Dogs and traveling really do seem to go together and most dogs quickly learn the meaning of the words car, ride or truck, plus they also learn to associate the jingling of keys with a road trip. Most dogs are more of a problem to keep out of your car than it is to teach them to jump in. To train your dog to be a good traveler there are a few basic steps that you can use right from their very first ride in your vehicle. Like with most dog training, starting slow and small and building to longer rides and travels is the best possible option.
Bringing Home A Puppy
The first ride your puppy will likely every have is the trip when you bring him or her home from the kennel. Most people are going to want to hold the puppy on the ride home, and this certainly is an option, but it is not the safest one for the tiny puppy. Accidents can occur and a puppy that is held in someone's lap, especially a child's, is at the greatest risk of being injured. It is a good idea to start off on the right foot, putting the puppy in a safe, secure and belted in carrier. Your breeder can work with you to plan to pick up the puppy shortly after a feeding when they will naturally sleep, allowing you to transport the puppy safely and relatively quietly all the way home.
Getting your puppy or dog used to being in a car requires a desensitization process combined with lots of praise and positive rewards. Start by bringing the puppy into the car and just sitting in the vehicle with the door closed with the puppy for a few minutes. Be sure you do this after the puppy has gone to the bathroom, you don't want an accident in the car and you certainly don't want to have to correct the puppy while they are in the vehicle. Just keep them in the car for a few minutes, talking to them and petting them, even giving a small treat for a job well done.
The next step is to start the vehicle and just sit in the running car with the puppy or dog. Again, provide a treat in the car and take the puppy or dog out before they become anxious. In addition at this time you should already be getting the puppy or dog used to being in either a carrier or a harness, but do this outside of the car.
Once the puppy or dog is used to the carrier and the harness, the next step is to restrain them in the car using the device and go for a very short drive. This can be as short as around the block or to a local park where they get to run and play. Within one or two of these short trips they will associate going in the car with positive events and soon you will have a dog that is eager and willing to go with the car any and every time.
Most dogs seem to find the movement and sound of vehicles very relaxing and after a bit of looking around at the scenery they will simply lie down and go to sleep, waking when they feel the motion of the vehicle change. Provide a toy for the dog to play with in the carrier or in the seat belt to help with boredom and energy, especially if he or she is a high activity breed.
Car manners are basically teaching your dog to wait his or her turn to get in and out of the vehicle. Dogs that love riding in cars will be almost frantic to get in, often jumping up on the side of the vehicle and scrambling past you to get in. Teaching your dog to sit at the door and not jump up into the car until given the command of "In" or "Up" provides you time enough to put down a towel, adjust the seat belt or carrier or even get items off the back seat before the dog piles in.
To do this the dog must understand two different commands, the sit command and the wait or stay command. Bring the dog to the side of the vehicle and give the sit command. When the dog is sitting, give the stay command and move towards the car door. If the dog jumps up, have them sit again and repeat the wait or stay command. A leash can be used to help reinforce the wait command if the dog is jumping in ahead of time. Once the dog sits and waits while the door is opened, provide praise and another small treat, then give the "up" or "in" command, again giving a treat when the dog hops into the car. Don't expect the dog to wait too long when this sequence is first being taught, but as they get the hang of the sequence expand the time between the wait command and the up or in command. The dog should then sit again to allow the harness to be attached to the seat belt or they should get into the carrier and lie down.
Always get in the habit of attaching your dog's leash before they get out of the vehicle. This will prevent the dog from darting out into traffic or taking off running when they get to the park. It is also important to ensure your dog doesn't start jumping on the inside of the car door as well.
Be sure to give lots of praise and always have some bite sized treats to reward your dog when getting them started on their car manners and traveling. Also keep in mind that taking your dog exciting places will also help increase their enjoyment and enthusiasm about being in the car. If you do have to take your dog someplace they don't like in the vehicle, consider making a stop someplace really fun on your way home so the dog remembers the good times last. For example, a trip to the vet is not a fun activity for most dogs, but stopping at the dog park, the lake or even out in the country for a longer walk on the way home can erase the negative memory and make it an overall fun event for the dog.