how to calm an excited dog in the car

How to calm an excited dog (in the car)

In Backpacking & Traveling by CarolineLeave a Comment

An overly excited dog is not only annoying, it can also be dangerous. This is especially true if you’re driving. So it’s really important to know how to calm an excited dog, whether it’s at home or in the car. Sure, some excitement is sweet and certainly makes for fun videos. But you wanna know how to calm him down when you think it’s been enough!

First, you need to find out, why your dog gets so excited. Once you know that, you can specifically work on the reasons and your pup’s reactions to them. The most common reasons are:

– He knows something good is going to happen and can’t wait

– He’s scared

– You’re excited so he gets excited

– He’s learned it that way

– Excess energy due to a lack of physical or mental exercise

These reasons apply to dog excitement in every surrounding. If your pup only gets excited when it comes to driving, then you can immediately start training with your car. If he’s getting nervous under other circumstances as well, it’s best to take a more general approach and practice being calm at home first.

Let’s first look at the possible reasons for dog excitement. Once we know the cause, we can specifically work on them.

Reasons for your dog’s excitement

Dogs in the wild are usually pretty calm and relaxed animals. Once they’re out of puppy stage, they do little other than looking for food and sleeping. Excitement means burning a lot of energy. So for a wild dog, this doesn’t make any sense because it would only mean he’d have to look for more food.

House dogs in our modern civilized world, however, live under different circumstances. They don’t have to take care of their food. On the contrary, in most households they rather get too much than too little to eat. This means plenty of excess energy. In addition, there are so many stimuli that a dog doesn’t really know what to make of.

In order to help your pup calm down, or even better, don’t let him get over excited in the first place, you need to analyze the reasons.

He knows something good is going to happen and can’t wait

Dogs are terribly impatient! They don’t understand why they should wait for something. If they know something good’s coming up – such as the dog park – they want it now, not in 5 minutes, certainly not in 30! If you only ever drive with your dog when you’re going to the dog park, you’ll probably have a hyper dog every time he gets in the car. And since he’s expecting the dog park to come every minute, he won’t be able to calm down even after an hour of driving (because you’re actually going on holiday).

He’s scared

On the other hand, if you only ever drive with your dog when you’re going to the vet, his excitement probably has a different reason. Hyper activity can also stem from anxiety. Another possible reason that he’s scared might be because he had repetitive bad experiences. This means that he’s always dreading another uncomfortable experience once he has to get in the car. This could be that he’s getting sick or maybe he’s hurt himself in the car and now he connects this unpleasant experience with being in the car.

You’re excited so he gets excited

This probably rather applies to other situations than to driving. But in case you always get super excited while driving because you love it more than anything or you get super tense because you hate it, your pup will reflect your behavior.

He’s learned it that way

Another possibility is that his hyper behavior is conditioned. Puppies can be so sweet when they jump around, roll over and seem to loose it all together. So you’ve encouraged this behavior and everyone found it so funny. So doggo started to understand: ha, when I’m behaving like crazy, I get sooo much attention! Doggo likes attentions, doggo likes to be the center of the world, so doggo does more crazy!!!

Excess energy due to a lack of physical or mental exercise

This is also more of a general reason. Dogs with a lack of physical or mental exercise tend to become hyper and restless and will also easily become over excited.

How do you know?

I have to admit, it’s not exactly easy to find out what causes your doggo to be so excited. Here are some indications for you to find out:

  • Happy impatience: If a dog is impatient, he’s looking forward to something he likes. So he’s happy but can’t control his emotions. Typical behavior that indicates these emotions are if your dog gets “the zoomies” and if he’s playfully jumping around. Some dogs might also become vocal and bark or whine.
  • Anxiety: If an excitable dog is afraid that something he dislikes will happen, he will most likely get vocal. He might also be pacing up and down restlessly.
  • Your excitement: In case your emotions are the trigger, your pupper will be very focused on you and your behavior. He’ll also “imitate” you, run when you walk fast, jump when you lift your arms, become vocal when you speak with a high tone and so on.
  • Conditioning: If a dog’s excitement is conditioned, all of the signs listed above can come up. The best way to find out is to think about how you react to his excitement. Do you talk to him in order to calm him down or correct him? Do you look at him and smile are get annoyed? Does he get what he wants when he’s still in an excited mode? Then his behavior is probably conditioned and he learned that he gets attention when he’s behaving like crazy.
  • Lack of mental or physical exercise: this is fairly obvious, even if the signs can be any of the ones listed above. Have you ever observed your pupper being super relaxed and tired after you’ve taken him for a really long walk or hike? And every time you’re in a bit of a rush and could only take a quick walk around the block he gets crazy? Yep, he doesn’t know what to do with his excess energy. If your furry friend is generally a bit of a hyper kind, he’ll need more physical and also mental exercise than a calmer dog.

