Good manners in the car are important for dogs and puppies to learn for both safety and to make life easier.
If you live in an area where you rely on cars and other vehicles for your transportation needs, it’s helpful for you to teach car manners and safe habits to your young Labrador Retriever as soon as possible.
Here we explain how to train your puppy to ride in the car, no matter where you’re starting from.
The Importance of Good Car Behavior for Dogs
We once adopted a rescue Labrador weighing nearly 100 lbs. who was fully grown, adorable, and also completely untrained.
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Upon starting the car ride home from his foster family in Florida, it became apparent that our wonderful boy had never been trained to ride in a car, and had no idea what behavior was expected of him.
He immediately began to howl, bark, and jump on every occupant in the vehicle, including the driver. He turned on the hazard flashers, rolled down a power window, humped a dog bed, and scratched the seats.
While this may sound hilarious, it’s actually really dangerous and was more than a bit scary to experience.
Having a 90+ lb large breed dog jumping all around the interior of your vehicle and climbing on the driver is unsafe and frightening. And forget trying to order anything at the drive-thru with that chaos going on!
Fortunately, we were experienced with the ways of the Labrador Retriever, and had brought along some additional products in preparation for this possibility. We pulled over the vehicle, set up a travel crate as a temporary solution inside the car, put him inside, and continued along on the drive.
We’re all still alive now thanks to that little bit of advance planning.
However, it immediately became clear that one of the first things we were going to need to work on with our new Lab was to establish clear boundaries and rules for safe car-riding behavior.
Training your dog to ride safely in the car keeps your focus on the road as the driver, and allows the other occupants in your car to stay safe as well.
Having good car manners allows your dog to remain calm and under control and be transported to necessary events like vet appointments or dog training classes safely.
Having your dog be reliably good as a car rider is more fun for you and your dog too. It allows your dog to go along on more family outings, such as school drop-off and pickup, curbside pickup orders, and getting wonderful drive-up treats like the Starbucks Puppuccino.
Your dog has a more enjoyable experience as a member of the family and gets to go along with you and your family members for more dog-safe outings (such as dog parks) when they are taught how to behave appropriately in a car.
If you love outdoor adventures, having a well-mannered Labrador in the car can mean they’re able to join you when you head out for hiking, fishing, camping, hunting, and other outdoor experiences that Labradors were bred for.
When to Start Puppy Car Training
If using a car for transportation is something you do often in your life, then start teaching the behavior you want to see in your dog right away.
Labs are intelligent dogs and are usually very trainable and fast learners. Though it may take some consistency and frequency from you at first, it shouldn’t take long for your curious Lab to pick up on the expectations of safe car-riding behavior, even as a puppy.
You can begin teaching your new Lab puppy to ride safely in a car starting from the day you pick them up to bring them home to you.
In fact, many Labs do very well at first on their initial car rides at 7-8 weeks of age, when they are first leaving their litter and mother dog and heading to their new home with you.
Labrador puppies are often quiet and somewhat subdued when leaving the litter behind for the first time, so they are sometimes very easy to manage and handle on these first rides home.
It’s later on that you may have more of a challenge as they get bigger and more vocal, unless you keep training for good, safe car behavior consistently.
Don’t wait until right before a road trip, long drive, or a driving vacation that you’re taking your dog along with you on to start training good car manners. Plan ahead to give your dog or puppy time to adjust to new expectations.
How to Teach Good Puppy Car Manners
Sometimes new Lab puppy parents will bring their pup home in the car and (other than a wellness check at the vet) not bring the dog back out on another car ride for weeks and weeks again.
This can actually work against you, because there are a lot of tremendous changes that occur in the first few weeks and months of a Labrador puppy’s life, and your dog is very impressionable.
Instead, provide consistency by taking your puppy on occasional drives, even if you don’t really have any destination intended. It can be a quick drive around the neighborhood, or to a park or school, or even just a nearby parking lot.
You don’t even have to get out of the car, just expose your dog to the consistent routine of what happens on a car ride.
At first, depending on the temperament of your dog, you may hear a bit of whining, barking, or whimpering from your pup. This is normal puppy behavior when they are unsure or uncertain of a new situation. Keep comforting them and reassuring them, and continue on your short drive.
