There will come a time when you need to drive your dog or puppy somewhere. Maybe it will be the vet, or a friend's house; maybe the park, or the kennel. At some point, you'll need to make sure your puppy, and eventually your dog, knows what the car ride is...lots of fun!! It's important to properly socialize your puppy to the car to have life long fun experiences with them. Plus, the happier they are in the car, the more often you'll be able to travel with them.
Keep everything calm and positive. Your puppy will watch the way you react to situations as a cue to how they should react. If you are worried, anxious, excited, nervous, fearful, or stressed, your puppy will feel they need to be as well. Your lack of control of your own emotions could cause anxiety and fear of the car. If it helps, play some music that you find relaxing. Keep it at a reasonable volume...your puppy's ears are more sensitive than yours. Avoid stressful driving situations, especially in the beginning. If something scary happens, and you have to stop suddenly or even more horrible...there's an accident, remember to NOT coddle your puppy. This will only confirm for them that this is very scary. The less you react emotionally to the situation, the faster they will move past it. Give them something to do to distract them from their fear.
Think ahead! You want to be able to shape the car ride experience for an adult dog; your puppy will not stay a puppy for long. Think about when your puppy is full grown, and ask yourself a few questions. Will your dog be too big to sit in your lap? Where do you want your dog to ride? Will you have more additions to your family? How often is your dog going to need to ride with you? The more you plan long term for your dog starting with the puppy years, the fewer problems you will have with your dog as an adult.
Think about safety. I do have a blog post about car safety; however I wanted to make a small note about this here as well. Expose your puppy to a safety harness now, and use the seat belt to buckle them in. Your puppy is safest in the back seat, and if you choose to keep your puppy in the front seat, make sure you turn off the passenger air bag.
Keep it short and simple. When you're first introducing your puppy to the car, keep the car rides short. Focus on rides less than 15 min. Longer rides can cause motion sickness in your puppy causing them to have negative associations with the car. If you notice that your puppy is turning a little green around the 15 min mark, shorten the ride to 5 min or less. If it is unavoidable for your puppy to ride in the car for long periods of time, and you think your puppy may have a problem with motion sickness, talk with your vet about possible sedatives, or motion sickness medications.
Do it as often as possible. If you only take your puppy for rides when going to the vet, they will probably associate negative things with the car. Make sure you take your puppy for rides when the destination is somewhere fun! Ideally you should take your puppy for a short car ride 3-5 times a week, but if you're not able to get out that often, a minimum of once a week should help prevent your puppy from developing issues in the car as an adult. Places you should take your puppy include the park, pet store, a friend's house, or to run a quick errand. Just make sure if you leave your puppy alone in the car it is for a very short period of time, and not at all on a hot day.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have on this topic.
I wish you many happy travels with your happy sidekick riding along for many years to come!