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Car Habituation

Car Habituation

With “staycations” on the cards for millions this year, the prospect of addressing your dog’s behaviour in the car may be looming. Whether it’s over excitement or automotive nerves, we can help you ensure your dog is calm and happy on a road trip.

First things first, it is important to recognise that all dogs will need our help to acclimatise to journeys. Excitable dogs may leap around, and bark on a road trip, thereby creating a dangerous situation. If the driver, is distracted, there could be a serious accident – so having a calm canine is a safety must!

 

Start them young

As with most things, it’s best to get your dog used to the being in the car from a young age if possible. Start by putting your dog in the car for a short amount of time with the engine running and with you sat inside. Once your dog settles down you can reward them with a treat. A stuffed Kong is a great way to keep them occupied.

We would then encourage you to take your dog on boring errands where they will not be released. This way, the car is not always associated with having lots of fun. After your dog has grown bored of going on trips around the block, start increasing the length of his trips (always ending nowhere). Then, take a trip that approaches the dog park (or any other destination that excites your dog), but be ready to turn the moment they act hyper again. Over time, your dog will accept car travel and be ready for extended trips.

 

Over excitement

At the Company of Animals Pet Centre, we receive many calls on dogs behaving badly on the journey to the park, beach or forest but rarely do we receive complaints about the same dogs on the journey home.

The key is to not proceed until your dog is calm and quiet – counter-conditioning. The reason dogs bark in the car is that they have learned that doing so makes us drive faster and therefore release them more quickly. The same applies to overexcitement in the home before a walk so exclamations such as “walkies” that cue your intentions are best avoided if you want a peaceful life.

Simply stay quiet at the wheel until the undesirable behaviour stops. During the journey, if the barking starts up again and it is safe to do so, stop driving until the car falls quiet once more. Once you get to your destination, do not rush to release your dog, make them wait. Listen to the radio or condition a “sit” before you open the door. This will allow you to attach the lead safely before your dog leaves the car.

Automotive nerves

For serious cases of in-car nerves, we have found that securing your dog forward into the rear passenger footwell behind the driver reduces stimulation to the car’s movements and the world outside. Ideally, when you begin this, have someone sat on the back seat to give praise, attention and rewards for being calm and quiet.

Dr Roger Mugford ~ Animal Psychologist and Company Founder

Dr Roger is widely acknowledged as being Britain’s leading animal psychologist, with his methodologies used by veterinary surgeons throughout the UK.