Dog Anxiety in Car Rides: How To Calm Stressed Canines

When I reach for my car keys, my dog jumps to attention; she just loves going on road trips, but unfortunately, for many dogs, car travel can be a stressful experience.

Your dog’s anxiety can be caused by several reasons; it may be an unfamiliar experience, especially if you have a rescue dog who may never have experienced travel in a car. 

It could be that your dog had a negative experience previously, they may not like the motion or noise, or they could suffer from motion sickness.

No matter how big your dog or how tough they may appear, dog anxiety during car travel can affect any breed and is something you need to address; they won’t simply get used to it.

So let’s look at what causes some of our four-legged friends to be fearful of motors, how to cure dog car anxiety and when should we consult a veterinarian?

What Causes Dog Car Anxiety?

There are many reasons your canine companion may be fearful or anxious when in a car. Once you understand the cause of your dog’s anxiety, you can address the issue

1) Previous Bad Experience 

If your dog only goes in the car for a vet visit or trip to the groomer, they are understandably going to be wary of jumping into the car. 

If you have a rescue dog, they may have only been in a vehicle when they were abandoned at a shelter. 

Likewise, if a dog has been involved in an accident or been hit by a car in the past, these frightening experiences are understandably going to have an impact and make them fearful of riding in the car.

2) They Aren’t Used To Cars

Many dogs love an adventure whilst other dogs prefer their family home and its familiar smells. 

Adult dogs who aren’t used to car travel may find it all a bit too much sensory overload, which can result in travel anxiety; after all, there is the noise of the engine, lorries whizzing by, that strange car smell, the vibration and the blur of passers-by

Any one of these things can cause your dog to exhibit anxious behaviour such as whining and be fearful of getting into the car or going on a drive. That’s why getting Fido accustomed to the car is essential. 

3) Motion Sickness

If your dog suffers from motion sickness in the car, they are obviously going to be reluctant to go on a road trip and this may be partly the cause of your dogs anxiety. 

Car sickness is more often found in puppies but can affect adult dogs and lead to them having a fear of car journeys. Don’t give food before travelling with your four-legged friend

Apart from actually being sick, symptoms your dog is suffering from motion sickness may include

  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Licking lips
  • Swallowing
  • Dry heaving

Signs of Dog Travel Anxiety

Does your four-legged friend run and hide when you pick up your car keys? Dog can’t talk, but they have many ways of conveying their feelings if they don’t want to do something; if your canine companion suffers from a fear of cars, he will likely show you in one of these ways.

  • Your dog may pull back on the lead when approaching the vehicle
  • Refusing to get into the car (this can be a real issue with big dogs)
  • Whining, whimpering, crying or barking
  • Shaking before and during the journey
  • Excessive drooling
  • Peeing or pooing on your back seat

All these signs of dog’s anxiety can make a car ride with your furry friend a pain for you too. 

The good news is with patience, you can help your dog create a positive association with the vehicle and make travelling with your dog in the car a pleasant experience for all.

How To Make The Dog Less Stressed in the Car

To reduce anxiety in dogs start with desensitization and counter conditioning let your dog become used to being around the car without having to get into it and reward calm behaviour with a high value treat or two. 

By slowly introducing your dog to the car this way, they will realise there is nothing to fear, will start to associate the vehicle with positive experiences and become great travel companions. 

Start Early  

It’s best to start getting your dog used to travel as young as possible, but even with older dogs, these 5 simple steps can encourage your dog not to see it as a bad thing and help with stress,

Getting a Scared Dog in the Car

Step 1 – Take it slow

Make getting into the car a simple process for your dog, expecting a senior or small dog to leap into the boot of an SUV or large car is not going to get you off to a great start and may trigger a fear response.

Whether its the boot or back seat, you can encourage dogs in gradually with a high value treat or two and lots of praise. Don’t switch on the engine or go anywhere just yet; have some patience, just let them sit and get comfortable with getting in and out with the car door open.

Step 2 – Make sure your dog is secure 

The second step is to sit in the car with your dog without the engine running to get them used to it. A good tip is to have their favourite blanket and maybe their favourite toy to make it more familiar and make them more secure, dog treats can also be an added distraction and encourage Fido to comply.

Like humans a dog or puppy needs to be suitably restrained on any car ride, to avoid injury, so this is also the time you can get them familiar with a seat belt harness, pet carrier or car seat once they’re relaxed. 

These can make dogs feel more secure during the journey instead of sliding around, prevent them from being a distraction at times and also protect them should you have a bump. The best dog car seat can be a useful piece of equipment in settling your pup, reducing stress, preventing dog’s motion sickness and also keeping them safe.

Step 3 -Turn on the engine

Once your dog is happy to be inside, you can try switching the engine on for a few minutes once again use positive reinforcement with lots of praise to help your dog relax. Repeat this process numerous times before attempting to drive. 

Step 4 – Don’t begin with long road trips

Keep to short trips at first and make them interesting for your dog, maybe take your furry friend for ice cream or to the dog park, this is the best way to help your dog associate car travel with pleasant experiences, keeping car anxiety at bay.

Step 5 – Take it up a notch

Gradually increase the length of the trips a few minutes at a time over a few weeks, hopefully by this time your dog or puppy will be comfortable in the car and not be feeling sick. 

A good tip is to keep their favourite blanket or toy with them so they feel more secure and travel to fun destinations like the beach or play dates with other dogs

If your Dog is Nervous in the Car

You could try playing soothing music and aromatherapy for travel anxiety or even one of the homeopathic remedies available to reduce dog stress if they still remain anxious. 

