Petrified Of Cars


Well-Known Member
I am brand new to the site and essentially brand new to dog ownership. This is a bit of a long thread as I would like to explain as much as possible about my dog's little problem.
I 'adopted' an 8 month old female standard poodle name Zou from my father (aka: took off his hands); she came with a number of little tics. She is gentle and very cautious, knows some basic commands (sit, down, paw . . . a little bit of stay/wait and drop it, though she doesn't do those ones well), and is okay on the leash.
I am going to introduce clicker training shortly (just learned about it and am excited to learn with Zou!) to help with all sorts of training fun.
This may not be a "stop behavioural problem" thread . . . but the main thing I'd like to work on (as well as other little bits of fun and strengthening her basic commands) is getting her into the car. She is downright PETRIFIED of cars. On walks she skulks away from cars as far as the leash will let her, buckles and freezes when cars drive by, try sprint past parked cars, or will even try to flee from bigger trucks/buses. ((On a side note, I recently noticed this behaviour has translated itself onto pretty much anything with wheels: bikes, roller blades, even old folks with walkers)).
She refuses to be led in or near my car on the leash and I have to pick her up and plop her in the front if we have to go somewhere by car (we have been walking pretty much everywhere, upwards of 1.5 hours across town, unless it's a long drive). Once in a car, she buckles up and lays down and drools heavily the entire ride. Far far to overstimulated to take a treat to try to make the experience enjoyable.

I had thought the problem was partially "under-exposure" - my father lives in the country and cars rarely go by - and partially negative associations - anytime she got in a car she was probably put in (likely against her will) and then she went somewhere unpleasant (vet, groomers, etc.). I have had Zou for a little over a month (she's almost 9mo old now) and I live in the suburbs, so she is exposed to seeing and hearing cars a lot more on walks. She has gotten a bit better around cars: she will still skulk and sometimes try to flee, but I try to keep moving forward and she is slightly less distracted by vehicles now.
I have started to give a treat to her when we pass cars, but am sometimes off with my timing, can't get a treat ready quick enough when a car comes up behind us or around a corner towards us, and feel like I might be half-reinforcing her to walk ahead of me as I lure her forward past the cars. I have also taken to petting her a lot and talking playfully to her in the car when we must be in one, but am also a little nervous that is reinforcing her fearful behaviour.

A dog that is so terrified of cars is a sad sight indeed. As much as I enjoy walking her there's only so far before it's too tiring on both of us, nevermind the fact that walking most anywhere in a city involves walking past cars! I'd love to be able to help her get over this fear so we can hop in the car and go to the woods, the beach, or even just visit friends without having to break out my track gear.

If anyone has any general suggestions for the car fear, on clicker training in general, or on clicker training her into 'forgetting' her fear that would be great!


Honored Member
Hmm, have hope, i think this is solvable. For real, i do think this can be helped.
I myself might not be able to give you the help you need, but, i do think this can be made better.

Here's what i'd try, but stand by for better advice:

First you might want to attempt getting dog calm NEXT to the car.
THIS video POSSIBLEY, you could use that idea to just get dog used to being NEXT TO CAR, PRIOR to ever putting dog IN the car...?

then, i'd try this:
I would lure dog into car with treat, using bits of cooked liver. If dog will not get into car on his own, i would lift dog into car. I'd yawn at the dog, offer slow blinks, (dog language for "calm down")
and then we'd get back out of car, and go play. NO driving, nothing, just sit in car for a moment or two, relax dog if you can, and get back out.

Each day, or every few hours--- i'd repeat that. If you can catch your dog acting CALM inside the car, give treats, massage, love. Otherwise, sit beside him, yawning, deep sighs, slow blinks, tell him a boring story in a calm voice, and get back out.

Once dog is calm just to be INSIDE car, then, i'd ask someone else to drive the car, whil e i sit beside the dog and yawn, slow blinks, and give treats for any calm behavior you can capture. Just to end of driveway,and then, you are done, go play with dog.
Each day, going a bit further in the driven car, til dog is ever calm in driving car.


