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Dog Car Anxiety: Help Your Dog Love Road Trips!

At A Glance

Many dogs love car rides, but many others dread them. Learn the signs of car anxiety in dogs and how you can help alleviate it to make your next trip fun for you and your pet!

  • Desensitizing and counterconditioning and proven methods to reduce anxiety.
  • Make its car ride comfortable with treats and toys.
  • Remember to buckle up!

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

A dog riding shotgun or in the backseat of your car with half their bodies sticking out the window, their mouths hanging wide open, and their tongues flapping in the wind — it’s the picture of sheer happiness.

But not all dogs have this affinity for car rides.

If your dog suffers from car anxiety, your experience has probably featured struggling to get your dog in the car, listening to them whine and bark incessantly, and trying to stop them from jumping out at every opportunity.

What should be an enjoyable trip to the dog park turns into a highly stressful experience for both you and your dog.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what causes dog car anxiety and how you can alleviate its stress the next time your pup hops into the car.

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What Is Car Anxiety In Dogs?

Dog car anxiety is a canine condition that causes it to be distressed or agitated when they get into a vehicle. The anxiety can be triggered by the car ride itself or the car’s environment, like loud noises/music or cramped space.

For example, some dogs are afraid to go for a ride because they associate that activity with previous traumatic events, like being hit by a car or being separated from their owner.

Other dogs may become anxious because they simply don’t like how small and enclosed cars can feel compared to open spaces like backyards and parks. Some dogs may also suffer from motion sickness.

Dog car anxiety, also called dog travel anxiety, is a very real phenomenon. Don’t disregard it as a case of your dog having a bad day or acting out because it doesn’t feel like traveling.

Veterinary consultant Dr. Jonathan Roberts explains, “Most dogs love a trip in the car as this usually leads to exciting places, like a walk, friends, or doggy daycare. However, some dogs, especially puppies or dogs new to the experience, might suffer from anxiety while traveling in a car.”

Common Signs of Dog Car Anxiety

Signs and symptoms of car anxiety may vary vastly depending on the dog. For example, you may have questioned, “why does my dog pant and shake when riding in the car?” These behaviors are indications that your dog is feeling stressed and anxious.

Typically, a dog suffering from car anxiety will exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Crying
  • Excessive panting
  • Whining
  • Loudly barking
  • Trying to get out of the car
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Urinating
  • Lip licking
  • Acting restless

cute brown dog inside the car

Dog Car Anxiety Vs. Motion Sickness

One Reddit user shares an experience of a friend’s dog having anxiety whenever it’s in a car. The dog begins to cry and becomes very agitated when inside a vehicle, and the problem just worsens over time. They initially thought it was motion sickness, but the dog was acting the same even when the car was not moving.

If you, too, have wondered how do I know if my dog has car anxiety or if it’s experiencing something else, you’re not alone.

Car anxiety and motion sickness in dogs have similar symptoms, so it’s hard to tell which condition your dog is suffering from. The main difference is that car anxiety is a psychological condition, while motion sickness is physiological.

Motion sickness is triggered by the dog’s inner ear failing to keep the dog’s sense of balance because of the constant motion of the moving car. It thus makes the dog nauseous and uneasy.

On the other hand, car anxiety is a negative emotional experience that your dog associates with the car ride — like being brought away from its owner or being sent to a clinic for painful treatment.

Other reasons for car anxiety include fear of the car’s movement or unfamiliarity with the car and the travel experience itself.

cute dog in the car

How To Calm Down Your Dog

Let’s break down your concerns.

Will my dog get over car anxiety? The answer is yes! All you need is the right knowledge and some patience to help your pup overcome this condition.

How can I calm my dog’s anxiety in the car? There are several ways you can do this. Like humans, travel-anxious dogs just need some understanding, patience, and help to address their situation to keep them calm. Here are some methods you should consider.

Desensitize Your Dog to Acclimatize it to the Car

Desensitization is a way of acclimating your dog to the car slowly. To ease your dog into the car, you can start practicing getting them into and sitting in the car in their familiar area, like your backyard. Play with them or reward them as you get closer and closer to the vehicle.

Dog owner Stephanie Jenkins suggests, “Slowly reintroduce the dog to your car. Allow him to sniff the seats and investigate for himself. Encourage the dog to get into the vehicle. This can vary in difficulty, depending on the level of anxiety he has, but a few of his favourite treats and a blanket or something with his scent on should do the trick.”

Don’t rush things; give your dog time to settle in. If they start retreating, you’ll have to start over again.

This whole process may take several tries or be done quickly. Just remember to move at your dog’s pace.

When you get to the car, wait outside with your pup for a little while. You can also carry out a series of actions associated with car trips, like unlocking the door, honking, or simply sitting and playing in the backseat. It will help your dog get comfortable with being in the car.

Give them some treats, too. And when you finally see your dog visibly at ease, try starting the engine to get them accustomed to the sounds and sensations.

Now comes the riding part.

Make Car Rides Enjoyable

You can start driving with your dog for short distances and see how your dog reacts. Keep giving them treats or take breaks when needed. It would be even better to have someone ride with you two and give your dog treats while you drive.

