Tips for Dogs with Car Anxiety

If your dog gets stressed out during car rides, you are not alone.  Whether because of a negative experience in the past or because of something new, many dogs show signs of anxiety when it’s time to travel.  


While some mild cases can be helped with reassociations and behavioral tricks, tougher cases may require medicinal help.  You can also prevent anxiety from setting into your pup with dog anxiety supplements.  


If you’re having trouble getting your furry friend to relax during long or short car rides, here are a few tips for you!

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via GIPHY

Why is my dog so anxious for car rides?

First, it’s important to recognize why your pup is stressed out during car rides.  There are a few reasons why your dog may be having trouble getting used to riding in a car.  The most common are:

  1. Motion sickness/nausea
  2. Negative association with cars
  3. Overwhelming experience

 

If you’re worried about any of these, don’t panic!  There are several things you can do to help prevent and treat car-related anxiety. 

Motion sickness and nausea

Car sickness for your pup may not be obvious to you at first.  Not every dog will actually throw up when feeling nauseous.  Instead, they might exhibit a few other signs, including:

  • Drooling excessively
  • Lip smacking
  • Whining
  • Yawning

 

If you do see signs of motion sickness, veterinarian assistance may be required.  Dog Calming Supplements can help calm a stressed-out pup, but nausea may require prescription medication. 

Negative associations and past experiences

Did your pup used to get into your car and travel without issue?  It’s possible your furry pal built up some negative associations from the past.  

It may have been due to the destination, such as linking car rides with going to the vet.  It could have also been due to sounds or feelings that became scary, such as close by horn honking or a sudden stop. 

Breaking a negative association can be difficult, but can absolutely be done.

Just too overwhelming

Your dog’s anxiety may be stemming from car rides being just too much for them at once.  The new sounds and smells can be a lot on your furry friend, and this is especially true if your dog tends to spend most of their time inside your home.

In order to manage these symptoms, it would be helpful to narrow down on how severe they are.



Mild

Moderate to Severe

Whining

x

Lip-smacking

x

Barking excessively

x

Vomiting


x

Needing supplements

x

x

 

How Can I Make It Easier On My Dog?

Behavioral changes, supplemental help, and even medications may be needed for your dog.  Each dog is different; if you are seeing the more serious signs above with your pup, it is always a good idea to check in with your veterinarian.  

However, there are a few things you and your dog can do together to make things easier. 

Take care of motion sickness first

Sure, anxiety probably won’t make motion sickness any easier on your pup, but if your dog is physically nauseous it will be very difficult to ignore that aspect and get them to enjoy car rides.  Nausea and motion sickness can just worsen the stress associated with cars, so try to take the edge off of that first.

If the motion sickness is mild, try making sure there’s some circulation going inside the car.  Lower the windows just a few inches to allow for airflow.  Adjusting your pup’s travel crate to face forward instead of to the side may make it less intense for them as well.

However, motion sickness can definitely escalate.  If your dog regularly vomits during car rides, try limiting food 4 hours before it’s time to go for a ride.  If that doesn’t help, it may be a good idea to check in with a vet for some anti-nausea medication.

via GIPHY

Make car rides fun

Negative associations with car rides can make an enjoyable experience impossible.  If your pup is already fearing the car from a previous bad experience, it’s time to break that association.  

A food-driven pup will of course be happy to get some treats even at a location they may not have liked previously.  Before going on an actual ride again, set your dog up within their travel crate or leash inside the car.  Reward good behavior with treats and allow your dog to get accustomed to the environment, then leave the car.

It’s important to take things slowly when it comes to breaking a negative association.  Once you find your dog is more agreeable to getting inside the car, start taking short car rides and use lots of praise and treats.  Slowly, make those rides longer.

Refocus attention

If your furry friend has no trouble getting into the car but starts getting nervous when you’re actually driving, refocusing their attention will be the key to a smooth ride.  A well-loved toy can soothe your dog, and a puzzle-type toy can keep their attention engaged while you’re busy driving. 

Puzzles are a great way to keep your dog’s brain engaged even if you’re not home, and can keep attention longer than just a simple treat or chew toy.  By keeping your dog occupied, puzzle toys can be a great way to refocus nervous energy into something productive.

Toys that hide treats in them are typically the best go-tos, but if you’re avoiding food due to mild nausea symptoms, may not be the right ones for you.  A plush toy or chew toy may be better fit for you and your pup. 

Try to avoid toys that create sound - they may distract you while you’re driving! 

Do I need a crate?

Traveling with your pup can be a little stressful.  This is especially true if you’re unsure of how your dog will react, or don’t have a lot of time to prepare them for a ride.  A crate may make the ride smoother for both you and your pup. 

Prioritize safety and comfort

Many recommend to always keep your dog in a crate when traveling.  This not only can keep your pup safe during a crash, but can provide an emotional advantage as well.  

By having a small (just big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around) and enclosed space, it taps into a dog’s natural instinct for a den-like space.  This can have a calming effect and keep stress levels to a minimum.  

If your pup needs help getting used to a crate, click here for our recommendations!

If you choose not to use a crate, consider using a vehicle harness or leash to ensure your pup is controlled while you’re driving.  Even if your dog is typically on the calmer side, keep in mind things can change very quickly on the road.  Better safe than sorry!

Of course, make sure you keep your dog’s comfort and health in mind.  Leaving your dog unattended can be a dangerous situation.

Never leave your animal alone in a parked vehicle. On a hot day, even with the windows open, a parked automobile can become a furnace in no time, and heatstroke can develop. In cold weather, a car can act as a refrigerator, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.”

-- ASPCA

 

If you or someone you know accidentally leave your dog in the car, the Humane Society of the United States has a helpful handout

Whether it’s for a quick trip to the vet or a long road trip, it’s important to keep your pup’s happiness and safety as priority.  Try to prevent these symptoms with a slow introduction to the car, and keep an eye out for symptoms of anxiety before they worsen.  You’ve got this! 

Is your dog constantly struggling with anxiety?  Maybe our supplements are right for you. Check out the science behind them here.

Resources:

https://www.rover.com/blog/help-dog-car-anxiety/ 

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/travel-safety-tips 
https://www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/unattended-pets-hot-parked-car.pdf