Honored Member
This one, *might* be helpful for when your dog starts to react to the sight of bikes, etc, having dog focus on YOU, and then rewarding that focus on you...?
not any rate, stand by, someone will be along who has had this problem!!


Honored Member
In my opinion, *you* will want to get knowledgable about helping a dog get over fears, and not leave it entirely up to a trainer, but, *IF* you do decide to enlist the help of a trainer, i hope you choose a "positive" only trainer, and NOT one that uses punishment.
Lol, some of us here on DTA have used trainers that did not DO what they SAID they do. I'd strongly encourage you to WATCH a training session prior to letting the person anywhere near your dog.
(we've got some stories around here of trainers who SAID they do not use pain or fear as a training method, but, did anyway).

I'd encourage you to look for "positive" only trainers who do NOT use fear, yanking collars, "alpha rolls", yelling at dogs, nor any form of scaring or hurting your dog, and no shock collars, either, of course.

Trainers come in all types, as do behaviorists.
Kikopup, in the videos above, is a "positive only" trainer. She never hits the dog, never scares or hurts the dog, etc etc. That is the style of trainer you hope to find, IF you DO look for outside help.

Be aware, anyone can hang out a dog trainer or dog behaviorist sign, and take your money. Anyone, even your plumber. NO credentials required, is no law against this in most parts of most countries.

There ARE certified dog trainers and dog behaviorists.
BUT there are some certified behaviorists, who *will* use shock collars and the like, which, most of us here are against hurting or scaring dogs. You really just have to observe the trainer yourself.

Not all trainers and not all behaviorists *are* positive only, but, the trainers from the sites below are wayyy more likely to be positive only.

Not that a piece of paper/certificate *is* necessary to have skill and insight into helping dogs--------- we all know ppl who are excellent at training dogs who are self educated and have no certificate,
and we all know certified trainers who we would never allow to touch our dogs, you really just have to WATCH a session to see what methods that particular trainer uses.


Honored Member
Still, i think you might get most benefit from self-educating your own self to be able to help your dog overcome this fear, since you are the one WITH the dog the most, and all dogs ARE individuals, etc, and you will be able to best observe if some method is or is not helping your dog. HANG IN THERE, and do not give up, i DO think you can help this dog become his best self.

Here is "positive only" Kikopup clicker-training her own dog to overcome a fear of slick floors, you *might* be able to modify this method to help your dog overcome his fear of cars??

Hayley Thompson

Well-Known Member
Although I don't have the exact situation I do have one opposite yet somewhat similar! LOL Riley loooooves going for car rides, however her excitement in the car is completely vocal, loud barking in your ear, and gets fixated on watching cars pass by jumping up to the back window to watch them pass. The thing I have been doing for EVERY single car ride that we go on is to have a bag of treats with us and ignore all barking and loud behaviour, I will not even talk to my boyfriend if he is in the car with me and Riley is barking, we just drive in silence as if she were not with us until the moment she is quiet, she then gets a very calm good girl and treats. When she is barking however, I will just hold my hand out with a treat and like your dog Riley gets too over stimulated to the point where she wont take a treat, so I just hold out my hand until she is comfortable and will take the treat, eating=no barking, so she gets tons, one after another and a calm good girl. I felt like this was my big breakthrough with Riley as well, the first few rides she wouldnt take treats at all but I would still always hold my hand out with a treat, the minute she took one, she got as many as she would take one after another, and now on car rides the first minute she may not take a treat but after that she will.

One thing we were doing and it is kind of stupid in hindsight is reaching into the bag grabbing one treat giving it to her, reaching in again, grabbing one and giving it to her, until we realized that she will time when she takes the treat so she can still jump up to the back window to watch a car pass, so then we started to take almost a full handful of treats and let her nibble at them to keep her focus until a car passes, it was much easier to keep her attention while a car was passing if I already had the treats in my hand, rather than try to compete with a car for her attention at the exact same time. This sounds like it might help you on walks when you feel your timing is off, it sounds like my exact situation, so just have a bunch in your hands always ready to offer her.

