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As much as we love our large breed dogs, one of the downsides to large breed ownership is figuring out transportation and how to safely move our big four-legged friends into and out of our vehicles.
At some point in your dog’s life, they will need to be transported somewhere, whether that be to the vet, to the groomer, or to your new house. Getting a large dog into a vehicle is only half the battle but is an important first step in making sure the transport experience is a safe and positive one. So how exactly do we lift a large dog into a vehicle?
The best way to get your large dog into your car is to use reward-based training to encourage them into the vehicle. In addition to training, you can also use safe, dog-appropriate lifting techniques and other physical aids to help get your dog up and into your car.
The use of positive reinforcement training will always be the best solution to helping get your large dog into your vehicle, though you should also keep in mind your dog’s individual needs, training history, physical requirements, and even your own physical capabilities.
In some instances, you may need to physically assist your pup with getting into a vehicle, and in other cases you may be able to lure them in with a treat.
In the article below we will look at the various methods you can use to help teach your large dog to get into a car, SUV, or the bed of a truck. We’ll also discuss what to do if you dog refuses to get into your car, and how to safely and properly lift your large dog up and into a vehicle.
How Do I Get A Large Dog Into A Car?
If you’ve got a large dog and a smaller car, it will actually be easier for you to help your large pup get into the car then if you had an SUV (and yes, even the largest of dogs like the Great Dane can still get into a smaller vehicle!). To get your large dog into a car such as a typical four-door sedan, it’s best to use positive reinforcement and reward-based training.
If you have a young puppy, you should start exposing them to cars as early as possible to avoid any issues once they are out of their critical socialization period, but dogs of any age can benefit from car training, and this is especially true for large breed dogs which can require a little more effort if they struggle to get into a car.
To help train your large dog to get into your car without physical assistance from you, pick a time when you do not actually have to take your pup anywhere and just focus on rewarding them for getting into and out of the car without issue. Encourage your pup with treats, and don’t force them into the car.
Use a treat to help lure and guide them into the car and use lots of praise as they work towards getting into the car. You may have to reward only when they get a paw or two in the door, or you may get lucky, and they’ll jump into the car right off the bat. Do this several times throughout the week, and gradually work up to asking them to stay in the car for a longer period of time before getting their reward and being let out.
Once your dog feels comfortable and is easily getting into the car and showing no stress, you can start taking them for short trips around your neighborhood, all the while monitoring their stress levels and providing rewards. Ensuring that each experience they have in the car is a positive one will eliminate any possibility of them refusing to get in or requiring additional physical assistance from you.
While this training process may seem unnecessary to us humans, to a dog it helps acclimate them to an experience that they would not normally have naturally. If we wait to get our dogs into the car until we actually have to go somewhere, and they refuse because they have no experience with the car, then we risk creating a negative association with the car and causing long-lasting training issues.
For a large breed dog, this can be especially risky because for certain breeds it can be almost impossible to physically lift them into the car, so waiting to get your large breed dog into a car without prior training might result in being late to the appointment at best, or an injury at worst (for you or the dog!).
For large breed dogs, it’s usually safest for them to be within the backseat of your car rather than the passenger seat in the front, if possible. Using a seat-belt tether or harness will also help ensure that your pup is kept safely within the confines of the backseat (and it may even be a legal requirement to have them tethered rather than loose). To keep them even safer, you might also consider a crate that fits within the backseat of your car.
While some smaller breeds of dogs may do OK in the front seat of a car, large breed dogs are generally much too big to comfortably fit into the passenger seat and creates a high-risk situation if you were to get into an accident while driving.
Some things to consider while working with your large breed dog include their breed, age, and overall health condition. If you have an older dog with hip issues, you may need to provide some more assistance to help them get into the car, either by lifting their rear end up or purchasing a ramp or sling to help get them into the car.
Large breed dogs are who are blind or missing a limb may also need more physical assistance in addition to the positive reinforcement training. Young puppies who are still learning about their environment may need special care taken to ensure that they never feel afraid when getting into or out of your car. Providing them with toys throughout the car ride will also help make the experience more enjoyable and keep them occupied so you can focus on your driving!
How Do I Get A Large Dog Into An SUV?
SUVs might prove a little bit trickier to get a large breed dog into, but they might also be the best option to transport a large breed dog comfortably. Whether you have a mid-size SUV or one of the larger ones, using the training process outlined above is the best way to approach getting your large breed pup into your SUV.
Using treats and positive reinforcement will help encourage your large breed dog to get into your SUV without issue. With smaller SUVs, such as a Subaru, the training process might be enough, and you won’t have to do anything additional until your pup gets into their senior years. For larger SUVs that are higher off the ground, you may have to work a little bit more to get your pup comfortable enough to jump up into and jump out of the SUV.
As your pup ages, or if your dog becomes injured or ill, you may also have to employ the use of some physical assistance to help your dog get safely into your SUV. This could be as simple as getting them a running start and then helping propel their back end up into the vehicle, or it could involve purchasing a ramp or steps for them to safely and comfortably enter the SUV.
