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Driving with Dogs: How to Help Your Pooch Overcome Fear of Cars

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

Driving with Dogs: How to Help Your Pooch Overcome Fear of Cars

Having a dog that will gladly jump in the car to join you and your family for outdoor adventures is truly one of the great pleasures of having a canine companion. Unfortunately, if your dog is scared of car rides, it can really throw a wrench in your weekend plans. Luckily, training your pooch to love the car is easy enough to do if you have some patience and don’t mind putting in some practice time.

The main trick to helping your dog with any phobia is to slowly introduce the trigger, in this case the car, while keeping her under the reaction threshold. The reaction threshold is any sign that your canine companion is starting to stress out. Signs vary, but common stress reactions include whining, panting, or trying to make a beeline in the other direction.

Since the reaction threshold varies for each individual, the first step is to identify how close your pup has to be to the car before she starts to have a reaction. Then, work on a reconditioning program, as outlined below, starting at whatever stage keeps her below the reaction threshold and gradually upping the ante. This process can take a few weeks of regular practice, but it’s totally worth it!

A reconditioning program has two main goals. First, to make driving with your dog a positive experience filled with great things like treats, pets, praise and going to fun and exciting places. Second, you want to reward calm behavior, not anxious behavior. This is why it is important to work at a pace that keeps her under the reaction threshold – otherwise you are rewarding anxious behavior.

Step by Step Reconditioning for Dog Car Phobia

Keep training sessions short, 15-20 minutes tops. Feel free to repeat a few training sessions in a row with breaks in between if your dog is progressing well. You aren’t likely to solve this problem in a single session and going too fast is likely to undo your progress.

If your dog does not have a reaction until one of the stages below, feel free to go to whatever stage comes right before the reaction and start your training regimen there. If you notice that you are getting frustrated, stop the training session and pick it up another time. Your canine is very sensitive to your feelings and can easily pick up on your emotions, potentially making a negative association with the car.

Using plenty of praise and some food rewards, progress through the following stages:

  1. Walk near but past the car.

  2. Walk around the car.

  3. Sit next to the car.

  4. Open the door to the car but stay outside and continue to walk around.

  5. Invite your dog to hop into the car, praise and reward, then immediately ask her to exit the car. Repeat this at least 5 times, more for extremely phobic dogs.

  6. Gradually add a few seconds to the wait time before asking your dog to exit the car, praising and rewarding along the way.

  7. Get in the car with your dog for a few minutes of pets and praise before exiting.

  8. Invite your dog into the car and close the door, pausing a few seconds before opening the door and rewarding calm behavior. Repeat 5-10 times, gradually adding some time.

  9. Load your dog into the car, close the door, and get behind the driver’s seat. Start with just a few seconds, working up to a few minutes.

  10. Start the engine for just a few seconds then turn off the engine. Work up to being in the car with the engine on but the car not moving until you have a calm dog for at least a full minute.

  11. With your canine companion in the car, drive a few feet, praise and reward. Once you can drive for a few minutes with a happy dog, you are ready for a short trip!

  12. Take a short trip to somewhere fun like the dog park or the pet store. Or, just take her to the next block over and hop out for a fun walk. The key here is to start associating the car with short rides that land somewhere really fun!

  13. Continue to make sure that you practice taking short car rides to somewhere fun. If you only ever get in the car to go to the vet, chances are your dog’s car phobia will return. 

    PRO TIP: If your dog gets car sick, a common problem that can contribute to a car phobia, be sure to talk to your vet about medications that can reduce motion sickness. In addition, try not to load your pup up for a ride after a meal. Give him at least an hour to digest a meal before hitting the road.

    Can CBD Hemp Oil Help with My Dog’s Fear of Car Rides? 

    You may have heard about the natural supplement CBD oil and how it can have a calming effect for dogs. Since it is important to stay under the reaction threshold when it comes to training a dog with car phobia, CBD oil can be an important part of your training program. 

    CBD oil isn’t a magic pill. It won’t solve your dog’s fear of cars in a single dose. But what it can do is to help him to be more relaxed during your reconditioning training sessions. This can add up to significantly fewer sessions to go from rewarding a calm reaction next to the car, to rewarding a calm ride all the way to the dog park and back!

    Simply administer the recommended dosage of Lolahemp about 30 minutes before your training session to help your dog stay calm during training. Then, follow the steps outlined above progressing through each stage at a pace your pooch can handle. Continue to use CBD oil before car rides to reinforce a calm reaction to your trips together.

    Soon, driving with your dog can become a pleasurable experience that you both look forward to!

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