Having a dog that doesn’t enjoy travelling in a car, or who won’t come back to your vehicle at the end of a walk can be a painful experience and a barrier to off-leash freedom. It can also cause a lot of stress and frustration if you need to get your dog into the car for a trip to the vet, groomer or in an emergency.
Your vehicle might be a car, it might be a van, a pickup or even a truck. No matter what you currently own or use, having a dog that will travel calmly and willingly is absolutely essential.
Your dog should see your car as a good deal. There are games you can play with a dog who doesn’t enjoy getting into the vehicle to change that picture so it’s a pleasant and even calming place to be.
We’ve got some super easy strategies on how to make your vehicle a non-event, as well as some effective tips on fun games that you can immediately apply to help your dog embrace their vehicle experience!
Let’s help you make problems in the car a thing of the past!
TIP #1: CAR TRAVEL IS NOT A BIG DEAL
The very first piece of advice we have for you is a super simple one: make the vehicle a non-event.
The simplest and easiest way to do this is to take your dog out and pop them in the car, and then pop them straight back out again and go inside.
Or you could get in and start the car, then turn it off and take your dog back inside.
Sometimes you could practise popping them into the car while you have a chat with a neighbour, friend or family member across the driveway.
If you’ve got some time to spare and it’s a nice cool day outside, maybe you could prepare in advance and take your dog out to the car and pop them in their crate or secure them in the car, give them a tasty frozen Kong or long-lasting chew and then sit in the car with them and read a book, check your emails or listen to a podcast.
Essentially what you are doing is showing your dog that even though you get in the car and sometimes go to super exciting or really scary places, it’s not always like that and sometimes the car can just be another relaxing boundary space to be in.
You can practise this randomly, during the day or night – whenever suits you. It could be once, twice, three times a week – it’s up to you.
When you Ditch the Routine, your dog will soon begin to understand that being in the car is absolutely no big deal and it becomes a complete non-event for them – and this is great for other areas of their life too!
TIP #2: MAKE CAR TRAVEL A VALUABLE EXPERIENCE
The second super important piece of advice we have for you is to make sure your dog thinks the vehicle is a good deal (and maybe even a great one)!
To start out, it’s likely your dog is going to find everything in the environment outside the vehicle more important than actually being in the vehicle.
This is because whenever you go somewhere, they get to jump out and go for a walk, explore a field or run across the beach, or they get to go visiting with some of their doggy friends. They migt even visit the groomer, the vet or encounter less positive experiences too, which will increase the importance tey place on the environment outside the vehicle.
You want your dog to see your vehicle as a good place to be and to actively enjoy being in there no matter what is going on outside.
Whether they are in a travel crate or safely secured in their harness, creating valuable, positive experiences for your dog in and around the vehicle is the way to go.
To build value in the vehicle being a good deal and a great place to be for your dog, simply take some super tasty, high-value food from their daily pot of value and reward them for being in the vehicle. Reward them for getting in, sitting in their crate or on the seat – so long as they are in the vehicle just feed, feed, feed and keep that reward experience going!
This is also an absolutely great way to use some of your dog’s daily food from their Ditch the Bowl allowance. If you haven’t yet heard about the awesomeness that is Ditch the Bowl and you want to know more, download the FREE Ditch the Bowl eBook and check out our super YouTube episode: The Best Time to Ditch that Dog Bowl!
When first starting out with this process, you might want to have your dog on lead for your sessions.
The cool thing about having the lead as backup is that even if your dog makes the wrong choice (maybe they decide they’d rather go and run around the garden or investigate smells on the driveway), you’ve already got them on lead so you can safeguard the choices they are making!
The lead helps prevent rehearsal of unwanted behaviours and means your dog can’t be self-rewarded for any inappropriate choices. You can just remind them where the value is by loading the vehicle with super tasty food and getting them to hop back in!
Once you have built value into the vehicle and you can see that your dog loves getting in and staying in, you can then start to test them. Ask them to hop out of the vehicle and then do nothing – wait them out to see what decision they make. If they immediately hop back in, then feed, feed, feed and have a party with them – they’ve made a great choice!
