Dog loving a car ride

Teach Your Dog To Enjoy Car Rides In A Few Simple Steps

Written By Eloisa Thomas | Canine Coach, Double M.A in Anthropology.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 10th January 2024

Sharing wild adventures with your dog is one of the main perks of having a pet… but what can you do if your dog is scared of car rides? No worries, with a bit of patience you can make them appreciate travel.

Today we’ll be covering how to train your dog to enjoy car rides. Here’s what you should know!

Labrador sitting in car and looking through window.

Why Does My Dog Hate Car Rides?

Before training your pup to love the car, it’s important to know what’s going on with them and why they dislike it so much. Depending on the reason, you’ll have to work on specifics during training. In other cases, you might even need to consult a vet, just to make your dog more comfortable.

Ideally, you would have avoided any negative associations with the car. After all, you’ll have to take your dogs in the car at one point or another, either for daily mobility or just to travel. However, car troubles are more common than you’d think. In fact, according to research, about one in four dogs show travel-related problems. So, you’re not alone!

In general, there are two main causes for your dog to hate car rides: biological and behavioural. Of course, these can manifest in different ways. Here’s a little rundown:

  • Negative associations. This happens if your dog has had bad experiences related to the car (like a car crash) and now feels fear any time they get in or near it. In some cases, your dog associates the car with undesirable destinations that cause fear, like the vet.
  • Strange noises and movement. Cars are louder than what we realize, and with your dog’s exceptional hearing abilities, they are more affected by it. plus, the movement can make your dog feel insecure, particularly if they are left roaming instead of placed on a kennel.
  • Motion sickness. This one can be strongly linked to car phobias in pets, and has to do with specific veterinary conditions. Some dogs have issues in the inner ear structures, specifically in the vestibular apparatus. This condition is more frequent in young animals, and some owners report their dogs ‘grew out of it’ through adulthood. However, this can be a lifelong issue.
  • Lack of crate training. A kennel is the best way to keep your dog safe in the car, but in some cases, it might stress your pup out. If your dog is fine with the car until you put them in their kennel, this isn’t a car issue. In that case, you should focus on crate training to make sure they understand their crate is a safe, happy place.

    Related: The Best Dog Crates For Cars.

Signs Your Dog Dislikes Car Rides

In general, most dogs will show their dislike effusively. However, in the early stages many owners can overlook these common signs:

  • Trying to avoid the car
  • Running around the car instead of getting in
  • Excessive salivation
  • Compulsive licking
  • Restless while inside the car
  • Vomiting
  • Whimpering and trembling
  • Trying to get the driver’s attention
  • Excessive barking

Tips To Make Your Dog Like Car Rides

Want to avoid having car issues with your dog? Then having a plan before introducing the car to your dog is a good idea. Here are some of our best tips:

Start when your dog is young

If you adopt a dog from puppyhood, getting them used to the car while young is your best option. According to reports, dogs who were used to travelling as puppies are statistically less likely to develop problems related to being in the car.

PRO TIP: If you don’t own a car, you can still get your puppy used to it! Ask a friend for help with some practice rides: even once a month for 6 months will work.

Avoid bad experiences inside the car

Dogs are sensitive animals. A bad event inside the car, like suffering accidental falls or hits, may make your dog hate car rides. To prevent accidents and phobias, don’t let your puppy roam around freely in the car! If your dog is out and you get in a crash, even a small one, it could be very dangerous –even life threatening– for your puppy. The only way to offer a safe car ride to your dog is by either placing him in a travel crate or securing them to the backseat with a special harness and seatbelt attachment. Consider investing in a seat belt, car barrier, or a kennel if you own a car.

Related: Best Dog Car Harness Australia.

Make car rides positive

There are plenty of things you can do to make car rides a good experience for your dog. For starters, the journey should be generally comfortable for them. This includes keeping the car cool with AC, bringing a blanket for your dog to cuddle with, or making sure their kennel is padded and comfy. International surveys are revealing that dogs that are provided with toys, blankets, water and/or treats during car rides show fewer problems.