I also had Grant stand outside of the car one day while she was in the backseat power feeding her treats while I ran around the car like a crazy woman while shouting, skipping, tossing things in the air, etc. and she was rewarded for calm behaviour.

Also I have found that a tired dog in a car is a good dog, car rides to somewhere were always difficult but the car ride home was always pleasant as she was too tired out and had de-stressed from the walk or swim we had just come from.

I had put my concern on a thread here before and I think it was tx (forgive me if it was someone else!) that had mentioned that one idea I could try would be to cover all windows with a sheet and reward calm behaviour with taking down the sheet so she could slowly get used to the stimulating environment outside and realize that if she wants a great view she must be quiet and relaxed. I didn't get to try this though however, as she has been getting much better with us power feeding the treats to her when she will relax enough to take them.

Also we make sure she is not in the car right after a full stomach or on a completely empty stomach as she had gotten car sick once when she was a pup. I also varry the length of car rides that we go on, I was on vacation for about 2 weeks and took her for a car ride almost every day, some just down the road, others a little longer, nothing over 30 minutes in the car though, and that really seemed to help a lot!

I wish I could help you more with your dogs fear though, sadly mine is just over excitment...wanna trade dogs for a day? lol Id love a quiet doggy in the car!!!


Well-Known Member
Thanks for all the feedback.
Luring her would work, tigerlily, IF I could get her within 10 feet of my car! She isn't food motivated enough to get tricked into going near the car - once she sees me with a treat and backing towards the car, she heads off in the other direction and wont even look at me until she's positively convinced we aren't going in the car. She's even taken to hiding when I start packing up her stuff to go away for the weekend and she knows a car ride is coming. A VERY strong car aversion.
I have started small and I am giving her treats for essentially every single car we pass on the street on our walks.
Baby steps.


Honored Member
I like the treats for looking at passing cars, hopefully, for calmly looking at passing cars.
Yes, yes, you WILL have to start at HER comfort zone. I did this with my dog's fear of other dogs, and we had to start at over 300 feet away!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! we could barely SEE the other dog!!!!!

.....but, he got the idea soon enough, "I look at the scarey dog, i get a treat, i'm safe, we leave."

It *might* not help, but, worth a try, beginning where SHE is comfortable, and slowly, knocking off a foot a day or so. Worth a of luck!! The whole idea is to desensitize her slowly, and eventually, help her begin a new association of cars while learning to be calm by cars--------"i see cars, i am calm, i get treats, and i'm safe."

you will reward for her for looking AT the car,
not at you.

It won't happen overnight.

It will take time.
ALSO------------you may want to try some calming signals from HER own language. Like, as she sits by the car (at whatever distance she needs to be calm)
you will offer her SLOW BLINKS, YAWNS, deep sighs, (that is saying "calm down" in HER language, she WILL know exactly what you just said, cuz that is HER language)----------------->
and maybe massage her lil back, if she likes massages.

also, what you use for the treat matters. Have you tried liver? For many dogs, liver is like some kind of ultimate thing. I have recipe posted somewhere for cheap, easy, healthy liver cookies...i have yet to meet or hear of a dog who didn't go crazynuts for my "Liver Cookies" recipe. worth a try...???

when i posted the recipe here on DTA--------- i forgot to add in one instruction, is, you really should sort of flatten the dropped dough down a bit, so they will cook through to the centers...
here is the recipe, back then, i called it "hiding veggies" treats,
but now i call them "Liver Cookies".


Hi! It sounds like you have quite an adventure on your hands! :)

My dog can be the same way in new situations -- he justs shuts down because he is so shy. My recommendation for your dilemma is to really start building up this incredibly good association with cars for her. That being said, it sounds like you have been doing a good job of building that association already. But, I would even take it a step further. Have a friend come over one day with their car and use it as a tool. I wouldn't suggest a training/desensitizing on a walk, because there is already so much more stimulation going on with other dogs, new smells, etc.

