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Training tips: How to get dogs used to car rides

Note: This is a guest post by photographer and writer Cheryl Smyth.

Throughout her eight years with me, my dog, Tessi, has regularly accompanied me on my road trips. From the day I adopted her, I believe the local fun destinations I took her to – usually the beach – helped get her used to the car.

Car rides can be a delightful outlet for your pooch and a special way to spend time with him. If you’ve never introduced him to your vehicle, the following techniques can help.

1. Initially encourage him with food. Place a treat inside to entice him to jump in or let him eat his meals in there while the car is parked and motor off.

2. Using a down-stay can keep an overly active dog calm, though it may need to be reinforced in this new situation.

3. Accustom him gradually to being in the vehicle – start with just sitting in the car together, extend to a drive around the block and work towards going farther.

4. Make the car comfortable – add pillows or blankets, along with favourite toys.

Dog has harness and blankets in the car

5. Take him to fun places only (like the beach!); this is not a time for a visit with the vet. Car rides should be rewarding and associated with enjoyment.

Tessi dog on the beach

6. Keep him safe in a crate or belted in. He’ll enjoy the experience more if he doesn’t end up flying because you suddenly needed to stop.

7. Take him with you as often as you can, even if it’s just on a short jaunt to the corner store. (When temperature permits – no leaving him in a hot vehicle, however brief.)

8. If you ultimately head out on longer trips, stop often for breaks. A car ride is more appealing when he knows at some point he can relieve himself and sniff out exciting new surroundings.

Golden retriever running on the beach

9. A settled stomach can go a long way in encouraging a dog to enjoy the outing. Feed and give him water hours before heading out. Try the training steps again if it’s a fear or stress issue. Mild medications are available – consult your vet.

10. Offer time, patience and lots of praise.

I was confident I had an enthusiastic traveling companion when Tessi took it upon herself to hop into the car while I was packing it for one of our first extended road trips. I wasn’t planning on leaving for another hour; yet, she refused to vacate it. Her expression stated in no uncertain terms – You are not leaving me behind!

How did the rest of you get your dogs used to car rides?

Cheryl Smyth is a long time photographer. Her desire to include her dog in her travels led her into the world of writing. She is inspired to discover and share all that pet travel has to offer. Check out her website at All photos in this post are hers.

Dog Tessi on the beach

Carl Hutchins

Thursday 16th of January 2014

I adopted Coco, an estimated 6 year old spaniel mix from a rescue. Did not want to get into the car to go home. As he was picked up as a stray, i thnk he associated cars with unpleasant surroundings, ie a public "shelter". Particularly alarming to him was my Jeep SUV. Seem like a pound truck to him??? Well, first Ok, to get in my old jaguar sedan, but reluctant to get out. Little by little he decided either was OK. Now jumps in either and acts like he is enjoying the ride and trhe new sites to look at. especilly other dogs out for walks. ARF, ARF!!! Loves the hamburger drive through. The ladies there greet him. and, it usually means a treat, hamburger paddy!!!.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of January 2014

Yes, a hamburger patty would do it! :) Glad he's enjoying car rides now.


Wednesday 15th of January 2014

Thanks for that article. Might end up being very timely for me! We've been lucky with the last two dogs in the car. Perfect little travellers, both of them.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 15th of January 2014

I lucked out as well! I have a cat who is not a fan of the car though, and some of these tips will work for cats too.