Related: Best Dog Car Beds.

If you choose to open the windows to let fresh air in, make sure your dog keeps their head inside the car. When driving, road debris can lift up and hit your dog and cause injury, so it’s better to avoid the risk altogether. On the other hand, try to break up your trip into sections to avoid very long car rides. This will allow your pup to stretch their legs, go for a little walk and enjoy the journey.

How To Train Your Dog To Enjoy Car Rides

According to experts, behavioural therapy is essential to solving travel-related problems in dogs. In fact, with patience, any dog can be taught positive associations to car rides. Training your dog to enjoy car rides has two parts: first, you need to work on desensitizing your dog to the car stimulus -like the noise and movement-, and then you’ll use counter-conditioning to change your dog’s emotional response from negative to positive.

Step 1. Get them used to the car from outside

This is useful for pups that get stressed as soon as they see the car on the driveway. So, while the car is parked, play with or feed your dog as near to the car as possible. Once they’re comfortable with that, open the car door and keep with the positive reinforcements. If at this point your dog is relaxed, throw non-messy treats or a toy in the open car door for the dog to find. Always be sure your dog is completely relaxed at this current stage, before moving forward. 

PRO TIP: To calm your dog, your vet might recommend using specific calming products. Some of these use compounds that mimic the smell of a nursing mother dog in the car, which tends to calm your dog and make positive associations with it. There are products like collars, diffusers, and sprays.

Step 2. Get in the car with your dog

Once your pup is used to the car from outside, you can start getting in. do everything you’d usually do, but don’t leave the driveway. You can close the doors, make the locks work on and off, roll the windows down, put on the AC, and eventually turn the engine on. Do all of this with both you and the dog inside the car, but keeps the car parked and not moving. Give treats with every new action, until your dog is completely relaxed even when you turn on the engine.

PRO TIP: It’s important to get your dog used to how the car will work while in motion. If they’ll be alone on the back while you drive, gradually change positions until you’re in the driver’s seat and they’re where they’re supposed to.

Step 3. Start small

Now that your dog is happy being inside the car, it’s time to roll. But don’t try them with a lengthy road trip. Start with a simple ride around the block and go from there. To avoid stress or car sickness, it’s very important to take it at a slow speed and turn corners slowly. It’s a good idea to get someone your dog trusts to sit with your dog in the back while they are in a crate or harness and seatbelt, and give them treats along the way.

Step 4. Pick fun, dog-friendly destinations

Once your dog is happy with 5-minute rides, try taking them on longer trips. Keep in mind destinations should always be fun at this stage, until they are completely fine with the car. Use treats to keep your dog happy and plan fun outings to the park, the beach or to see friends. They’ll feel the car is a way to go somewhere fun, instead of only the vet or the groomer.

PRO TIP: On these practice car rides, make it fun! Don’t just ride around aimlessly. Let your dog explore a bit mid-ride, then hop up again to go home. It will make the whole experience more positive.

Final Thoughts

Teaching your dog to enjoy car rides is very possible, you just need to keep at it! If your dog is scared of the car, using the techniques outlined above will make it easier for both of you to get used to it. if you’ve ever trained your dog, you can do this. It’s simpler than it seems!

  1. Gauthier F et al (2006). Placebo-controlled double-blind clomipramine trial for the treatment of anxiety or fear in beagles during ground transport. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 47(11), 1102.
  2. Mariti, C. et al (2012). Survey of travel‐related problems in dogs. Veterinary Record, 170(21), 542-542.
  3. Skånberg, L. et al. (2018). Cage size affects comfort, safety and the experienced security of working dogs in cars. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 205, 132-140.

Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach & Anthropologist.

With a double master's degree in Anthropology and awarded a Chancellor's International Scholarship to pursue a PhD in History at the University of Warwick (UK), she's well equipped to write well written and factual canine information that will actually help people understand their dogs better.

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