How to calm an excited dog in the car


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How to calm an excited dog (in the car)
How to calm an excited dog (in the car)

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 in the car.

Sure, some excitement is sweet and certainly makes for fun videos. But you want to know how to calm him down when you think it’s been enough!

If your dog only gets excited in the car, it’s mostly because of 1 of these 6 reasons:

  • Happy and impatient about the destination
  • Motion sickness
  • Anxiety
  • You’re excited so he gets excited
  • Conditioned behavior
  • Excess energy due to a lack of exercise

For a more general guide on how to deal with dog over excitement, check out these quick tips here.

Why is my dog excited in the car?

Dog excitement in general

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.

Is my dog anxious or excited in the car?

What looks like an excited dog can actually also mean your dog is anxious. The difference is sometimes difficult to tell.

Uneasy pacing and lots of panting can also be a general sign of stress or motion sickness.

If a dog is happy excited in the car, it usually happens when you get close to the destination your pup is looking forward to, like the dog park.

In case your dog is anxious the behavior is normally shown for longer periods, potentially the whole car ride.

Also look out for your dog’s body language: if he’s shivering and has his tail tucked in, then he’s definitely anxious!

Why does my dog freak out in the car?

Now let’s look at the specific reasons why your dog gets excited in the car.

Happy and impatient about the destination

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, your dog will most likely get excited every time you get 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!

Motion sickness

On of the most common reasons for a dog being uneasy or excited in the car is because he suffers from motion sickness.

How is he supposed to enjoy a ride if he’s feeling miserable? Quite difficult, right?

Anxiety

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, he’s scared!

Hyperactivity can also stem from anxiety. Having repetitive bad experiences can easily lead to a dog being scared. This means that he’s always dreading another uncomfortable experience once he has to get in the car.

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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.

Conditioned behavior

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. You might have 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 goes 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.

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How to calm an excited dog in the car

So, now that we’ve looked at the possible reasons for dog excitement, let’s look at how to actually calm an excited dog in the car.

No matter the reason, what almost always works is counter conditioning. Your dog reacts to stimuli. This can be any of the ones listed above.

So, you can either counter condition your dog’s reaction to the stimulus or you can take the stimulus away. Let’s have a closer look at that.

How to calm an overly excited dog in general

It’s always good to know how to generally calm an overly excited dog.

The 4 best quick solutions are:

  • Make sure he gets enough exercise
  • Hold him still when he’s zooming around
  • Be calm yourself
  • Teach him the good behavior

In my article about how to calm an over excited dog quickly I go more in-depth on this topic.

How to calm an excited dog in the car

Now on to the really important question: how to calm an excited dog in the car:

Happy and impatient about the destination

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 excited 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.

How to calm an impatient, excited dog 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. In case you think he’s scared, do the process described in this post, instead.

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.

If your pup only gets excited once you pull in to the dog park or the pet store you can also try making fake stops. This means that for the next couple of days or weeks you drive there, stop quickly and drive away again as soon as he gets hyped up. Then go somewhere boring or a place he doesn’t know, yet.

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 some time on a weekend and repeat it until he’s relaxed.

Motion sickness

As I’ve mentioned before, motion sickness is one of the most common reasons for a dog being unable to relax.

This is why I recommend trying to deal with this first. Could save you a lot of time trying to figure the other things out.

What usually helps a lot is to give your pup a ginger treat before you leave. Ginger has an anti-nausea effect and will likely make your dog feel much better.

Other things that might help are:

  • Go for a long walk before driving
  • Don’t feed him right before you drive
  • Make the first few trips short and fun to relieve stress

For more information check out my post about the question “what to do when your dog gets car sick“.

Anxiety

In case anxiety is the reason for your dog’s restless behavior, the treatment is slightly different than if he’s happy and impatient. You should still approach every step in a very calm manner, though. This will rub off on his state of mind. Here’s a complete article about why your dog might suddenly be anxious in the car.

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 with a cover over it. This makes a cozy little cave for your pup and will help him calm down.

Click here to learn more about overstimulation in dogs.

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. 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.

Conditioned behavior

In case your dog’s excitement has been conditioned, then you can simply counter condition to get your dog to calm down. 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 sorts 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.

Conclusion

I have to admit, it’s not exactly easy to find out what causes your dog to be so excited in the car or in any other place. Let’s quickly repeat the 6 most common reasons why your dog gets excited in the car:

  • Happy and impatient about the destination
  • Motion sickness
  • Anxiety
  • You’re excited so he gets excited
  • Conditioned behavior
  • Excess energy due to a lack of exercise

So how can you calm an excited dog in the car?

What almost always works is to provide enough exercise, staying calm yourself and giving him a ginger treat to make sure he doesn’t get car sick.

If you’re not sure what causes the excitement, just go back and train calm behavior step by step again.

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