Keep these first car rides short, calm, and mellow. Don’t have loud music, food in the car, or an overstimulating environment, all of which can stress or distract your learning puppy.
Once your vet has approved your puppy to be around other dogs (usually after their 16-week old vaccinations) you can take a car ride and venture carefully into places like pet stores for a short adventure.
Remember to make sure your dog has had a checkup with your vet and the appropriate vaccinations your vet recommends before you take them on a doggie adventure around other dogs.
The goal for training your dog to ride in the car is to keep both the dog and the human occupants of the car safe, while keeping your dog calm and under control.
The best way to teach this is to make the car a familiar place, like an extension of your home environment, where consistently positive experiences are made and continued. Your puppy will learn that the car starts, drives, stops, and eventually returns home, and that someone from the family stays with the dog on these rides.
We suggest you continue to take your puppy on short drives every few days to reinforce the familiarity of the car and what behavior is expected. Always keep your puppy with you and do not leave them alone in the car.
A note about safety: Please don’t leave your adorable Lab puppy alone or unsupervised in a car or any vehicle. A car’s interior can rise to extremely dangerous temperatures on a hot or sunny day, which can kill your dog. Unsupervised Lab puppies in vehicles are also prone to other dangers, such as potty accidents, chewing or destroying the interior of your car, or being stolen out of your vehicle.
Looking for a place besides the pet store that you can take your Lab for both car ride training and an indoor adventure? Check out our article on 7 Dog-Friendly Stores Where Labs Are Welcome.
Where Your Dog Should Ride
Think about your vehicle and which location makes the most sense for your puppy to ride. How many people do you usually have in your car? Is it just you, or do you have kids in car seats? Do you have a sedan or large SUV or minivan?
The best thing you can do for training your Lab puppy to have good car manners is to be consistent. You want to select a place for your puppy to ride and consistently put them in the same seat every time.
For example, if you have children and they ride in car seats, you are consistent about always putting them in “their seat” in their particular place in your vehicle. If you tried putting your kids in different car seats every time you drove somewhere, it would be not only unsafe, but also a huge hassle, and you’d be fighting never-ending battles over who is sitting where!
It’s the same with dogs: teach your puppy where you want them to ride and in which location of your car you want them to sit. You can occasionally make adjustments, but for the most part, try to be consistent on this. It will help your puppy understand expectations faster.
Some people love to put their puppies up front, either on their lap or on the passenger seat. While this results in a lot of adorable cuteness, it can also be a huge distraction to the driver.
Remember, puppies grow quickly, and Labrador Retrievers get to be large dogs very rapidly. Soon your little Lab puppy will be a 50-80 lb dog (or more) in a matter of months, and what are you going to do when they still want to ride in your lap while you’re driving?
We recommend you put your puppy in the backseat for safety (both yours and your dog’s).
Products to Help Car Training
There are a few training products you can get either online or in a pet store that can help train your dog to ride in the car safely.
Those include car harnesses, hammocks, car gates, and tether systems. You can either get them when your puppy is young and start using them right away, or wait to see how responsive to training your Lab is based on their temperament.
Even if your Lab is taught good car manners, using a car harness can also keep your dog in one place should you stop suddenly, brake hard, swerve, or maneuver to avoid an accident.
Some of the car harness manufacturers claim to have crash-tested their products for certain weights of dogs as well, so you’ll want to research that carefully.
We’ve found with some Labs we’ve had (such as our big rescue boy above) that the use of harnesses and car tethers helps them with impulse control and over-excitement in the car, especially preventing a case of the Dog Zoomies.
It also helps to keep them from climbing out the window at the Starbucks drive-thru!
Summary: How to Train Your Puppy to Ride in the Car
Good manners in the car are important for dogs to learn for both safety reasons and to have more fun for both you and your dog.
It’s more enjoyable when you can take a well-mannered dog along for a car driving vacation, a playdate with other dogs, errands to dog-friendly stores, or on an adventure inside a store that welcomes canine guests.
Be consistent and patient in training your Lab puppy or dog for safe car behaviors, and soon they’ll be able to join you on many of your out-of-the-house adventures.