Have your girl ready even when your friend is pulling up. When you hear the sound of the car, immediately give her a treat. Treat over and over. Instead of the car pulling in, just have them drive by your house. When it drives by, immediately give her a treat. Repeat this until she is comfortable with the car pulling in the driveway.

When the vehicle is able to pull in and she isn't maximizing the length of the leash, start marking (clicking) if she looks at the car. The really good thing you want to look for is her looking at the car, and then looking at you. This is her way of asking you, "Am I doing this right?"Once she realizes that all she has to do is look at the car, then you will be able to walk a little bit closer. Keep doing the "looking" exercises until you're right up next to the car.

If once you move too quickly and she become apprehensive or shuts down, stop the training session. Since we are desensitizing, we want to make this experience as positive as possible. When she calms down (it may just be good to go ahead and wait until the next day) then you can pick up where you left off and once she is able to be right up next to the car and comfortable, open the door. When you open the door, give her a treat. We want to make everything that you do on a daily basis with a car a happy and exciting thing!

Repeat this process with anything else she has caution with (you mentioned bikes, roller blades, etc.). All I ask you is to keep it positive and to keep yourself relaxed. She'll read signals from you: if you're calm, she may calm down a bit. If you're anxious about how it's going to work out, she'll get all worked up.

I wish my absolute best of luck to you! Remember that Poodles are the #2 smartest dog breed!

*** if this solution is unsuccessful, then I highly reccomend professional help, making sure all they use is positive reinforcement (no shock collars, kicking, prong collars, NOTHING).


Well-Known Member
She still hates car rides. Still drools like crazy when in cars. Still bucks and skulks every now and then . . . .but!
Zou has gotten into the car maybe 10 times now on her own . . . granted that only happens if I'm sitting in the back and encouraging her to pieces and she's on leash.
Better than nothing I suppose?

Thanks to all who replied.


Honored Member
Drooling in cars is a sign of nausea.
Dogs who get carsick do best in front seat, facing forward, window cracked open, same as carsick humans.

Looking out side windows is the worst for such dogs, makes them more nauseous..

I really have no idea what all to do to reduce nausea in carsick dogs, you might want to ask your vet. Buddy gets nauseauos if he is in car, on full stomach, in the back seat, for a long long long ride.
otherwise, he is okay.

but Buddy does fine in the front seat , facing forwards, on emtpy stomach.

//"Zou has gotten into the car maybe 10 times now on her own . . . granted that only happens if I'm sitting in the back and encouraging her to pieces and she's on leash."//

THAT IS MARVELOUS!!:D CONGRATS!! You are doing something right here, Ark! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!! don't give up now that you are making progress! yes, yes, doing this in increments, in steps. Overtime, you can probably advance, to you in front seat, but for now, dog getting inside car with you in the back seat is great progress! This won't be cured overnight, in one fell swoop, you are heading right direction.

No harm in continuing to practice this excercise with Zou!! Even if no ride is planned, just the in/out + praise, to continue to give Zou positive experiences.


Congratulations!! The key to this is persistence, and also making sure that she has nothing but good things when in the car (or even around the car). Dogs never give up on us, so we shouldn't give up on them.


Well-Known Member
Going to have to disagree on the nausea, though I'm not 100% sure . . . she is OK in boats and canoes and the like, which indicates its not the motion she dislikes.
It's the car: she will hide when she see's me packing up for a long car ride.

She got in the car again tonight "on her own" . . . I had her on the lead, sat in the car, encouraged every little movement or investigation of the car, and oddly enough and to tell her "going home" to engage the whole process of trying to climb in the car.


Well-Known Member
Oh and I had previously spoken to my vet about motion sickness and he said for a dog my size (~45lbs) half a Gravol 30 minutes before the car ride will help.

Well sure she didn't throw up on those trips, but she still drooled and hid and skulked. She also developed a firm aversion to cheese, which was my main pill-delivery-vessel.
. . but it might help with Buddy?


