Puppy’s First Car Journey

How to make your puppy’s first car journey happy and safe.

Here's an in-depth guide on how to transport your puppy in the car.

How you transport your puppy on their first car journey is such an important thing to consider. While having your puppy suitably restrained is a legal requirement in the UK, we must also remember that they are leaving their mum, siblings, and everything they know behind. So how do you make your puppy’s first journey is as positive for them as possible while also keeping them safe?

And how do you get your puppy used to car travel so that traveling with a puppy by car is a positive experience for the long haul?

Your puppy’s first journey is their first step into their life with you. We want them to be safe and as emotionally supported as possible so that their first associations with car travel are positive, paving the way for a dog who is comfortable and confident in the car.

Not all breeders will have worked with your puppy to get them comfortable in the car, so we need to be gentle and mindful of the sounds, smells, and vibrations that may all be very new to your puppy.

3 top tips for your puppy’s first car trip

  1. Have someone close to your puppy to comfort them and keep an eye on them

  2. Bring a blanket which smells of puppy’s mum home from the breeder.

  3. Bring spare blankets, a bin bag, and some wipes in case of accidents

  4. Don’t feed puppy directly before travel

What is the best way to transport your puppy on puppy’s first car journey?

There are many options for how to set your puppy up in the car. Some people put their puppy in the boot, on the backseat, or on the front passenger seat. But what is the best way to travel with your puppy on your puppy’s first car journey?

It’s really important that you can have eyes on your puppy during their first car trip. Ideally, you will have two people in the vehicle, one concentrating on the road and one focusing on your puppy.

Putting puppies safely on the backseat in either a crash-tested harness or pet carrier, with a human by their side to comfort them and keep an eye on them is ideal. It’s not unusual for a puppy to cry, vomit, or suffer from diarrhea on their first car journey. This is a completely new experience, and they’ve just left behind everything they’ve ever known.

Choosing a crash-tested dog harness, crate, or carrier is vital. It’s very often overlooked, but using anything else just isn’t going to keep your puppy or the humans in the vehicle very safe in the event of an accident.

Puppy sat on grass by a car

Why it’s important to have a human sat with your puppy for their first car trip

Your puppy will probably need to travel in the car throughout their life, whether that’s for vet visits, to go out with their dog walker, or to go on adventures with you.

By creating positive experiences for your puppy on their first car trips, you will help them feel at ease and relaxed in the car. If your puppy is crying, sick, or has an accident, then you will be there to help them and make them more comfortable.

Having someone who can be totally dedicated to your puppy’s needs on the journey means that everybody is safe and well cared for if anything goes wrong. You want your puppy’s first car journey to be as stress free as possible.

What to bring with you when picking your puppy up from the breeder or rescue

  • Crash tested harness or travel crate

  • Spare blankets/bedding such as this super soft travel bed

  • Bin liners to put any soiled bedding/blankets in

  • Pet-friendly wipes to clean pup up

  • Fresh water and water bowl

  • Poo bags

  • A blanket which smells of mum and the litter

How to choose the right travel equipment for your puppy

Puppies grow. How do you navigate the cost of safe equipment versus the growth of your pup?

There are five crash-tested harnesses on the UK market, ranging from around £25 – £90. The smallest available crash-tested harness is the Easy Rider car harness.

Travel Harnesses are great for adult dogs, but for puppies, they can be a little tricky. Often you won’t know your puppy can wriggle out of it until it’s too late! But they are a great product to be aware of for the future and can come in very handy when you need the boot space for luggage!

Crash-tested Dog harnesses available in the UK: Sleepypod, Ruffwear, Kurgo, Ezydog, Easy Rider.

An alternative to a dog car harness is a crash-tested pet carrier, which you can use on your rear passenger seats. This carrier needs to be specifically designed to go on the passenger seats rather than in the boot to work in the way it’s intended.

Puppy's First Car Journey in car seat

Crash-tested dog crates and carriers suitable for small puppies.

