Driving Miss Crazy – Car Rides Column

Dogs and Car Rides

My 2 year snoodle loves to go for car rides but by the time we have gone half a block she goes nuts. She wants to be on the drivers lap, she howls and barks and carries on and is extremely distracting and embarrassing. My family lives out side the city and Maggie loves it out there but its too stressful taking her. Can you give me any suggestions?


Hi Connie,

If it’s out of control joy as opposed to being frantic with fear she has probably learned to associate car rides with the canine equivalent of picking up lottery winnings. Technically speaking you’re supposed to deal with a dog like this by only rewarding calm behavior which in the real world means that the winnings would never get claimed as no one other than crazy dog trainers have that kind of time.

My dad had his own way of settling my siblings and I down on car rides whenever a squabble arose over something like rights to some piece of back seat real estate. It involved an abrupt application of the brakes which in pre-seat belt days tended to clear our ears well enough to hear what he had to say about who actually owned the back seat and the importance of a driver’s attentiveness to the road. Failing that he’d pull over for a friendly road side “chat.” These were generally very short “chats”. You probably need to have a chat with Maggie but if you haven’t taught her to take in your wisdom in less stimulating environs a moving car is not the place to start.

Don’t worry, every dog has a “lose its mind” button and Maggie’s just happens to be car rides. It wouldn’t matter if it was squirrels, guests at the front door, real or imagined threats from another dog, the solution is the same, start small and work up. Start by teaching Maggie to settle/stay around nothing in particular back home and leave her leash on while you’re doing it. Then add levels of difficulties like when you’re eating, putting your shoes on, going up or down stairs, in or out doors. Think of the car ride as the final destination and all the little household “stays” as rest stops.

In the mean time, if at all possible, avoid trips in the car with her until you can get and keep her attention around minor distractions. When you make it up to the car you’re going to need two people, one to steer the car and the other to steer Maggie in the right direction. If you’ve taken your time and laid a good foundation the car part will then be easy.

Although most of us allow it, even well behaved dogs really shouldn’t be free to bounce around inside a vehicle. The obvious reason in your case is the risks associated with wrestling an “Are we there yet!” dog for control of the steering wheel but even so the last thing anyone needs is to get into an accident and have a doggie missile hitting them or the kids in the back of the head. For the safety of people and the dogs themselves dogs should be as restrained as any other passenger. There are seat belt attachments and other restraints designed to accommodate dogs.

I have a short step by step article on how to get a dog to stay for anyone that needs to learn how to gradually put the brakes on a dog with a “button”. I’ll send it out to subscribers in my next newsletter.

Pawsitively yours,

John Wade

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2 thoughts on “Driving Miss Crazy – Car Rides Column”

  1. Cameo Franz

    I am relocating 1100 miles away. My Maltipoo (2) is hyper in the car and barks at windshield wipers. I love her so much but I fear this trip will not only make me crazy, her frantic and also be dangerous driving on I-10. Please advise.

    1. Hi Cameo,

      I’m not sure what your time line is. If the move is imminent you may find talking to your veterinarian worthwhile regarding using a tranquilizer. From a training perspective; before attempting to modify any dog’s behavior when that behaviour is one of agitation consider how successful you have been in the past getting the dog to respond to simple commands without the stimulation of the wipers. If you’re not getting good results there it’s probably better to start with the basics and work up to the distractions.


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