Helping Your Dog Overcome Car Anxiety

How to Help Your Dog with Car Anxiety

Disclaimer: Our content is always reviewed and approved by a professional veterinarian. However, we recommend always reaching out to your dog's vet for any advice regarding your pup.

Many of us have been there. You’ve planned an exciting adventure away that includes all your dog’s favorite things, except for one important detail: the dog won’t get in the car!

Car journeys can be a serious source of anxiety for your pup and can turn any trip into an extremely stressful situation.

Some dogs don’t like cars, for a variety of reasons, that we will expand on below, but the good news is that with some patience, time, practice, and training, you’ll be on your way out of the driveway!

Is Anxiety Really a Thing for Dogs?

You may be wondering, do dogs really suffer from anxiety?

Yes, anxiety is really a thing for dogs and all dogs are susceptible to anxiety, regardless of breed.

In reality, anxiety is a stress response and is often the anticipation of the unknown or future dangers. Much like us, dogs feel and fear a lot, which means they can also suffer from anxiety.

As a paw parent, it’s important to recognize the signs that your dog may be experiencing anxiety. Here’s how anxiety tends to manifest itself in dogs:

  • Excessive barking, whining, or howling
  • Aggression
  • Avoiding food
  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Repetitive digging or scratching
  • Low mood, lack of interest in activities
  • Excessive pacing or restlessness
  • Biting, chewing, or ruining furniture
  • Going toilet inside the home despite being trained
  • Trembling or shaking

Why Does Your Dog Get Anxious When Riding in Cars?

The first step in understanding how to help your dog overcome his car anxiety is getting to the bottom of this anxiety.

Why does your dog get anxious in cars?

There could be several reasons for this.

1. Traumatic experience: Your dog’s anxiety could be due to a previous traumatic experience in a car, like an accident, severe motion sickness, or claustrophobia.

2. Sensory Overload: It could also be due to sensory overload, with your dog feeling overwhelmed by new sounds like horns and traffic and strange new feelings like turning corners or experiencing the bumps along the road.

3. Unpleasant Memories: Also, your dog may have associated the car with unpleasant memories like a trip to the vet.

When your dog feels anxious about the car, you’ll likely know. Some dogs react by simply refusing to get in, while others may whine, drool, or even vomit.

Help Your Dog Overcome Car Anxiety

Now that you understand a bit more about why the car has such an effect on your pup, you can begin to help him overcome this anxiety.

This can be done with training and patience.

1. Consider their position in the car: Specific car harnesses work like pet seat belts and help the dog stay secure without having to be in a crate. However, if you haven’t tried a crate, sometimes this is best for some dogs – it’s a case-by-case situation. There are great, spacious crates for long-term travel.

2. Manage motion sickness: If your dog’s anxiety stems from motion sickness, have them sit in the middle seat so they can see the direction you’re heading. Keep the windows or air-con on for lots of fresh air. Also, if possible, limit your dog’s food before a trip or speak to the vet for anti-nausea medication.

3. Make the car a happy place: You will want to associate positive and happy memories for your dog and the car. That means rewarding the dog for simply approaching the car with their favorite treats and affirmations. Increase the rewards for time spent in the car – including sitting in the car together without moving or even turning it on. When your dog feels ready, start with short rides, even up and down your driveway, ensuring plenty of rewards! Once they gain confidence, take them for a spin to a local park so they can begin to build new, happy memories. Consistency and patience are the biggest things here – don’t give up and add multiple car trips into the week as practice.

4. Pack your dog’s things: Dogs often have a special toy or favorite blanket, so help them feel comfortable by packing this in the car with them. It’s also important to remain consistent, so be sure to pack their regular dog food and treats rather than buying new stuff for longer road trips.

5. Visuals: Seeing all the stimulation along the way can be a good, positive distraction for some dogs, so placing them near the windows at eye level is good. However, other dogs may feel overstimulated by everything going on, which could mean a windowless crate or limited access to the windows.

6. Plan, plan, plan: You will want to take regular stops for the dog to get movement and fresh air, so be sure to plan along the route for green spaces. Also, if you know you’re going to be crossing any borders, bring all doggie paperwork/vaccines they’ll need to see to avoid delays and human stress!

7. Vet help: Sometimes, it may require a visit with your vet to determine the root causes of your puppy’s anxiety. The vet may suggest a behavioral therapist or specialized trainer for counter conditioning or may prescribe anti-anxiety medication.

Now, I know training can become frustrating sometimes… I’ve been there. But when it comes to anxiety, if there’s one thing you need to avoid is getting frustrated and yelling at your dog. This will only cause more stress to your pup and won’t help fix the initial problem.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to your dog’s anxiety, it requires great patience, compassion, and consistency from you as the paw parent.

Every dog’s experiences are unique and different, so it will take time for your dog to triumph over their anxiety about the car!

They may take leaps and bounds one day and hate the car the next, which is completely okay. Be proud of your pup as they take steps to become the perfect passenger.

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