Sleepypod Air is a carrier suitable for dogs up to 18lbs. It’s not only crash-tested for car travel but also great for flights! At Around £200, it’s not cheap, but if your pup’s not going to outgrow it, then it’s a brilliant option.

The Sleepypod Atom is cheaper at around £120 but is only suitable for pets of up to 12lbs. It again doubles as a safe inflight carrier and can be used as a general carrier for your pup.

The original Sleepypod is essentially a bed, travel hub, and carrier all in one. At £200 ish, this isn’t a cheap purchase for your puppy, but it is a great investment for pups that won’t outgrow it.

The link to Pet Ego Jet Setter is another crash-tested soft carrier for dogs. This one is attached to your ISOFIX fittings, so it will only be functional in your vehicle as a crash-tested option if you use these. This is the cheapest of the crash-tested pet carriers.

For your puppy’s first journey, a carrier or crate is likely a better choice than a harness, simply because you will have no way to be certain the harness will fit well. If your puppy can wriggle out of it and you don’t have an alternative option, then you’ll be in a bit of a pickle. And if they escape once you’ve started your journey, even worse!

Whether you are using a harness or carrier, it’s best not to put your puppy on the front seat. If your puppy is crying, sick, or very wriggly and bouncy, you will be distracted, which will increase the chances of you having an accident.

Ultimately, if you don’t want to invest in equipment that your puppy will rapidly outgrow, then you can choose a professional pet transport company to help you with your puppy’s first journey home. A good pet transport company will have a range of crash-tested equipment, so they’ll have the appropriate solution for your individual dog.

How do you choose a good pet transport company?

Choosing a good pet transport company should not be done solely based on price. Ask lots of questions. This will probably be your puppy’s first car journey and you want her to feel safe. Will your puppy be the only animal being transported? How will your puppy be transported? Will they be using crash-tested equipment? Will the puppy have someone with him at all times? Are they licensed?

Some pet transport companies will be transporting multiple dogs at one time, often crated in the back of a van. This has the potential to be quite a stressful experience for your puppy.

All of those different smells and the emotions of the various animals will all impact your puppy’s experience. Imagine dogs howling, barking, or vomiting all shut in together of the back of a dark van. Is this the experience you want your puppy to have on their first journey away from Mum?

Spaniel puppy sat by a car

What to do if your puppy hates the car

The vibrations, the sounds, and the movement; there’s a reason why some puppies and even older dogs can find car travel hard.

With a bit of patience and time, you can slowly help your puppy to feel more comfortable in the car. Follow these simple steps to help your puppy relax in the car.

Step One

Begin by spending some short sessions sitting in the car with your puppy without going anywhere… don’t even turn the engine on.

We want your puppy to let go of any anxiety she may feel about getting into the car. If we can remove the stimuli of movement, sound, and vibration to begin with, then this will help your puppy to relax. You could try giving your puppy a treat, chew, or stuffed Kong to begin to build a positive association with the car.

Step Two

The next step will be to sit in the car and turn the engine on, but don’t go anywhere! So now we are introducing the rumble of the engine and the vibrations…. But not the movement. Keep these sessions short, and don’t push your puppy beyond what she can tolerate.

Step Three

Take a very short drive around the block and come home. This step will allow your puppy to get used to short journeys with no anticipation of something exciting (like the park) or worrying (like the vets).

Step Four

Practice! And slowly increase the length of time in the car. Throw in some revisits to steps one and two, and your puppy won’t always associate sitting in the car with going anywhere!

We all want the absolute best for our dogs. We put a lot of thought into training, socialisation, nutrition, and their overall wellbeing. Your puppy’s first car trip is a pretty big event in terms of their socialisation. Transport for our dogs is so often overlooked.

Have you got everything you need for your puppy before you bring them home? The new puppy checklist of the essential items you need may help.

By Dogs with Lyndsay.
Pet Psychology Practitioner and Dog Trainer based in the Isle of Man, UK.
Other websites include: www.itchydog.uk & www.puppytrainingclub.co.uk