Often times, when a dog is having a hard time with car rides it is an issue from the dog’s past. Somewhere the dog decided that car rides are bad, or sometimes even that cars altogether are bad things.
Now even if you are quite nice to your dog, that decision she made is already in place and no matter how convincing you might be, the dog’s point-of-view is that the car ride is a horrible thing!
So, what should do if your dog doesn’t like car rides?
Since there are times when you simply have to get your dog into the car (like for vet visits, or trips to the kennel when you go out of town), you should work on these issues sooner — rather than later.
Here are the steps for getting your dog comfortable with car rides…
Patience Is Key
The first step is that you need to be willing to work this out with your dog in her own time.
If you are rushing to go somewhere, this is not the time to get her over the issue.
Getting through this process requires 2 things:
1. That you have no agenda.
2. That you have the willingness to work in baby steps.
The energy required here is to be calm, and at the same time, be willing to change the issue without being vested in the outcome.
You cannot approach this with the point-of-view of creating a certain result. The only thing you are demanding is that the issue will change and that you are willing to work it out!
How To Approach The Car
Any time she starts to pull away and gets frantic about the situation, stop and ask your dog to let go of anything that creates this reaction in her! Just stand there with her, do not console her, just keep asking her to let go of any decisions. Be sure to remain very clam yourself.
Don’t even look much at her. You can perceive her and her energy without looking!
Once she is calmer, move closer to the car. Repeat this process as often as necessary to move forward. But only take baby steps. Perhaps you will only get a few feet closer to the car each time before she starts to freak out. So be it. That distance is progress.
Please take your time with this whole exercise. The point here is not to get the dog in the car, or to drive to dog somewhere; the point is to change her anxiousness about the whole thing. So please stay calm through this entire exercise. If you are becoming anxious yourself, you are not going to create the desired result!
If your dog feels at any time that she is overwhelmed and has gone into an anxiety attack, then you are moving too fast and you are overwhelming the dog. Back off one or two steps.
You might have to wait awhile before approaching the car again.
Now this is key… if you feel like you are moving along well, quit before the situation gets to be too much for your dog. Only keep moving forward if your dog keeps getting calmer after going through another level.
At the end of this first exercise, your dog might do really well and you end up with an almost relaxed car ride. Or, you might have gotten just a little closer to the car for this day. Either way is progress!
Please use your awareness of the situation and end on a good note — for both of you! Do not quit in the middle of major anxiety. If your dog does not calm down, then back off a step and wait to have a calm dog before leaving this exercise for the day. This is important… please take your time.
How To Behave At The Car
Once you are able to be close to the car, allow her to smell the car. Show her the tires and the parts of the car. Touch them yourself and let her explore that a little bit. This may be the first time she was allowed to take the time to acquaint herself with a car!
Now open a door and let her smell the inside.
Climb in yourself. Keep her on the leash, but do not force her to come in. Also, do not let her bolt away. Just be there with her, and when she is looking at you and seems ready, then invite her in. (But don’t rush it.) Treats or a favorite toy can be an incentive to come into the car.
What To Do Inside The Car
The next step would be to have someone else start the car while you are sitting inside with your dog. That way, you can correct any notion to go into excitement and ask the dog to let go of any prior decision about cars and the ride.
Do not start moving the car until the dog is ready. Once moving, make it a short trip to a fun place — like the dog park, or a dog friend, or the beach. Make sure the ride is not too long though; keep it very short this first time.
Keep correcting your dog any time she starts to get herself wound into any excitement.
Make sure that you do not pet or console your dog during this time. To a dog, this kind of behavior would be a reward for what she is doing. So if she is excited or anxious, she will think that behavior is desirable if you are petting her while doing this.
With Patience Comes Reward
Please take your time with this process.
You may not get the car started the first time, or the second time, or even the third time! Let your dog determine how quickly you move through each of these steps. It can take a lot of repetition to get your dog comfortable with being near a car, then being inside a car, then remaining calm while the car is moving.
Remember, this is not about getting your dog to a particular place. This is about changing the trauma of a car ride to a different possibility! What would it take for this situation to be easy and fun for everybody involved?
Repeat this process in short intervals (like every other day) until you have the result you desire. Something should be changing every time, and it should get easier. If that is not the case, please let me know and we’ll see what we can do for you!
I travel worldwide to help facilitate the communication process between people and animals through workshops, courses, private consultation, and a popular radio show called Conversations With Dog.