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Traveling safely with a puppy is serious business... but it can be fun, too. Maybe you’ll be lucky and your dog will be a napper. On the other hand, your canine car companion could be the embodiment of Rover Road Rage. The fact is you won’t know until you try.
Let's start with obvious: puppies are smart. They just don’t know it yet. To remind them of this untapped intelligence, put them through a few little practice traveling sessions prior to showtime. Spend some time in the car with your puppy while the engine is off and the car is parked. A few treats can go a long way to reassure the little guy and get him comfortable with an automobile, just make sure you don't overdo it with the treats.
After a few practice sessions, repeat the routine with the engine running in a well-ventilated area (NOT in the garage!) Did your pup stay calm? If so, great! Just don't get all excited about how great he is doing and overly praise him. Do this and you may run the risk of teaching your little genius that this car stuff is a big deal, and we certainly don't want that.
To a puppy, a car should just be another area for snoozing or introspective world watching. If you are quiet and passive, the pup will take your lead and learn to relax.
While in the car, gently speak to your puppy. Sit quietly and try to show him that being in the car is normal and not a place for rope tugging, barking or games of "betcha-can’t-catch-me." Remember, you set the tone. If you have to assert yourself, do so.
However, this does not mean you should not assert yourself. Command your puppy to sit and stay; when he abides, reward your pup with small treats. This will reinforce proper and acceptable behavior in the car.
After a few days of sitting in a parked car with the engine running, it's time to strike out on that long ribbon of highway that leads right around the block and back into the driveway. The same rules apply: calm and collected demeanor shall prevail.
This is also a great opportunity to familiarize your puppy with a restraining device that will secure the pup in the seat and keep him safe. And no, your lap is not a secure place your puppy. Any indication that the pup wants to bark or climb through the window (they are closed, right?) to greet those moving trees, busses and other living creatures should be met with a firm command to "sit" and "stay". Proper behavior should be rewarded with a small treat.
In the beginning keep the trips short and be firm yet fair when disciplining your pup -- that is, if they misbehave. It's also important that you bring a helper for the driving lessons. A licensed driver should remain at the wheel while you conduct riding etiquette school.
If you have more than one puppy, do not try to teach them both at the same time. Their attention will be directed toward each other and not on you.
As the lessons progress the pup will get the idea that car trips are normal occurrences and not for their amusement. Even better, your puppy pal will be a pleasure to have in the car with you and won’t tell anyone about your off key sing-alongs to the radio.
Image: Ryan Carr / via Flickr