Are Dogs Still Considered Man’s Best Friend? A New Survey Suggests They Might Be

Pet ownership has been on the rise in recent years with dogs remaining the most popular pet choice. The American Pet Products Association estimated in 2023 that 65.1 million households owned at least one dog, followed by cats which were found in 46.5 million households. But it was a survey commissioned by Erie Insurance that proved just how much those dogs mean to their owners with 53% of licensed dog owners who drive with their dogs saying they would rather take a long road trip with their dog vs. a family member.

It turns out that dogs are passengers in cars for a variety of reasons, and not just to go to the vet/groomer (64%). Some are being driven by their owners to a place where they can be walked (53%). And some are going on long road trips, including 34% that are going on vacation with their owner.

A whopping 92% of dog owners are driving somewhere with their dogs for various reasons. Nearly a third (32%) do so because they feel guilty when they leave their dogs at home and nearly another quarter (23%) take their dogs with them because they believe their dog(s) don’t like staying home alone.

The fact that so many owners continue to take their dogs with them is surprising when you consider how many dogs are not well behaved while in the car. Although 70% of dog owners who drive with their dog say their dogs typically sit quietly or lay down while the car is moving, there are some misbehaving pups out there, including 15% that cry or whimper in the car, 12% that bark, and 4% that even urinate while in the car.

If you’re one of the unlucky dog owners whose dog falls into one of these latter categories, you might benefit from reading Paul Owens’ latest book, “Training for the Joy of Dogs: Fifty Lessons Learned,” available on Amazon. For the past 50 years, Owens has worked as a professional dog trainer, which is what earned him the reputation of “the original dog whisperer.”

“Punishing a dog for bad behavior in the car just reinforces in the dog’s mind that the car is not a relaxing, desirable place to be,” said Owens. “This can feed the dog’s anxiety which leads to more bad behaviors.”

According to Owens, a better approach is a combination of tactics, including risk reduction, conditioning, and lots of treats.

Risk Reduction

  • Give your pup the chance to exercise and get the energy out before getting into the car.
  • If you know your dog is likely to mess in the car, don’t feed it for several hours prior to a ride.
  • Consider purchasing a ThunderShirt which is specially designed to apply constant even pressure to help minimize anxiety.
  • Make sure dogs are properly restrained in the car with crash-tested harnesses that keep them from accessing the window or the driver and, most importantly, keep them safe and secure in case of sudden stops or accidents.

Conditioning

  • Be patient. Depending on your dog’s maturity level and prior experience with car rides, it could take 2-12 months to turn around a negative behavior and/or emotional response.
  • Don’t just throw a harness around your dog and expect a positive outcome. Rather, you will need to gradually get your dog used to the harness. Start by placing the harness near your dog and slowly get closer until your dog is willing to step through it.

Treats as Rewards

  • Be sure to reward your dog with a favorite treat after each successful step of the training program. The treats act as reinforcements to encourage continued good behavior.
  • Keep training sessions short—30 seconds to a few minutes—and then give another treat.

“If you’re still not seeing an improvement in behavior, you might need professional training to help make your trips together more enjoyable,” said Owens.