Any advice for a dog who is terrified to ride in the car?
There are many reasons why a dog might be terrified to ride in a car. First, and a common reason, is that they get carsick. Another is the fast motion of things passing by; cars, trees, houses, etc. Then there are unfamiliar external noises and a fourth reason can be, nowhere to hide.
You can first resolve the last possibility by trying a crate. Especially for those who regularly use a crate in daily life, this may solve it. Also check whether having it covered or open makes a difference. And slide that sun roof shade closed.
If that doesn’t fix it, then you are in for several weeks of deprogramming. This is done on a gradient and you must be patient and do all of the steps. Omitting some and jumping ahead could set you back and then a second attempt may not achieve the resolution.
You + dog go sit in the back seat of the car. Start with only 5 minutes or at least quit before any fear signs start. This is one-on-one interaction. Visiting, brushing, petting, giving snacks… This first go-round may be less productive than hoped because of what they expect to happen. Do this daily or at least every other day until pooch shows no concerns and is actually happy to be there. Could be days or could be weeks. Increase the length of time spent in the car, up to 20 minutes. Longer if you feel necessary.
Mastering Step 1 we are now ready to turn on the engine. Get in car as in Step 1 for a few minutes. Then start the car and return to the back seat for the same as done before. Continue this daily to every other day gradually increasing the time spent in the car until they are not concerned and somewhat relaxed about the whole scene. DO NOT use your high-pitched sympathy voice in an effort to calm them. Use a confident assured tone that you are in charge and all is going to be fine.
Same as Step 2 but after a few minutes in back seat you now move to the front seat, leaving the pooch alone where ever the riding position is going to be. If needed, repeat the same comforting phrases you found in Steps 1 and 2. Otherwise, have a conversation that will serve as a distraction. If this is not going well then back up and continue Step 2 a bit longer.
Now you will have everything set up as in Step 3 except that you will put the car in gear and move in and out of the driveway. But not leaving the driveway. Just reverse then forward. Wait a bit sitting there with engine on, then repeat. Figure out what is the right gradient for this. Continue for days or weeks until it is “no big deal.”
Around the block! Do not go too far. Make it a very short distance. Go, come home, get out, done. Repeat for days to weeks.
Around the block. Stop and get out for a bit. Do something fun. Keep it short. Get back in car and go home.
Gradually over time increase the distance gone, places visited, treats given, whatever your pooch believes made the car ride worthwhile. Including praise and hugs. Lots of them!