dog. Depending on how severe their fear of the car is, you may have to start with just bringing your dog near to the car, calming, soothing, and rewarding them, and gradually working up to being in the car.

Once your dog is comfortable just sitting in the car, you can work up to starting the car engine and maybe going for a short drive.

  • Watch your dog’s reaction

Stay alert to your dog’s anxiety levels. The goal of this retraining isn’t to force your dog to endure a car ride, but to teach them that car rides can be fun and not scary at all. Stop the training when your dog seems anxious, and be sure to use positive reinforcement at all times.

How To Keep Your Dog Calm In The Car

The best way to keep your dog calm in the car is to remain relaxed. Our pups pick up on our stress and anxiety and will become stressed too. Even if you’re nervous about your dog’s reaction to the car, it’s important to stay calm.

If you notice your dog is becoming distressed, try and distract them with a treat, praise, or a favourite toy. You can also bring along favourite, familiar blankets so that your dog has something familiar to smell.

Talk to your vet about calming pheromone sprays, travel sickness medication, or even sedatives for extremely anxious dogs, if you don’t have time to work on retraining before you leave on your journey.

When you get to your destination, don’t forget to give your dog lots of praise, and maybe a few treats!

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