Question: I have a new puppy and intend to have her with me most of the time. How do I teach her about the car?
Answer: I consider car training to be a fairly crucial part of a dog’s integration into your life. Since dogs are pack animals, their ideal situation is to be with their humans. This is why dogs who have lives of isolation are often a little messed up psychologically. When I picked up my puppy a year ago in January, I brought along her very first harness. That 2½-hour drive was the beginning of her learning to ride in the car.
Riding in the car is the only thing I use a harness for. They’re pretty much the worst thing to teach your dog to heel on the leash, but they’re perfect for the car. When it comes to pet products, everyone is trying to get their hand in your pocket, but you do not need a specialized doggie seatbelt. All you really need is a simple harness. Find one that’s easy to get on and off.
I consider allowing your dog to ride loose in the car to be extremely irresponsible. We never hear about it, but dogs do get killed in car accidents. Your dog can get killed by the force of an airbag.
To buckle your dog in, first buckle the seatbelt. Fluffy sits in front of the lap belt. Now, you can attach the harness to the diagonal chest strap. You can use anything to affix the harness to the shoulder piece. I use a spring-loaded, aluminum carabiner, (commonly used for car keys), and it just lives on the shoulder strap for the occasion when my dog rides in the car with me. But you can use anything. I’ve used my dog’s collar to attach the harness to the seatbelt in a pinch. Tillie has never ridden in the car without being buckled in. Additionally, buckling your dog in will give you some peace of mind.
There are a few aspects to your dog’s car routine. It’s easier to start this work in the front seat with her by your side. After she learns the basics, she can transition to the backseat if that’s what you like. I think it’s fine to give your dog something to chew on in the car as she becomes accustomed to the car routine. Teach Fluffy now to keep her mitts off the armrest or the windowsill.
Again, this is easier to teach with her sitting next to you in the front seat. Another firm rule is no barking in the car. This took me awhile to teach my dog, especially at drive-through windows. In the beginning of this training, keep a dialogue going with your dog. Dogs are generally listening to us all the time, and they become accustomed to the nuances of our tone.
So, for example, as we approach the drive-through window, before my dog has a chance to react, I’m softly praising her. When and if she has a reaction to the drive-through person, she gets corrected with “no.” If Fluffy continues to bark in a scenario like this, try putting your hand on her as you say something like “stop it.” If she stops, great. Start praising her again.
If your dog doesn’t stop barking after you put your hand on her, grab her behind the neck as you again say “no!” Few dogs will continue to bark after that. Of course once your pup stops the commotion, you must immediately start praising her. Ultimately, she will figure out what it is that you want because dogs figure out patterns.
Lastly I suggest teaching Fluffy to not get into or out of the car without hearing you say “OK.” Jumping into or out of the car without some sort of decorum can create problems. Have Fluffy “wait,” then you can release her with “OK.” She’ll learn to wait for the cue if you stick to this protocol. If your puppy is little, to get into the car, she can jump onto the floorboard and then into the seat. It’s basically a two-step process.