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Are car rides with your dog a real nightmare? Then you’re in the right place. In this article I’ll teach you how to cure dog car anxiety.
But before we can talk about how to cure it, we first need to find out what that actually means.
Chances are that you think your dog is anxious in the car because he’s very agitated and restless, right?
Well, you’d be surprised by how many dogs actually just get car sick. And for some other dogs it’s actually excitement because they can’t wait to get to the destination!
The best way to cure dog car anxiety is prevention. I’ll show you a number of ways that can help your dog to relax in the car.
At the end you’ll also learn what you can do while in the car to help your anxious dog.
Can dogs have car anxiety?
Let’s first of all talk about what car anxiety in dogs actually is and what else his behavior could mean.
Car anxiety is always caused by stress!
There are a number of reasons for it, we’ll get to that in a minute. But keep this in mind, there’s always some kind of stress at the root of it!
Can dogs get car sick?
As I’ve mentioned in the introduction, quite a number of dogs actually become car sick. Of course, they feel miserable and don’t know how to stand, sit or lie down. All they want is to get out of that thing that makes them feel nauseous!
Motion sickness is very common for puppies. This is because their ear structures are not fully grown, yet. Hence, their sense for balance isn’t fully in place, yet, which can easily leave them sick in a car. Luckily, most puppies outgrow motion sickness when they’re about 1 year old.
Some adults dog suffer from it too, though. In these cases, motion sickness is often caused by stress. If you’re fully grown dog gets car sick, there’s something that bothers him so much that his stomach gets upset from it.
Here’s another article that goes more in-depth on what to do when your dog gets car sick.
These are the most common reasons for dog car anxiety
Now that you know that motion sickness is the most common reason for car anxiety in dogs, let’s quickly look at all the frequent reasons for dog car anxiety.
In fact, all these reasons can also cause your dog’s motion sickness. So, motion sickness can both be the reason or the result of dog car anxiety.
Motion or car sickness
If motion sickness isn’t the reason for your dog’s car anxiety, then it’s often bad association.
This can happen if your first few rides always ended up in an uncomfortable place, such as the vet or the groomer. If you consistently only ever drive with your dog when you go to one of these places, then it’s also possible that bad association comes up over time.
In case you haven’t properly trained car riding, then this will also result in bad association because your dog is simply overwhelmed by being in the car.
Does your dog get super agitated by looking out the window? Then he’s most likely overstimulated. Some dogs feel like they have to absorb everything that’s going on outside.
This is incredibly stressful and makes it impossible for a dog to relax.
Excited about the place you’re going
Some smart dogs realize that riding in the car means going to a fun place, like the dog park or his furry friends. This leaves them so excited that they whine and pace for the whole car ride.
What looks like anxiety is actually excitement for these dogs.
If your car rides only sometimes end up at a fun place for your dog, then he’ll probably only get excited once you know where you’re going, right?
If that’s your problem, you can skip right to “how to calm and excited dog in the car”.
Some dogs are easily scared and very noise sensitive. If your dog has this kind of personality and you only drive rarely with him, it’s possible that he’s simply afraid of that noise. After all, car engines, acceleration, honks and other noise from outside can be pretty scary for a dog that’s not used to it…
Last but not least, his agitated behavior can simply be conditioned.
If he always gets attention (good or bad) when he’s all hyped up in the car, then he’ll continue to do it.
This still means stress, so it’s actually possible that he gets sick and throws up, simply because he doesn’t know how to behave otherwise.
Why is my dog suddenly anxious in the car?
So, your pup has always been a good car rider and all of a sudden he’s scared of car rides?
Super confusing, I know.
Well, some of the reasons mentioned above – like negative association, motion sickness and conditioned behavior – can build up over time and will only show the result after a little while. This makes it look like your dog is suddenly being anxious in the car.
If your dog’s car anxiety only started recently, my article dedicated to sudden dog car anxiety might help you.
How to cure dog car anxiety – prevention
Now that you know what can cause your dog’s car anxiety, let’s look at how to cure dog car anxiety.
The best way to do this is with prevention. All of these tips work for car sickness and all the other reasons listed above. So, don’t worry if you’re unsure what’s the reason. If you follow these suggestions, you’ll be fine in any case.
Give him a ginger treat
Since motion sickness is the most common reason for dog car anxiety, it’s best to give him a ginger treats before going for a trip.
Ginger has an anti-nauseous effect and if doesn’t hurt if you give him one even if motion sickness isn’t the reason.