If for any reason they don’t jump straight back in, then simply take that as a sign the vehicle doesn’t quite have enough value for your dog at the moment and keep working on building and growing that value.
From there, you can test your dog further by seeing what they offer when you’re standing outside the vehicle and you open the door (either to the vehicle or on their crate). Can they offer a level of self-control or do they self-release? You want them to wait inside their crate/the vehicle until you have given them their release cue and you know it’s safe for them to exit the vehicle.
TIP #3: SAFETY FIRST IN THE CAR
This is one of the most important and hugely vital aspects of travelling with a dog. Everyone needs to be safe!
Depending on your situation and what solution you have decided is right for you, you might have your dog travel in a crate in the car (we do) so that they always travel safely.
We love crates as they provide our dogs with a safe space at all times and help us to prevent any unwanted behaviour during travel (such as barking out of the window or getting overexcited and bouncing around the car each time you stop)!
If your dog is not in a crate, then they should at a minimum be secured in a harness designed and rated for vehicle travel and very safely secured.
Want to get your dog used to crates and spaces, especially when it comes to car travel? We’ve got you covered in our YouTube episode!
TIP #4: EASY ACCESS TO YOUR CAR IS IMPORTANT
No matter whether you have a very small dog, a medium-sized dog or a very large dog, making sure your dog is comfortable and confident getting in and out of the vehicle is absolutely essential.
If your dog is worried or uncomfortable about the way they have to access the vehicle, it is likely that this will lead to them associating the vehicle with negative experiences.
This will very quickly start to diminish all of that positive value you have built up with your dog being in and around the vehicle – and it can also be one of the biggest reasons dogs don’t enjoy the vehicle in the first place.
If you have a dog that needs to jump in or out of the vehicle – and they are physically capable of doing so – it’s effectively a separate skill you need to grow value in.
Your dog needs to be confident and comfortable jumping into and out of the vehicle or their crate, just as much as they need to be comfortable being lifted in or out, or using steps or a ramp to get in or out of the vehicle if they are a large dog – or a very small dog.
Always set your dog up for success and provide them with whatever tools and skills they need to get in or out of the vehicle with confidence, comfort and safety.
TIP #5: ARE YOU ASKING PERMISSION TO PUT THEM IN THE CAR?
That’s right, you need to make sure you are asking your dog’s permission to put them in the vehicle.
As we mentioned before, your dog needs to be comfortable and confident jumping into and out of the vehicle, being lifted in or out or using steps or a ramp to get in or out of the vehicle.
If you’re in a rush and you’ve got a lot going on, it’s very easy to just grab your dog and stick them in the vehicle without actually taking the time to consider whether they are even comfortable with you lifting them up or making them get into the vehicle, and whether they are even confident enough around the vehicle to be inside it.
It’s absolutely vital we get our dogs comfortable with either being handled into the vehicle or putting themselves inside, either by jumping in or using steps or a ramp.
We’ve got some seriously super strategies for this one over in our YouTube episode: My Dog Hates Getting Into My Car!
Remember, you know your dog best, so you get to decide what the appropriate options are for them to give you permission to handle and guide them into the vehicle. Just remember to always make it a positive, valuable experience.
YOUR CAR TRAVEL TOP TIP: MOST IMPORTANTLY, HAVE FUN!
As with all things when training and caring for your dog, the key is to have fun and just enjoy every moment.
Making sure you and your dog have good, safe and enjoyable vehicle journeys is the absolute bread and butter of owning a dog.
It makes life so much easier when your dog is willing to get in and get out of the vehicle and they don’t need to be chased or manhandled, but they are equally happy to give you permission if you do need to handle them to get them in safely.
Plus, having a dog that sees value in being in and around the vehicle and staying in close proximity to both you and the vehicle means you have freedom of movement and are confident in the knowledge that they won’t come charging out of the vehicle and go bolting off.
The vehicle is a good space, it’s a safe space and it is a space that we always, always want to keep rewarding because you’ll have a happy, successful life with your dog if you do! You’ve got this Gamechanger!