Some puppies may view cars as big, scary things that make loud noises and congregate with other big, loud, scary things. Others may jump right in your car when you offer. Puppies that are more cautious might need a treat or 10 to be convinced a car ride is fun.
Allow your puppy to digest his meal for about two to three hours after eating. Full stomachs, little puppies and car rides don’t mix. Some pups naturally experience motion sickness. Those that don’t are sure to experience it when they’re full of kibble.
Set up a crate on your car's backseat. The crate should be large enough to comfortably accommodate your dog comfortably -- he should be able to turn around, lie and stand in it. You can secure your dog in with a harness seat belt instead of using a crate. In some cases, especially with larger breeds, you may find it easier.
Bring your dog outside on his leash. Have a treat in hand. Keep the car turned off and open the back door. Some puppies will eagerly jump in, while others may be more hesitant. They’re usually easier to coax inside than adult dogs, though. Reassure him everything’s fine and try to lure him into the car with a treat.
Allow him to enter the car on his own accord, if he’s able. If he shows interest but is too small to jump inside, pick him up and set him on the seat. If he is hesitant, allow him to progress at his own speed. Your car is like a foreign object to him, and he needs to make sure it’s safe before proceeding.
Direct him to his crate with a guiding hand or treat. Allow him to sit inside and lay down while the door is open. After he seems comfortable with the idea, close the crate door. Secure the crate by wrapping a seat belt around it and clicking the belt in place. If you’re not using a crate, attach his seat belt harness. The harness might freak him out. Reassure him and give him treats when he’s calm and behaved.
Start your engine and roll your windows down to give your pup some fresh air. Give him another treat if he seems OK with the car turned on. The goal is to reinforce his positive behavior so future car rides are looked forward to rather than feared.
Drive short distances at first. Gradually increasing the time your puppy spends in the car is the best strategy, because it allows him to ease into the unfamiliar. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests increasing driving time by five minutes every two or three days.
- Take your puppy on frequent car rides, not just those to the vet. If your pup goes for a car ride only when he needs his shots or when he’s prodded and poked by someone, he’ll associate the car with bad experiences. Instead, take him on rides to the park and other positive or neutral places.
- Once your dog realizes that car rides are no big deal, avoid praising him or creating a keyword for car rides and making a huge deal over it every time he gets into the car. Doing so can cause him to become overly eager for car rides, to the point that he'll pull you with all his might to get into the car. It’s a behavior that’s difficult to stop.
- Give him small treats to avoid filling up his stomach. A bite-size piece of biscuit or other small treat works best.
- If your puppy gets sick easily on car rides, the American Kennel club suggests not feeding him for six to 12 hours prior to each car ride and not using treats as a reward.
- Slowly introducing your puppy to the car is key. If he's extremely scared, don't even turn on the car when he first gets in, even if he seems comfortable. After two or three days of accepting the car, you can turn on the engine, but don't start driving for another day or two.
- If your dog constantly gets sick on rides, even on an empty stomach, take him to your vet.
- Never yell at or discipline your puppy for reacting negatively to the car.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.