Dog Anxiety in Car Rides: How To Calm a Suddenly Anxious Pup

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 rides are a stressful experience.

This can be for many 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 they have had a negative experience previously, they may not like the motion or noise, or they could suffer from car sickness.

No matter how big your dog or how tough they may appear, dog anxiety in car rides 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 friend to be fearful of motors, how to cure dog car anxiety and when should we consult a veterinarian?

What Causes Dog Anxiety in the Car?

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

1 Previous negative experience

If your pooch 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 back seat. If you have a rescue dog, they may have only been in a vehicle when they were abandoned at a shelter. Likewise, if they have 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 going on road trips.

2)The Unfamiliar

Some dogs love an adventure whilst others prefer their family home and its familiar smells. A dog who isn’t used to car rides may find it all a bit too much sensory overload; 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 Fido to exhibit anxious behaviour such as whining and be fearful of getting in the car door or going on a drive.

3) Motion Sickness

If your dog suffers from car sickness, they are obviously going to be reluctant to go on a road trip. Carsickness is more often found in puppies but can affect older dogs and lead to them having a fear of car rides. Don’t give food before travelling with your four-legged friend

Apart from actually being sick,, signs your pooch is suffering from motion sickness may include

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

Signs your Dog Suffers from Travel Anxiety

Does your four-legged friend run and hide when you pick up your car keys? Dog can’t talk, but they have man 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.

  • Pulling 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 or crying
  • Shaking before and during the journey
  • Excessive drooling
  • Peeing or pooing on your back seats

All these things can make a car ride with your furry friend stressful for you too. The good news is with patience, you can help your dog and make car rides a pleasant experience for all.

How To Make The Dog Love Riding in the Car

Start with desensitization and counter conditioning let your dog become used to being around the car without having to get into it and reward with treats. By slowly introducing your dog to the car this way they will realise there is nothing to fear.

It’s best to start getting your fur-baby used to travel as young as possible, but even with older dogs, these 5 simple steps can help,

How to Get a Dog into the Car

Step 1

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.

You may want to look at a dog ramp for car boot access.

Whether its the boot or back seat, you can tempt your pup in gradually with a tasty treat and lots of praise but don’t switch on the engine or go anywhere just yet; just let them get comfortable with getting in and out with the doors open

Step 2

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

A dog needs to be suitably restrained on any car ride, so this is also the time you can get them familiar with a seat belt harness or car seat once they’re relaxed. These can make your pup feel more secure instead of sliding around the back seat, prevent them from being a distraction at times and also protect them should you have a bump. Find the safest dog car seat we found here.

Step 3

Once you have got your dog to the car door and are 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.

Step 4

Keep the first few trips short and interesting maybe take your furry friend for ice cream or to the dog park so he will begin to associate car travel with pleasant experiences.

Step 5

Build up the length of the trips a few minutes at a time hopefully by this time Fido will be comfortable in the car a good tip is to keep their favourite blanket or toy with them so they feel more secure.

If your Dog is Nervous in the Car

You could try playing soothing music, aromatherapy or even one of the herbal remedies available to calm them down if they still remain anxious. Monitor them for signs of sickness, keep the windows open for fresh air and take regular breaks.

How To Avoid an Anxious Dog in Car

There are several ways to help your pooch 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 her 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, feed no less than 2 hours before your trip and avoid giving food whilst travelling if possible

How to Calm a Dog in the car

Car dog guards can help, Some people find their dog prefers being in the boot of the car either in a crate or with a grill so they can see you and still move about. This is the best option for car trips with bigger breeds or multiple dogs.

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

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 veterinarian who will give advice on carsickness and may prescribe a sedative

Side Effects of Car Anxiety: Car Sickness & Motion Sickness

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

Symptoms: What To Watch For

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

Preventing Motion Sickness and Anxiety

Don’t give you dog food or treats before a trip and try to take them on a walk to get rid of any excess energy. Reducing dog car anxiety can help with motion sickness too. other things that can stop Fido 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 see out of the car window during the drive or once again consulting with your vet who may prescribe a neurokinin receptor blocker 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 Can I Give my Dog for Anxiety on a Ride in the Car

There are many carsickness solutions 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 and also has a sedative effect
  • Dimenhydrinate – This can help treat nausea on a car trip and has no sedative
  • Meclizine – Also known as Bonomine this is commonly used to treat motion sickness

Should You Use Sedatives for Dog Car Travel?

Like any medicines sedatives for carsickness can have side effects and many people prefer to use natural remedies or the holistic approach. It is always best to discuss with your vet before giving your pooch any over the counter medication although there are times when it might be beneficial.


Do puppies grow out of being scared?

Any dog training should begin early on and getting your puppy used to being in the car from an early age is essential, if you use the tips above they should grow out of being scared and see inside the car as an extension of their home.

Why does my dog pant and shake when riding in the car?

This is a classic sign of car anxiety, go back to basics let your dog explore the car without driving, give them a scent blanket or try one of the tips above to reduce stress.

Why is my dog acting scared all of a sudden?

This is usually down to a negative experience during a drive which your pet remembers, it may not be something you have registered perhaps the noise of going over cow grates or rumble strips, a fire engine whizzing past might have induced fear or he may have hurt himself getting into the car.


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

Begin by introducing your puppy to your vehicle at a young age, give a reward 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 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 pet loves along like their favourite toy 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.

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

Addressing your dog’s anxiety on car rides will make travel with Fido fun!

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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