Wear him out before getting in the car
Now, getting your dog to be calm in the car is much easier if he’s tired!
Actually, many things become more easier when your dog is worn out, just makes him more relaxed by default.
So, make sure you wear your dog out thoroughly before you take him on his next car trip. And I’m talking like a 1-hour walk/dog park or 15 minutes mental stimulation and 15 minutes fetch. Just something that would knock him out for hours at home!
Desensitize car travel and expose him slowly to the car
For severe car anxiety you need to desensitize car travel to get your dog accustomed to the feeling.
This means that you slowly reward every step of car riding that your dog manages to do in a calm manner.
It starts with the way to the car, then getting in the car, on to starting the engine, driving a little and eventually driving for longer periods.
Reward every step with treats and praise for as long as your dog stays calm. Every part of the process needs to be trained until your pup is relaxed all the way through it.
I’ve actually described this process in detail this post.
Keep in mind that this will take some time to train. But it will help you and your dog enjoy car rides much more.
And here’s a visual explanation:
Make all drives during training fun
Once you got all the way to driving for a few minutes without your dog getting agitated or throwing up, it’s important to make all drives during this training session fun.
Make short drives to the pet store, the dog park or his doggy friends.
Instead of driving, walk to the groomer and the vet and any other place that’s not pleasant for your dog.
This helps your pup to associate being in the car with a result that he’ll enjoy, which in turn helps him relax.
Restrain him with a crate, a dog car seat or a dog seat belt
Restraining your dog in the car actually helps a lot for dog car anxiety!
A stressed dog is unable to relax and lay down.
Plus, it’s safer for you and your pup!
Thundershirt for dog car anxiety
Thundershirts are also a great tool to help anxious dogs.
The light pressure gives them a sense of security and helps to calm them down. If you want to learn more how it can help your dog exactly, thundershirt.com has a very helpful FAQ section.
Reduce visual stimuli
As I’ve mentioned before, some dogs simply get overstimulated in the car.
This is why it’s a good idea to reduce visual stimuli with a cover.
I know, it’s cute when your pup is watching out the window. But this might actually be the root of his car anxiety!
So, help him by covering his crate or putting a blanket on top of him while he’s in the car. This has a comforting, soothing effect for your pup.
This video shows the effect this measure can have:
Dog travel anxiety medication
Quite frankly, I’m not a very big fan of medication to treat behavioral problems with dogs. Most things can be trained, as I’ve just shown you.
If none of the steps described above helped you and you really feel like your dog needs something, then I recommend using CBD oils or CBD pills. These can help to calm your dog and won’t cause any harm.
For very severe cases it’s always a good idea to talk to your vet for further advice.
Btw, vet costs can easily go into the thousands of dollars over your dog’s lifespan. This is why I highly recommend you either self-insure or you get a pet insurance. To learn more, check out my article on the question “is it worth getting pet insurance for a dog?”.
How to deal with dog car anxiety in the car
Prevention is all good and well. But what if you currently don’t have time to do all the desensitization training and just want to know how to deal with dog car anxiety while you’re in the car?
Well, some of the preventive measures are easily implemented and often help a lot.
I highly, highly recommend to always restrain your dog some way. This might help a lot already.
Reducing stimuli is another thing that can get you very far in curing your dog’s car anxiety. And ginger treats and thundershirts are also great little helpers that can do wonders!
Let’s look at a few more things you can do to deal with your dog’s agitation in the car.
How to calm an excited dog in the car
Excitement is also some kind of stress. And while this generally means your dog is happy, it can still lead to negative impacts like your dog throwing up or hurting himself from jumping around in your car.
If your dog gets excited in the car, it’s pretty much the same procedure as with dog car anxiety. I’ve described this in detail in my article “how to calm an excited dog in the car”.
One thing that you can do if your dog gets excited as soon as he knows you’re going somewhere fun is to make fake stops.
This means you stop at the fun place, say the dog park, and immediately leave again. Instead, go somewhere boring, like the gas station or a grocery store. This way your dog learns that becoming all hyped up results in not being able to go to the dog park even when it’s in plain sight!
He should get that pretty quickly.
Make sure he gets enough fresh air
Fresh air is always a good idea. Especially when it’s hot and humid in the car, fresh air can help your pup a lot to feel better.
For long rides: stop frequently
This might seem obvious but for long rides it’s really important to stop frequently and do something fun. This helps to keep your dog’s energy level low and makes the whole trip fun and entertaining.