MEL’S Q&A WITH SARAH: Our dog hates the car, how do we fix this before our baby arrives…

On the 1st of every month, I have decided to answer YOUR questions!

Today, Sarah is our lucky soon to be mum, who get’s her question answered. Her dog needs some help remaining calm in the car. Sarah is nervous about what will happen when she adds a baby into the mix.


Cooper and his friends looking very happy in the boot of my car. This is what we want to happen with Sarah’s dog, Ruger.


“Hi, my husband and I are expecting a little girl in mid June. We currently have a very loved Kelpie cross, Ruger, who has been number 1 in our family for 3 years. He is walked off leash daily but has a very strong personality and some naughty traits we just can’t get rid of, even after much research and trial. He absolutely loves playing with the 6 and 4 year old girls next door. He is horrible in the car. He has never had a bad experience in the car and car rides always end with a positive occasion yet he cries, paces and barks (high pitched) the entire trip. When visiting my family 5 hours away it is pure hell. He does not stop for hours. I have been angry and stern and have tried calm and supportive. Remaining calm seems to help but he never stops. He is harnessed in but tangles himself at times and it becomes so stressful to me, it can be dangerous. The odd thing is that when returning home from somewhere he is generally quiet. Long trips he will have episodes but it isn’t constant. We have tried exhausting him beforehand and it helps a little but still continues. He is not scared of the car. He is happy to jump in at any opportunity.

Do you have any advice for us as the only other options I have been told of is to sedate him but that can have an opposite affect. I don’t want him doing it with a baby in the car and leaving him at home is not always an option.”

Kelpie who doesn't like car rides

Sarah and her partner with Ruger


First off, well done for taking the steps to fix this. Avoiding car trips with your dog is not the answer. Making car trips a positive experience, is the answer. Just be aware, that this is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some work. Lucky you still have time before bubs arrives, as there is nothing worse than a screaming baby when you drive (yes I have dealt with that plenty of times with mine) plus an anxious dog on top of that!


My dog, Cooper in the car with Harper and Paxton.

Start Slow, Be Patient and Remain Calm.

 You can’t rush this. First you need to start off by getting Ruger to jump in the car with you every day. Start slow. Don’t harness him to begin. Just get him sitting in the car and praise him. Do nothing, besides reward him if he’s calm. If he reacts already, ignore it. Ignore the bad and reward the good/calm. Make sure to have treats with you – something extra special (sausage, chicken, cheese). Once he has this with no problems, build up from it. You sit in the front seat with him in the back. Then build up to sitting in the car and just putting the engine on. Still going nowhere. Put his harness on, and repeat, sit in the car with no engine on. Then try the engine on with the harness on. Do each of these things one at a time, get it right, with Ruger being calm, before moving to the next stage. Treat it as a 5 min training session each day or twice a day if you have the time. Always making it positive. Keep going like this, until you can actually start driving the car. But when you start driving the car, start out small. Just to the end of the drive way and then back for a big treat.


Make the experience and the destination positive.

Start out by only taking him to places he loves. Dogs often become anxious of car rides because often car rides are just a trip to the Vet or to be Groomed etc, things your dog may not like so much. With the information you have given me, it sounds like this is what’s going on with Ruger as he doesn’t seem to be as stressed when he’s on the way home. More when he’s on the way to somewhere he doesn’t know. So, once you have built Ruger up to be able to go on little car rides, you want to start building up the car trips. But make sure to start out by only taking him to his favourite places; the park, the beach, for a play date with a friend, anywhere you know that Ruger loves. Start out with the ones that are the closest distance to home. He needs to learn that the destination is going to be a good one and is not something to be stressed or anxious about.


Build him up to longer car trip.

The big test will then be that 5 hour drive to your parents. So this is what we are building him up to. Even if it means that your hubby drives and you sit in the back to give positive reinforcements along the way. Work on all of this consistently, everyday with him before bub comes. Starting with shorter rides and building up to longer ones. Always thinking about remaining calm and positive. Ignoring the bad.


Exercise Before long car rides when you can.

Obviously you’re not going to exercise your dog before taking him in the car to the dog beach or to the dog park. But before a 5 hour long trip to your parents, this could be a really good idea to get out some of Ruger’s energy. It might be worth looking at the type of exercise he is getting. You mentioned that you exercise Ruger off-lead every day. What some people don’t realise is that a dog being on lead can actually be more mentally and physically tiring for them. Off-lead is great, but not all the time. Why don’t you try some on-lead walks with him? Take him for a long and slow walk. Let him sniff around. Dogs can learn so much by using their noses, and it’s important to let them. Even an on-lead run if your hubby wants the exercise. Maybe giving him a bit of variety and also some really good mental stimulation for home as well, could help release some of his energy. Hide and Seek games, tug of war, those treat dispenser toys where they have to work to get the food out, etc.

The Dog having a swim

Ruger getting out for some exercise

Sarah, I hope this has answered your question… I am sorry that it’s not going to be a quick fix. You will have to put in the time. Try your best to be calm and patient. It will be totally worth it in the long run! However, as I usually mention in my posts, it is hard for me to see the full picture of what is going on through emails, so it still might be worth organising to have a dog behaviourist or trainer come out and assess the situation in person. Also, if you are worried about some of his other naughty behaviours/ quirks, I do suggest having a professional come out to your house to really get Ruger ready before the new arrival. Good luck! Please get in touch if there is something else I can help you with. I would love to hear how you go so please keep us up to date with your progress.


My dog, Cooper, looking very relaxed, playing in the boot of my car with my kids, Harper and Paxton. Hopefully, Ruger will get to this stage too.

How YOU can Get Involved with Mel’s Q&A’s

Please feel free to comment below with your questions or get in touch via email mel@cooperandkids.com. I would love for you to send me through 3-4 questions you may have about your kids/babies/mumlife/dogs and if you get lucky, I will feature your questions in a blog post on my website!


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Mel xox


PS. This article was first published on Mamamia!

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. I will not be liable for anything that happens to your dog or children by following my advice and tips. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog and/or safety of your children, please seek out a professional to come and assess the situation.




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  1. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Great post! We have also found giving rescue remedy which is a natural calming product that you can get from the pet shop to be really helpful.
    We give it about 30 mins before going for long car trips and it helps chill our boy out heaps!
    This is just a band aid though also need to do the training mentioned in the post to really overcome the issue 🙂