Honored Member
OH, i don't give Buddy pills for his signs of nausea in the car, cuz Buddy is okay if he is FRONT seat,
or------------- if he has his face pointing fwds out the window from backseat,
if the trip is less than 20 or 30 minutes. If Buddy will be in car >30 minutes,
i pull over and walk him around. <---This works just fine for my dog.
He no longer yawns and drools.

I also, as much as possible, try to avoid having him in car right after he's eaten. My dog does WAYYYYYYYYYY better on empty stomach in the car, way way better, so i plan out his car trips/meals in co-ordination, with meals always FOLLOWING the trip, not preceding it, as much as possible.

I'm generally against medicating dogs (or humans) unless there is just no other choice,
as every single pill in the entire world --whether for humans or for dogs----has side effects, whether you see the side effects or not, 'something' besides the desired effect is also going on. So for me, pills are absolute last resort.

Drooling and yawning may be signs a dog is queasy: (my dog is also fine in boats, cannoes, as it is open air, and he does tend to face fwd. For some reason, facing fwd really helps dogs who get a lil queasy in cars)
I found this out, when i got curious, why Buddy drooled on long car rides, and i typed in "dog drools in car" once long ago, and many many many sites popped up, telling me it may be the dog is nauseous. Buddy also yawns excessively on long car rides.

Precursors to vomiting may include salivation and yawning as well as rapid panting and pacing."//
  • SIGNS OF NAUSEA IN DOGS:censored: :
  • Inactivity
  • Listlessness
  • Uneasiness
  • Yawning
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting<-----------(vomitting is the LAST sign, absolute LAST sign...)
BUT yeah, my dog is also fine in boats, cannoes,​
as it is open air,​
and he does tend to face fwd.​
Buddy just never ever drools and yawns in boats​
and he is in boats all the time. If Buddy is in a yacht, or any boat with cabins/rooms, even inside a ferry boat, etc, if Buddy is "indoors" in a boat, he begins to yawn and drool.​
Buddy is also fine in convertible cars,:) which are open air.
For some reason, facing fwd really helps dogs who get a lil queasy in cars. Looking out the windows as seeing objects go by sideways, apparently makes this worse for dogs.​
Too bad your dog now seems to associate cheese with cars???​
If your dog truly needs a pill,
you could also try wrapping it in "lunchmeat", toss him 1, 2 balls of lunchmeat, and 3rd one, has pill in it. Or ham, push pill into piece of ham, or hotdogs.​
BUT ARK, it sounds like you ARE making progress, YAY, GREAT JOB, ARK!! Keep up the progress. You *may* want to consider, just walking your dog every 15 minutes to prevent your dog drooling, (works for *my* dog anway and makes trip more fun for the dog) as well as making sure​
he is either in front seat,​
or has face out the window from back seat.​
or lol, GET A CONVERTIBLE!!:rolleyes: hee hee!​


Well-Known Member
A convertible would work...if it wasn't winter in Canada right now (albeit a very mild one).

I'm not really into medicating my dog either but I also am not into cleaning up dog vomit from my seats. I've learned to not go for a car ride within 2 hours of my dog eating so don't use the Gravol anymore.


Honored Member
one more thing, you might want to try, (i did this with Buddy with some of his fears when we first adopted him)
have one of Zou's canine pals, that Zou enjoys, take a ride with Zou, even a lil short one just around the block. Dogs can and do imitate each other. Lol, of course, i mean a dog who truly enjoys:D car rides. *Might* be worth a shot. Let them hang their heads out the window.
(if these dogs are not jumpers, lol.)

A few things that i was trouble with helping Buddy learn are "not scarey", i had one of his few canine pals come over and demonstrate how fun that thing is.
helped my dog, anyway. After all my efforts, one (1) dog cured Buddy of his fear of this or that.
in one (1) day.:rolleyes:

i so celebrate Zou getting in car on her own! WHOOOT!

(also i wonder, if Zou now associates cheese with nausea? hope not, could be wrong, but if everytime you were queasy, and the taste of cheese rolling up your throat happened, maybe that *might* ruin your urge to eat idea, just wondering..)