As a dog parent, ideally your canine companion would be able to come with you anywhere and feel comfortable the entire time. But when it comes to car rides, some dogs are uncomfortable, whether that’s due to motion sickness or the unfamiliarity of their surroundings.
Trips to a park, trail, café, or even the vet may not always be walkable and will require a vehicle, which can be very stressful for all parties involved. However, by preparing your dog with short and sweet car experiences, you can get them comfortable for future journeys.
Whether you have a puppy or a more seasoned dog, they are guaranteed to have one thing in common: trust in their owner. With that trust and a lot of positive reinforcement, you can guide your dog toward comfort with car rides and any other new experience thrown their way.
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How to Get Your Dog Comfortable in the Car
1. Expose them to the car.
Take your dog to the car and already have their favorite treats waiting in the part of your car you want your dog to get used to riding in. This way when you open the door, you can encourage them to jump in to retrieve the treats. Give another reward once they hop into the car. Once in, you should get in the driver’s seat and spend some time relaxing in the car.
This allows your dog to see that the car is a place where you are comfortable, thus they should feel the same. Remember your dog implicitly trusts you and can read how you feel, so the better atmosphere and attitude you can set, the better experience for your canine companion. Try relaxing in the car together at least three times before going for a real ride.
dog in car
CREDIT: JANIECBROS / GETTY
2. Go for a short ride.
If you feel concerned that your dog may vomit, or he has thrown up in the car before, you can fast them for 2–4 hours before the car ride. If your dog has any reluctance to get in the car, it is worth encouraging them with a little treat even if you’re worried about vomiting. You can go two ways with their first trip: Either a nice and easy short drive around the block that culminates with a return home so your dog can see that it was safe, or you can drive them to a nearby location that is of high value to them, like their favorite trail or place to visit.
While positive reinforcement and repeatedly rewarding exposures are the gold standard of training, sometimes your pet can’t help feeling sick despite all the steps taken to prevent car sickness (just like in humans!). In such cases, medication can be used. Talk to your vet about your options to help give your pet some relief.
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3. Slowly increase the length of trips.
Now that your dog has had exposure to the car, it’s time to make incremental increases in the distance of the trips. Continue to positively reinforce your pet’s experience in the car. Put a toy they enjoy in the car as well as a blanket or bed of theirs so they can get settled. Slowly but surely, they should associate the car with quality experiences and this will expand the number of adventures you can share together.