With an SUV, you’ll also want to take care on how your large breed dog exits the vehicle, too. For puppies, adolescents, seniors, or dogs with injuries, jumping from the SUV might put too much strain on their bones and joints.
You may need to help them ease out of the vehicle or choose a parking spot in which they can jump onto dirt, grass, or gravel rather than concrete or asphalt. Using ramps or helping to lift them down and out of the vehicle can also help prevent any stress to their bodies.
Similar to cars, the safest place for your large breed dog is the backseat of your SUV, or within the cargo hold at the rear of the vehicle. Cargo holds are good for large breed dogs because it provides them the most room, and it’s also easier for them to jump into because they have a larger area and don’t have to try and squeeze through the car doors.
You also don’t have to worry about them getting into the space between the back of the front seats and the front of the back seats if you don’t have any kind of hammock or seat covering. Seat belt tethers, harnesses, or even a crate specifically made for SUV travel are also all good options to keep your large breed dog safe in your SUV.
How Do I Get A Large Dog Into A Truck Bed?
Truck beds are generally not the safest nor easiest way to transport your large breed dog (and in some places it may actually even be against the law to transport your dog in this way) but depending on your individual situation this may be the only way you have to transport your dog.
If you must transport your large breed dog in the back of your truck, they should be secured in a crate that is designed to be used in the back of trucks. You should never leave your dog loose in the bed of a truck, nor should you ever tether your dog to something in the bed of the truck.
Using positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to jump into the truck bed and enter their crate is the best method to ensure your large breed dog does not refuse to get into the back of your truck.
If transporting your dog in a crate in the back of the truck, make sure you are also paying attention to weather conditions and that your dog is not exposed to high temperatures, sun, rain, snow, or extremely low temperatures for long periods of time.
Again, transporting your large breed dog in the back of a truck is NOT recommended due to the extreme risk of injury or death to your dog if you are in an accident or if he tries to jump out of the truck.
The distance from the back of the truck to the ground, which is usually much higher than in the majority of SUVs, also poses more of a risk to large breed dogs and repeated jumping into and out of the truck bed may cause lasting joint issues in your pup.
What’s The Best Way To Lift A Big Dog Into A Vehicle?
There may come a time when you will have to physical lift your big dog into your vehicle. While there is equipment available to help you, oftentimes you’ll have to rely on your own strength and ability to help your pup into your vehicle.
First and foremost, you want to make sure both you and your dog are safe when you go to lift them, and that you are using appropriate lifting techniques to protect your back and help make sure your dog is secure as you are lifting him.
If you need to completely lift up your dog, you can use the method that many pet professionals are taught, which is to place one arm around the tail and rear legs of the dog and the other arm around the front of the dog through their front legs, with the palm of your hand flat against their lower chest.
Placing your arms underneath the dog’s belly and lifting them up might work in a pinch, but it is uncomfortable for the dog and does not give you a very secure hold on your pup. It’s also more likely that your dog will struggle and potentially injure themselves (or you!), and it’s a lot more effort on your part because the weight distribution is often not quite right when lifting in this manner.
Lifting them up with your arms just under their chest area is not recommended, as it’s important to make sure their back end is supported as well. The exception to this is if you are just needing to get their front legs into your vehicle first, and then you lift their back legs and push them up and in afterwards.
I’ve also included two videos that will help you get a better idea of how to assist your large dog. The first video below describes a secure way to help lift your pup up, and which is often the best way to lift a big dog into a vehicle. The second video is an example of another way you can help your larger dog up and into the back of an SUV, all while keeping yourself safe from injury.
What Do I Do If My Big Dog Won’t Get In My Vehicle?
If your big dog won’t get into your vehicle, you never want to try and force them. Forcing a dog into a vehicle can elicit a fear response, which can potentially include a snap or bite towards you, or your dog struggling and getting loose as you attempt to force them into the vehicle.
The best way to deal with this issue is to actually try and prevent it in the first place by using positive reinforcement training and teaching the dog how to get into the vehicle safely.
If it’s an emergency situation, you can lift your dog up and into the vehicle but there is a risk that you potentially injure your pup (or yourself), and you can also create a negative association with the vehicle and make the issue of your dog not wanting to get in even worse.
To help encourage your pup into your vehicle, use high value rewards and lots of praise. You can also look into calming sprays or speak with your vet about a calming supplement if you must frequently transport your dog, though training should always accompany any supplement, spray, or other management solution you choose to use with your dog.
Some large dogs may only ever need to be transported once or twice a year, and for others they could be going on a car ride on a weekly basis. It’s always a challenge to work with a dog that’s stronger or even outright bigger than you but it is possible.
It’s an important part of pet ownership and our responsibility to make sure our pups are kept safe and comfortable from start to finish when transporting them, and the first step is getting them into our cars.
With time, patience, and lots of rewards we can teach our big four-legged buddies to easily get into our vehicles without much physical assistance from ourselves, as well as proper handling and lifting techniques for those times where they may need a little extra help.