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The funny thing is when my husband takes him for a 1/2 hour ride most afternoons in his little jeep (just to get out of the house), Charlie sits next to him and is mostly fine, only whines when he slows down for turns. For crying out loud, is it me??
I think this just comes back to that inadvertent training thing.

1. On those drives with your husband, there's nothing to cause anxiety because Charlie's been taught what to expect. They're very similar to the driving exercises I recommended in a previous comment.

2. On those drives he's never been given the opportunity to climb into a lap, so he doesn't try. It's just not an option. So that's good reason for you to enforce that same rule when you're in the car, keeping in mind that:

  • You first need to address the underlying anxiety. I still recommend desensitizing with "short boring drives to nowhere" because, as I mentioned previously, this behaviour seems mostly about anticipation.
  • As you deny Charlie your lap, he might ramp up his efforts. Often, before a behaviour is extinguished, the intensity increases. So even if you're just moments from extinguishing it once and for all (i.e. teaching Charlie that cars and your lap don't go together) you'll think "Darn! This isn't working! I might as well give in." And by giving in at that moment of peak intensity, you're actually reinforcing Charlie's efforts. He'll think, "Oh! Level 10 works! I'll just go straight to that from now on." In other words, you've now made the situation worse.
I do see your how location makes the desensitizing tricky, as many car rides result in a very fun walk, perhaps even in a new place. And your presence in the car signifies this fun might be about to occur. "Oooh the anticipation! What's around the next bend??" An alternative, then, would be to work on the tone of the walks themselves: No getting out of the car in an excited state, for example.

I'm happy to see that you're overall feeling positive and that you've made some good progress in other areas. That's what it's all about—celebrating the little wins and enjoying life with your poodle. They really are such sensitive little geniuses. Challenging and oh so worth it!

Keep in mind that they're very tuned into us, so if it feels like Charlie needs you a little extra, consider it might actually be the reverse. He might be trying to calm you down. At 9 months old, Charlie's really figuring out his place in the world, so it's a good time to let him build up confidence that mom's not going to swoop him up into her arms whenever things get a little tense. Instead, she'll stand confidently and face the scary thing alone so he can relax and trust she's got it covered.
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