6 Tips For Overcoming Dog Car Anxiety

Many dogs love to ride in cars and happily hop in any chance they get. Some poor pups however get very stressed and scared as soon as they know they are about to drive somewhere. Dog Car Anxiety can have different reasons – from motion sickness over reactivity to uncertainty.

Fortunately, car anxiety can be helped well with the right approach. Let’s look at the different underlying reasons and 6 ways in which you can help your dog feel better about going for a ride with you.

#1 Feed meals in the car

Dog Eating in Car

This one might seem odd – but it is highly effective if done consistently. Start to feed all of your dog’s meals in the car. You do not have to actually drive anywhere. Just take his breakfast or dinner bowl, open the car door and set it on the backseat. When your dog is finished eating, head back inside your house and go about your day. If you make the food extra delicious – such as by adding some wet food to your dog’s kibble – this works even better.

Why does this work?

Our dogs’ meals hold a lot of reinforcement (a whole bowl full of food is very rewarding!). By pairing this reinforcement with the car, we can quickly change how the dog feels about the vehicle and being in there.

#2 Take a small ride daily for Dog Car Anxiety

Dog in Car Back Seat

If we have a pup with car anxiety, we tend to often avoid taking him anywhere unless we really have to (e.g. for a vet appointment). This can actually increase the dog’s negative associations with the car.

You can help your dog see car rides as a fun, everyday activity by taking very short rides every day. In the beginning, they can be as brief as just leaving your driveway, turning around on the street and going back up your driveway. If your dog is fine with this, drive around the block once, to the nearest gas station, etc. Take your dog along to run small errands in the car whenever possible.

Why does this work?

The more short experiences your dog has on car rides, the better. Avoiding trips in the car is not good for helping your dog overcome his fear – it will just make the rides seem even more scary!

#3 Have someone sit next to the dog

If possible, have someone sit next to your dog in the car. A child, spouse or friend can pet the dog, talk to him kindly and hand him some treats. Not feeling alone on the backseat can make your dog a lot more comfortable right away.

If you do not have a helper, you can also try having a second dog sit next to yours.

Why does this work?

Dogs are highly sociable animals that get a lot of comfort and security from being around their “pack”. Having someone sit next to your dog will make him feel safer and happier. If that person feeds the dog treats during the car ride, even better!

#4 Talk to your vet about anti-nausea medication

Dog Looking at Medicine

Especially puppies in their first 6 months of life can get very carsick. Their nausea is not always seen by vomiting (though – if your dog does throw up, he certainly does not feel well).

Some pups do not vomit, and their only symptom is heavy panting and/or drooling. If you witness these signs in your dog, consult with your veterinarian about some anti-nausea medication. These are effective drugs with little or no side effects that are usually given about 1 hour before the car ride.

Why does this work for Dog Car Anxiety?

Car anxiety is not always caused by nausea, but if it is, it’s impossible to resolve without also reducing the nausea. Your vet will probably prescribe Dramamine or a similar medicine, which will help your dog feel a lot better quickly.

#5 Try out different vehicles

Dog In Cart

Dogs that have not driven in many vehicles can be anxious simply because it’s a very novel experience for them. We can help them get used to it quicker by having them ride in many vehicles. Take your pup on a ride in your spouse’s car, your friends’ cars, on a bus or train … the more exposure you can give him, the faster he will get better.

Why does this work?

A lot of dog car anxiety in dogs stems from uncertainty and fear of the unknown. The more experiences your dog has in cars and other vehicles, the better he will know what to expect. This will help him feel safer.

#6 Limit his vision

dog in the car in the box

If your dog looks out the window during car rides and then gets agitated, try limiting his vision. Especially dogs that are reactive or very motion-sensitive get overly stimulated by watching the world and potential triggers outside.

Explore different ways to limit your dog’s view. You can put up shades on the window, or have your dog ride in a crate that you cover with blankets.

Why does that work?

If watching the outside world makes your dog anxious and agitated, this is easily fixed by simply not letting him see it. Many reactive dogs get 90% better simply by reducing how much they can see out the window. It is a quick fix that’s implemented in 10 minutes – and it can make a huge difference.

The Bottom Line For Dog Car Anxiety

Dog Car anxiety can be remedied by using different approaches. Make sure that your dog sees the car as a happy place by feeding him his meals in there. Frequent and brief trips will make car rides less scary and a stress-free, everyday occurrence.

Some dogs are anxious about riding in cars because they experience motion sickness. If your dog shows vomiting, heavy panting or drooling, ask your vet for an anti-nausea drug. Once your dog does not feel sick anymore, he will be able to enjoy trips in the car much more!

For reactive or very motion-sensitive dogs, limit the view your pup has in the car. Some dogs get very stimulated by everything they see through the windows. The less they can see, the calmer they will be.

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