Helping your pup learn to travel comfortably in the car should be part of their socialization. Car travel can be challenging for young pups because inner ear development can cause nausea and motion sickness. Although most puppies grow out of this, the association can create long-term discomfort for some dogs.
If your puppy is from a breeder who has taken the time to prepare their pups for their forever homes, your pup may have had the advantage of some early positive associations with being in the car and travelling. We need more breeders like this! Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen for most pups, and their first car trip is when they are taken away from their family and everything familiar. Not a great first experience.
Helping our pups get comfy in the car involves a couple of things.
Find the Right Spot For Your Pup
First, we need to figure out where our pup is the most comfortable in the vehicle. Given the choice, many dogs would enjoy being up front as a co-pilot. This is not a safe option, so securing them in the back seat or hatch area is better.
If they have separation issues, a good compromise is to have them secured in the back seat with a passenger there to reassure and support them. This will allow you to get your puppy used to the spot you will want them right away, but meet them where they are emotionally.
Now this is where you may need to tinker with things. A crate is a super travel option if your pup is already familiar with and comfy being in one. It restricts some movement and buffers the pup from all the visual distractions and movement outside.
However, for some puppies, being in a crate worsens their car sickness. They do better in a harness and stationed on a bed or towel.
If your puppy gets sick or drools in the car:
To help a young puppy with car sickness, you can place a drop of ginger or fennel on a cloth in the area.
It’s helpful to have some cleanup supplies in your car and a couple of towels layered on the bed or in the crate. This way, if your pup does get sick, it’s an easy cleanup, and everything’s fresh again for the pup.
Desensitize Your Pup With Conditioning
Second, you can get them comfortable more quickly by doing some desensitization. Exposing the puppy to very gentle experiences in the car without actually going anywhere can help build confidence and make it more pleasant for them.
- Just go in the car and don’t bother turning on the vehicle or going anywhere. Spend part of a day just going in the car, hanging out, exiting, and carrying on with your day. Your goal is to associate going in the car with nothing exciting happening. The pup may be whiny the first few times because she expects to go somewhere. This fussing should slow or stop after a few reps of a boring outcome. If you can start feeding her treats or hang out with a chew at some point, that’s great.
- If your pup can’t settle or take treats even in this situation, you could start by hanging out next to the car. If your puppy is familiar with mat games, you can play those next to the car.
You can proceed once they are relaxed and can take treats at any particular step.
Some additional steps could be:
- you can turn on the car but not go anywhere.
- go on a short trip with no destination. Just go around the block and return home.
- pair short trips with nothing exciting at the end. This will help the pup learn to be calmer during travel.
Another recommendation is to wait in the car for a bit when you arrive somewhere. This is a great way to help the pup relax and reward calmer behaviour before letting them out to what awaits outside.
This conditioning will also help our dogs learn to remain calm in the car as they mature. Over time, many dogs become agitated or aroused because of the stimulation during the trip or the excitement of what will happen at the end of it. This arousal leads to whining or barking and can become a bothersome habit. Setting them up to settle in the car as youngsters will help prevent this.
Finding ways to make travel more comfortable is often just a matter of finding the setup that works for your puppy. You can take the next step and teach your pup to relax during the trip with some simple conditioning games. It’s worth it. Car travel will be more pleasant for all the passengers!
Check out A Day With Dogs for more information on setting your puppy up for success.
Visit hippup.ca to get the help you need with your puppy.