Scared of the Car. Will he ‘just get used to it?’. Maybe. Maybe not.


This could be due to motion sickness, to fear or to both. If the dog feels ill each time he travels, then that is enough to make him fearful of getting into it. If motion sickness is at the root of the problem, I suggest you have a word with your vet.

I am going to look into the fear aspect. As with everything to do with fear, in order to reduce fear we use systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning with no flooding (don’t panic!)


To work properly, you need to take NO CAR JOURNEYS until you reach the stage in your therapy process that he’s happy with it. If a total emergency, use another car so you don’t ‘contaminate’ the one you are working on.

Systematic desensitisation in this case means helping the dog to like the car at whatever DISTANCE is necessary.

Counter-conditioning in this case means, at that distance, to make positively GOOD things happen.

Flooding means forcing over the comfort threshold – too near and causing dog to panic or shut down.

Each dog and each case will be a bit different.

Step onto this ‘Progress Ladder’ on the step BEFORE your dog starts to worry. 

Make sure he is comfortable (harness, not head collar or slip lead). Do this little routine every time on your way out for a walk and when you come home. If you can fit in extra sessions you will make faster progress.

1. Walk around the car, dropping food as you go. If the dog prefers a ball, bounce the ball.If he won’t eat, you are already *too close*.

2. Open the car door – the one you want him to get into – leaving him in the house so that when you come out it is already open. Don’t try to get in. Carry on with number 1 but with the door open. You may need to move further away now.

3. Now walk near to the car. Place food on the bumper. Maybe just inside it. Perhaps put his ball just inside. This may be a big step so be ready to increase distance again.

4. When he’s happy with that, sit yourself in the car it the place you want him to go eventually, leaving the dog outside. DON’T ENTICE HIM IN!! He must choose. No pressure. Chuck him food from inside the car.

5. When he’s happy with that, place the food on the floor near you and just wait. If he doesn’t ump in to get, spend longer on the previous stage.

6. Now he’s happy sitting with you in the car – what next?

7. Shut the door briefly on the pair of you.

8. Get out and leave him there with door open. Feed. Call him out.

9. Same with door shut briefly.

10. Same but walk to the drivers door and open it before returning to him.

11. Now sit in driver’s seat. Chuck food if you can.

12. Now shut driver’s door. Food

13. Now start engine. Food. Sit there with engine running. Food.

14. Move a few inches. Stop engine. Etc. etc.

You get the picture?

When you are ready to take your first real journey, I suggest you park the car about twenty yards down the road and drive home. If he’s relaxed with this, do it a few times before driving away from your house.


If the barking at things moving past or outside, block his view. Use sun guards used for babies. If crate trained, his familiar crate in the boot may help.

If he needs to see you, maybe a hammock in the back seat and belted in. Bear in mind if motion sickness is involved he shouldn’t sway about.

Always open a window a little before slamming door. Dogs have sensitive ears and the build-up of compressed air effect may hurt or scare him.

PATIENCE WINS THE DAY! If you jump ahead you destroy the delicate trust you have been building up. The more he trusts you, the more progress you will make.


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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2 Responses to Scared of the Car. Will he ‘just get used to it?’. Maybe. Maybe not.

  1. Trish says:

    What if your dog passes all these stages and is ok in the car while driving but periodically whines and wants to sit on you as you drive. What do you suggest if they like the car, but crave attention almost.


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