The next time you go for a drive, take a trip to a place your dog loves. Go to the park or the beach. Try to avoid going to the vet or the groomer’s until your dog gets used to the car since these places can exacerbate your dog’s stress.

brown dog in the car

Try Counter-conditioning: Train Your Dog To Associate the Car With Positive And Fun Experiences

Counter-conditioning is a highly effective training technique that can help shift your dog’s emotional response to the car.

How?

By giving your dog positive experiences with the car.

Slowly guide it, build its confidence, and reward progress. Here are some sensory experiences and other items you can use to develop your dog’s confidence and comfort.

1. Familiar Scents

You probably haven’t noticed, but your dog loves your smell! Dogs love their owner’s scent so much that they’ll often seek out their human’s items when stressed.

Dogs have a strong sense of smell, and smelling something that reminds them of you, like a shirt or pair of shoes, triggers the pleasure centers in their brain and calms them.

So the next time you’re taking a car ride with your pup and need to keep them calm, try giving them one of your articles of clothing as support. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; a day-old t-shirt will do just fine. Your dog will recognize your scent and start feeling better about being in unfamiliar territory.

2. Familiar Tunes

Did you know that dogs enjoy music too? You may already have noticed your dog wagging its tail, perking its ears, or even letting out a howl for certain songs.

Veterinarian Dr. Jonathan Roberts recommends, “Play calm music in the car. This will help to dull out the engine and outside noise and may help your pooch remain calm.

When it gets into the car, put on your pup’s favorite playlist or music it often hears at home. You may also want to look up calming music for dogs. This auditory treat can help your dog calm down as you add music in the background while driving.

3. Toys and Treats

Bring along your dog’s favorite toys or get some treats to make the car ride more enjoyable. These items will also help distract your dog from the car’s environment as it gets busy playing with the toys or nibbling on treats.

This little playtime can help your canine realize that the car can also be a fun place to be in!

4. Anti-Anxiety Jackets

An anti-anxiety jacket or vest applies a calming pressure against the dog’s body. Perhaps it mimics how your dog feels when carried by you.

Similar to how a hug feels for humans, these vests use acupressure points that help calm anxiety and stimulate the release of endorphins or feel-good chemicals in the brain. It functions as their security blanket.

5. Calming Supplements

What can you give a dog for anxiety in the car? If the other methods don’t work, calming supplements are known to be effective.

These supplements contain naturally calming ingredients like melatonin, chamomile, and L-tryptophan, which are known to promote sleep and have a calming effect.

Pineal glands in dogs secrete melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Melatonin supplements work as a sedative that can calm down dogs or put them to sleep by increasing the neurohormone. Meanwhile, chamomile has a relaxing effect thanks to its anti-inflammatory, sedative, and antispasmodic properties. Lastly, L-tryptophan is an amino acid that helps reduce stress and aggression.

It’s important to note that these supplements aren’t meant to be used for every situation where your dog is anxious and should only be reserved for extreme situations. All dogs react differently to these ingredients, so you may want to consult with your vet first.

6. Calming Pheromones

Dogs communicate by releasing and smelling each other’s pheromones, which are chemicals that they naturally produce. Dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) are synthetic compounds designed to relax dogs by mimicking the effects of naturally occurring pheromones released by a dog’s mother.

Because they are not ingested, calming pheromones are harmless for your pets. They release feel-good hormones that help relax stressed pets. This may not be effective for all pets, but it’s worth a shot before turning to medication.

7. Medications

If all else fails, medications can help treat car anxiety in dogs. Schedule a visit to the vet to discuss medication that can help your dog relax. Here are a few that your vet may prescribe:

Antihistamines: They inhibit the brain receptors responsible for motion sickness and promote mental relaxation in dogs

Anxiolytics: These are sedatives that are typically used to treat anxiety and panic attacks in dogs. It can make the dog drowsy and relax its muscles.

Injectable Sedatives: Several injectables can be used to treat dog anxiety, like acepromazine, butorphanol, diazepam, dexmedetomidine, and ketamine.

The dosages of these medications would depend on your dog’s health. Consult with your vet prior to administering any of them to ensure your dog’s safety.

two dogs inside the car

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Buckle Up My Dog?

Travel-anxious dogs can feel safer when they feel physically secure in a car. You can strap them with the car harness or use a crate. You may also want to look into dog anxiety car seats like a booster seat or a seat cover with a hammock to make your dog feel more secure.

At What Age Can A Dog Begin Training For Car Rides?

You can start training your pup for car rides as well as other behaviors and habits at around two months old. Make sure you start slow, be patient, and use positive reinforcement.

How To Make The Car Ride Comfortable For The Dog?

Make your pup feel secure, cozy, and comfortable. Showering your dog with praise and using familiar toys and treats can help calm its nerves and prevent alarming symptoms like dog car anxiety drooling, shaking, or barking.

happy dog in the car

Car rides are unavoidable if you have a dog, regardless of where you live. It’s best to get your dog accustomed to traveling by car to make your everyday life easier.

Remember, do not force your dog into something it’s not ready for. Be empathetic and patient. And always consult with an experienced veterinarian before starting any new treatment plans.

Trips are always an excellent way to build memories with your dog. And once you address your dog’s car anxiety, you too can hit the open roads with a happy and stress-free four-legged travel buddy!

 

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Paul Andrews
https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-andrews-172490189/

A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.