If you are finding that your puppy is scared of the car, don’t panic! The next step is to develop a plan to alter your puppy’s perception of the car, from something scary into something fun. This process is called ‘desensitisation’ and can take a little while, but is well worth any effort.
Where your plan starts will depend on how nervous or unsure your puppy is, and your vet or a trained behaviourist can help you with your plan. Generally, for very scared pups, simply feeding yummy treats or meals near the car is a good start-point. This can then build up over time, until you are feeding in the car, and then in the car with the engine on.
Playing fun games near the car, and giving lots of fuss if your pup goes near or in the car of their own accord, is also really important. This builds up confidence in and around the car – your puppy needs to be happy with being in the car before you consider adding in any travel.
For pups who are only a little nervous you may be able to skip some initial steps, but don’t rush. It’s better to build these positive associations slowly, as you may find your puppy starts going backwards if they are pushed too hard or too fast.
Once your puppy is comfortable in and around the car, it’s time to get moving! This should be to the end of the drive and back at first – and then out for a big play session and lots of praise! Continue slowly increasing the time in the car, and make sure journeys always end with something fun. We want your pup to start looking forward to their next journey! As you gradually increase the journey length you should find that your pup is happy to spend time in the car as they know that the outcome will be positive. If at any point your dog starts to seem worried, just drop back a step, and let them get comfortable – you probably just moved them forward a little too fast.