How to Prepare a Puppy to Ride in the Car

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on July 9th, 2020

If you recently brought home a puppy, congratulations! In addition to taking hundreds of adorable pictures, we can bet that you’ve also spent a good amount of time searching Google for the best training techniques. Because as cute as these little fluff balls are, puppies take a lot of work!

This is especially true when it comes to teaching puppies how to behave in the car. Since driving takes a dog owner’s attention away from their pup, it’s very common to see behavior problems develop in this setting. Even puppies who are usually calm may start whining, barking, and crawling over the seats in the car from excitement or anxiety.

At BreezeGuard, we’re always thinking about how to make driving safer for you and your pup. So here are a few tips on how to best prepare your puppy for stress-free driving.

Tip #1: Puppify your car
There are plenty of training techniques that will help your puppy become comfortable in the car, but your first step should be to make your car as safe as possible. You can go about this in a couple of different ways.

Some dog owners opt for crates in the back of the car, which can keep a puppy safely confined during car trips. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a preparation process involved so that the puppy doesn’t develop negative associations with the crate. 

An alternative is to make the entire car a safe area for your puppy. BreezeGuard screens, for instance, provide durable coverings over your car windows to ensure that an excited or scared pup doesn’t make an escape. As we explored in our recent article, Why Do Dogs Stick Their Heads Out Car Windows, installing a screen is a great way to give your pup the opportunity to sniff the air outside without the danger of sticking their head out of the window. Providing your furry friend with the chance to see and smell their surroundings can help to ease anxiety during your car ride.

Now, how about the risk of your puppy jumping into the front seat during your drive? There are a variety of different styles of dog harnesses, from the harness seat belt to a zipline harness,  that can help with that. Not only does securing your pup to the backseat prevent them from jumping around in the car, but it can also keep them safe in the case of an accident.

With these safety additions in your car, you’re ready to start the car training process with your puppy! 

Tip #2: Lay the groundwork for positive reinforcement training
The fastest and easiest way to train your pup how to behave in the car is with positive reinforcement training. This training method has shown to lower stress and increase attentiveness in dog training, which will be key to developing good manners in the car. 

And you’ll want to start this form of training as soon as possible, even before you get ready for your first car trip. Here’s how to get started:

  • Decide on a reward that you can give you puppy when they show a desired behavior. The most effective reward is a treat, but you can also provide verbal praise or a loving chin scratch to let them know they’ve done the right thing. The key is to provide a reward every time your puppy completes the desired task. That way, they will associate their actions with rewards.
  • Decide on commands that are short and clear. Your puppy will learn faster if they’re given consistent and clear commands for a desired behavior. Instead of asking your dog to go sleep in the bed or lie down in your bed, you can teach them that the command bed means that they should go to their bed. Then, you can provide them with a second command lie down once they’ve completed the first task.
  • When it comes to car training, you’ll want to master commands like sit and quiet before introducing them to the car setting. Teaching the command quiet is a bit tricky, since you’ll have to wait for your puppy to stop barking or whining before introducing the command and giving them the reward. Eventually they will learn that the quiet command means stop barking or whining if they want to get the treat or praise.

The more advanced your puppy is with their training, the higher your chance of having a successful first drive with them. So start early and remember to keep things positive!

Tip #3: Hang out a while
Another step towards getting your puppy comfortable with driving is to allow them to explore the car while it’s parked. During this stage, they’ll have a chance to sniff around and get their bearings in a new environment.

In this process, you might start out by sitting with them in the backseat before moving to the front seat, still without moving the car. Talk calmly to your dog so that they see the car as a safe, neutral place.

While your furry friend grows accustomed to being in the car, you can also practice your commands and start to introduce them to the crate or their harness if you’ll be using either of those safety tools. 

You can practice this a few times, gradually increasing the time spent inside the car. When you see your puppy start to get anxious or upset, simply end the session and try again when they’re calm.

Tip #4: Take a quick drive
When you feel that your puppy has become fully comfortable in the car, you can start to take short trips with them. This might be just around the block, to a friend’s house in the neighborhood, or somewhere else that isn’t too scary (like the vet) or too exciting (like the dog park.) With these routine driving trips, your puppy will learn not to associate the car with any singular activity.

Make sure to drive in areas with little traffic. Ideally, you’ll give your puppy a few rewards here and there as they show good behavior, which will be difficult if you’re navigating traffic.  

Tip #5: Consider some safe distractions
In a perfect world, you’d be able to practice car training at your puppy’s pace. But sometimes that’s not feasible. Puppies need to attend regular vet visits and socialize with other dogs, meaning that they may need to get in the car before they’ve finished their training. 

If this is the case, you might introduce some safe distractions to keep them calm in the car. This could include their favorite chew toy or another passenger who can give them attention throughout the drive.

Apart from these periodic car trips, continue the slow and patient process of car training that we’ve outlined in this article.

Ready, set, dogGO!
In this BreezeGuard blog post, we’ve outlined some dog car equipment and helpful tips for ensuring that your puppy is safe and sound while you drive. The training may be a bit lengthy, but you’ll appreciate the peace and quiet of a calm doggo in the backseat every time you get behind the wheel!

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