How to calm an excited dog (in the car)

No matter the reason, what almost always works is counter conditioning. In most cases your dog has understood that something will happen, good or bad or a reaction he wants and acts accordingly. So you can either counter condition the reaction to the stimulus or you can take the stimulus away. Let’s have a closer look at it.

He knows something good is going to happen and can’t wait

If you know that the excitement comes from impatience, it’s quite easy to change your pup’s behavior. You know what he wants so you can teach him to first give you what you want, which is calm behavior. So if he gets crazy once you start driving because he’s sooooo much looking forward to the dog park, then you only start driving once he’s quiet. The deal is always: he gets what he wants once he delivers what you want (you’re the boss)! This is a really nice example of how to calm an overly impatient dog. You can also try this with food, it’s really super easy. I’ve trained this in minutes. Baloo has to sit in order to get his food. As soon as his nose goes to the food, the food goes away. Once he’s waiting patiently, the food goes down again and he’s allowed to eat.

In the car

At what point does your dog get excited? Is it on the way to the car? Then stand still or let him sit until he’s calmed down. If the excitement doesn’t go away, turn around, back to the house and start again once he’s calmer. Repeat this until you’ve walked the whole way from the house to the car with a calm dog. Does he get excited once you start the engine? Turn it off again and wait until the excitement has passed. Don’t talk to your dog, just wait and be patient yourself.

Attention: It’s important that you think carefully if it’s impatience or anxiety that triggers the excitement when the engine starts. Because if it’s anxiety and you stop once he starts becoming tense, you’re rewarding his bad behavior, because he wants the engine to stop. So think carefully and evaluate the possibilities.

Does he get excited once you stop the car? Then just wait… I’d wait until he’s at least sitting or even lying before you get out of the car. Look in the back mirror, does he get up again once you open the door? Then close it again. Rinse and repeat. Then you go to the back door, only open it if he’s sitting or lying, he gets up, you close the door again. Same procedure with the crate door. He’s only allowed to get out once you tell him so. Be aware that this exercise will take some time but trust me, it’s highly effective! So take yourself some time on a weekend and repeat it until he’s relaxed.

He’s scared

In case anxiety is the reason for your pupper’s restless behavior, the treatment is slightly different. You should still approach every step in a very calm manner. This will rub off on his state of mind.

One reason might be that your dog is overstimulated by what’s going on outside of the car. If he’s barking at everything, whining, excessively panting and pacing, then try to block the visuals, like Doggy Dan here is doing it. I recommend that you use a crate and put the blanket over that. This makes a cozy little hole for your pup and will help him calm down.

You’re excited so he gets excited

This is one of our biggest problems, so I can tell you some first hand experiences. I don’t drive very often, only once every few months, so naturally, I’m not a very good driver. Especially driving in crowded small streets or parking is pretty stressful for me. So I become tense and Baloo absolutely freaks out! It’s really annoying because it doesn’t exactly help me to relax but he’s just totally overwhelmed by my emotions and can’t handle it.

So what should I do? While I’m driving, I obviously can’t do anything. What would be best is for me to practice so that I don’t get stressed anymore. But of course, that’s also easier said than done, especially because I don’t have a reason to drive more often. So what we do currently, is to just ignore him. After parking we wait until he has calmed down (takes quite a while) and only get off the car once the whining and nervous yawning has stopped. If you have your dog in a crate, you can also try to just have the blanket on for the whole ride. The blanket might help your pupper to not get into this crazy state of mind at all.

He’s learned it that way

In case your dog’s excitement has been conditioned, then you can simply counter condition the wanted behavior. It’s exactly the same thing as for when impatience is the reason. Note that the longer your pup’s behavior has been conditioned, the longer counter conditioning will take. So be patient!

Excess energy due to a lack of physical or mental exercise

That’s an easy one, wear your dog out! This can be a good idea for all sort of dog excitement in the car. A tired dog is a happy dog and generally much calmer. You could even try this first, because even if the other reasons cause your dog’s behavior, it could wear off drastically if he’s tired. If it doesn’t get better, then try one of the options.


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