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Often, when a dog is having a hard time with car rides it is an issue from the dog’s past. At some point, the dog decided that car rides are bad, or maybe even that cars altogether are bad things.
Even if you’re 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 soon — 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’re 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
Approach the car with your dog on the leash.
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 calm yourself.
Don’t even look much at your dog. You can get a good sense of her feelings and her energy without even 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. Any distance toward the car 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 the dog somewhere. The point is to change her anxiousness about the whole thing. So please stay calm through this entire exercise. If you’re becoming anxious yourself, then you’re not going to create the desired result!
If your dog feels at any time that she’s stressed, then she is likely to have an anxiety attack. If that happens, then you’re moving too fast and you’re overwhelming your dog. Back up one or two steps away from the car.
You might have to wait awhile before approaching the car again.
Now this is key… if you feel like you’re moving along well, be sure to 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 attack. If your dog doesn’t calm down, then back up a bit and wait to have a calm dog before leaving this exercise for the day. This is very important… please take your time.
How To Behave At The Car
Once you are able to be close to the car, allow your dog 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 an automobile!
Now open a door and let her smell the inside.
Climb in yourself. Keep her on the leash, but do not force her to get into the car. Also, do not let her bolt away. Just be there with her.
When she’s looking at you and seems like she might be ready, then invite her inside the car. (Just don’t rush it.) Treats or a favorite dog toy can be a good incentive for her to come into the car.
What To Do Inside The Car
Once your dog is inside the car, again be careful to move forward only after your dog relaxes and she is clearly ready for the next step.
The next step would be to have someone else start the car while you’re sitting inside with your dog. That way, you can correct any notion to go into excitement and ask your dog to let go of any prior decision about cars and car rides.
Do not start moving the car until your dog is ready. Once the car is moving, make it a short trip to a fun place — like the dog park, or a dog friend, or the beach.
Do not make the ride be too long though. Keep it very short this first time.
Keep correcting your dog (calmly) any time she starts to get herself too excited.
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 (being scared, excited, or nervous). So if she is excited or anxious, she will think that behavior is desirable if you pet her while she’s doing this.
With Patience Comes Reward
Please take your time with this entire process of getting your dog used to car rides.
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 the above steps.
Sometimes, it can take a lot of repetition to get a dog comfortable with being near a car… then being inside a car… then remaining calm while the car is moving.
The idea is for you to both feel fulfilled (and calm!) after making several small steps toward this goal each time.
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! Ask yourself, “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.