Monitor them for any sign of motion sickness, keep the windows open for fresh air if your dog gets car sick and take regular breaks.

How To Avoid an Anxious Dog in Car

There are quite a few things you can do to help your puppy with car anxiety here are some top tips

Exercise – If your dog is tired after a long walk it will be calmer and less likely to get worked up about being in the car

Don’t feed them – Don’t give your dog food before setting off as the motion can make even a non-nervous dog feel queasy. 

To prevent your dog’s motion sickness, feed no less than 2 hours before your trip and avoid giving food, apart from the odd high value treat, whilst travelling if possible

Guards can help – Some people find their dog prefers being in the boot of the car either in a crate or with a grill and their dog bed so they can see you and still move about. We have a collection of the best dog guards for cars over on this page for you to view.

Learning how to travel with a dog in a car is important, as this allows them to relax more and will not hinder your driving if they are moving about, compared to if they were just in the back. A crate is the best option for car trips with bigger dog breeds or multiple dogs with car phobia.

Try aromatherapy – A scientific study by the American Veterinary Medical Association proved this can be helpful in calming dogs Lavender and Chamomile were tested with a positive reaction.

One of the best tips is to play music. The sound of classical music has also been found to have stress-relieving qualities in dogs. In fact, Classic FM run a show close to bonfire night to specifically calm anxious pets, so why not tune in to some Mozart on your next ride in the car.

Many dog owners find herbal remedies work well when looking to calm anxious dogs so giving Fido a cup of cooled Chamomile tea before your journey may help with your pup’s travel anxiety. Other natural remedies are known to relax and calm dogs include

You could also use an anxiety jacket for your dog such as the ones by Thundershirt, the website explains these work by basically applying pressure to the torso as if the dog were getting a hug. This releases hormones that help the dog chill out.

If all else fails speak to a dog trainer or your vet who will give sound advice on motion sickness and may prescribe medication or a sedative

Side Effects – Motion Sickness

If your dog gets stressed out or suffers from car phobia when riding in the car it can induce motion sickness, which is no fun for either dog or owner

Symptoms:

  • Drooling
  • Tummy noises
  • Restlessness
  • Licking lips
  • Swallowing
  • Retching

Don’t give you dog food or treats before a journey and try to take them on a walk round the block first to get rid of any excess energy. 

Reducing dog car anxiety can help with motion sickness too. other things that can stop puppies from throwing up include leaving the window open at all times, for fresh air to circulate, if they are in the boot of the car make sure it can reach them.

Investing in a booster seat so a small dog can sit and see out of the car window during the trip or once again consulting with your vet who may prescribe a neurokinin receptor blocker, this is a type of medication that stops the vomiting reflex may also help the problem and make travel less of a headache.

Travelling in the front seat can also reduce motion sickness but do be aware the airbag can pose a serious threat to your dog if you have a car accident so always make sure its disabled if Fido likes to ride shotgun.

What To Give Your Dog to Keep them Calm

There are many car sickness solutions for anxiety in dogs that people can buy online or from the pet store, most include the following

  • Diphenhydramine – We know this commonly as Benadryl an anti-histamine that can help reduce sickness in your dog during car trips and also has a sedative effect that may help car anxiety
  • Dimenhydrinate – This can help treat nausea on a car trip and has no sedative
  • Meclizine – Also known as Bonomine this is commonly used by dog owners to treat motion sickness

Should You Use Sedatives For Travel Anxiety?

Like any medicines, sedatives you give your dog for car sickness and travel anxiety can have side effects and many pet owners prefer to use natural remedies or the holistic approach. 

You could try pheromone sprays to make the journey more enjoyable, a female dog releases a pheromone that calms her newborn puppies and these are replicated in dog collars and sprays available online or in pet stores

It is always best to discuss with your vet before giving your pooch any over the counter anti-anxiety medication for a car journey, although there are times when it might be beneficial. 

Also if it causes side effects, this could lead to your dog acting up in the car which may affect the person driving. It’s imperative that you know the dogs in cars UK law before setting off as if you get pulled over you could get a warning or a fine.

Conclusion

A ride in the car can be extremely stressful for a dog for many reasons and it is vital for dog owners to understand the behaviour to address the problem of your dog’s car anxiety.

Begin by introducing your puppy to your vehicle at a young age, reward with treats for putting his head inside the car door and another when they are secured in their seat. Don’t drive at first let them get used to it first.

Make your destination positive, take them on playdates, to the park or to the beach, not just to visit the vet. Keep big meals off the menu before car trips and keep the windows open so they can breathe the fresh air.

Take items your dog loves along like their favourite toy to calm and focus your dog and always make sure they are securely fastened in. 

Talk calmly to your dog along the way and reward with treats and praise once you reach your destination. Gradually increase the length of the journey as they become more enjoyable .

Your pet may never enjoy car rides but you can make it a lot less stressful for them and as with any doggie issue your vet will be happy to offer advice.

Addressing your dog’s travel anxiety and helping them associate car rides with good things will make travel with Fido fun. You’d be barking mad not to give it a try!

John Devlin

Blogger and owner of George and Henry. Two gorgeous goldens that couldn’t be more different. One is a dream loving and caring, and his sibling is as naughty as can be. When I am not blogging about dogs, I love watching sport and travelling with the family.
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