• Charlotte Page

Dogs in cars

Many dogs experience anxiety in cars. Often their owners get them inside and set off driving immediately – for an animal that does not understand what is happening, the movement and noise of the car can be frightening. Add to this that many car journeys end in a trip to the vets, and you can understand why they might be less than keen. You may have a puppy who you want to introduce to the car, or an older dog who has an established fear of it – the methods for working on this are very similar, but the method may need to be slowed and broken down into smaller steps for dogs that are already scared.

Rusty strapped in with her harness

To begin with, simply sit in the car with the dog with the engine turned off. Make sure that the dog is situated where it will be travelling for this stage, so that it grows accustomed to being in that location. Talk to the dog to reassure them, and provide them with a chew or food toy to provide an outlet for their energy – it important to do this only when the car is stationary as doing this while travelling increases the risk of choking. If the dog is worried about being in an enclosed space, leave the doors open initially and wait until they are more relaxed before closing them.

From here, progress to sitting in the car with the engine switched on. It is important that the dog gets used to being ‘ignored’ occasionally – while it is necessary to be aware of what they’re up to during a car journey, there will be times when you are the only person in the car and cannot divert your attention from the road to them. Initially however, it is a good idea to take an extra person along who can tend to the dog if needed.

The first journeys should be kept as short as possible, even if it’s just a drive around the block. Often a puppy’s first proper journeys in the car will result in a visit to the vets, usually for vaccinations. As soon as they are able to go out, short journeys to somewhere fun, such as a new park or exciting walk in the woods is perfect for helping them to realise that car journeys can result in good things.

During the progression from being stationary to on the move, it is important to monitor the dog and be prepared to stop if they seem distressed in any way. It is far better to take a couple of steps backward at this stage than risk them developing a long term fear.

In addition to ensuring that the dog is comfortable with travelling in the car, it is also essential to keep them safe. Travelling with an unrestrained dog is incredibly dangerous as it poses a serious risk of the driver being distracted, and of the dog and passengers being severely hurt in an accident. By law, dogs must be restrained, either in an appropriate dog seat belt, or in a fitted dog crate.

Taking time to work through car anxiety will lead to much safer, more relaxed and enjoyable journeys for both you and your dog.

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