Dog Stress In The Car: Here Are Some Helpful Tips
You can picture it in your head; the actor in the dog food commercial you’ve just seen mentions a ride in the car, and their pup gets excited. Then, it flashes forward to a scene where they’re driving down an idyllic road, and the dog’s head is hanging out the window, tongue and ears flapping in the wind, happy as can be (you should never allow this, but more on that later).
Now, back to reality, where you’re trying anything and everything you can to get your own furry friend into the car and to be comfortable, but nothing works. Car rides can be stressful for dogs, even though the general perception is that they love them. So how do we help our pets get through their fear of the dreaded car ride?
Why Does My Dog Hate Car Rides?
Something that any pet owner knows is that dogs are more like people than we often realize. When it comes to riding in a vehicle, this fact is just as true as it is in any other case. Dogs are unique in their experiences and their preferences, and some dogs just don’t love car rides the way others do. This could be for a number of reasons:
- Past experiences - If you’ve just adopted a dog and find that they aren’t warming up to the idea of riding in cars, chances are they’ve had a bad experience, leading to negative associations.
- Motion sickness - Yep, dogs can suffer from this as well, with symptoms that people often get, too, like nausea and vomiting.
- Anxiety - It’s important to realize that a pup doesn’t have to have a bad experience to hate cars. For a dog, they can be scary! They’re being closed in a small space and moved more quickly than they’re used to. It sounds scarier when it’s put that way, doesn’t it?
- Inexperience - The likelihood of a puppy having issues with car rides is high from the beginning simply because it’s a new scenario. This is one of the easier aversions to fix; they just require exposure to the event.
Keep in mind, the level of severity to which your pet reacts to cars can vary. Some dogs won’t even be able to be in the presence of a car, while others only experience their issues while the car is on and moving.
Getting Your Dog Ready for Car Rides
When it comes to preparing to take your dog for rides in the car, patience is key. If you’re considering taking a road trip and want your furry companion to come along for the ride, plan to start early.
Let’s imagine that your dog has severe anxiety with cars. Look through the recommended fixes to find one that is most appropriate for your dog.
My Dog is Unable To Approach the Car
Start very slow. When the car is parked in the driveway and turned off, bring your dog out. Let them get comfortable being in the presence of the car, and maybe incorporate treats and praise, making them feel safe around the vehicle. This can take some time. Never force your animal closer to the vehicle than they are comfortable with.
If you have a small dog, and they will be traveling via crate or carrier, make sure that they are comfortable in the crate. Keep it out in the open at home, make it a space that they know is available to sit in, and let them know it’s their space exclusively.
My Dog Can Sit in the Backseat
Your furry friend can sit in the car, but as soon as the vehicle is turned on, panic ensues! This is normal and a middle stage to getting your dog ready to take joy rides with you. Sit in the backseat with your dog, of course, accompanied by treats. Give them praise. Find a toy to dedicate to the backseat, where they’ll be for car rides. It’s all about positive reinforcement! Work up to sitting in the car with them while it’s running.
The same goes for the carrier or crate route; keep their road trip toy in the crate, and get them acclimated to sitting in the backseat while you sit up in the front. This is where positive speaking and soothing voices really come into play.
My Dog Only Has Problems While Moving
This is the final stage, and to be quite frank, the hardest one to conquer for most pooches. Dogs can experience motion sickness when in cars. Help build your dog’s tolerance to longer rides by starting with short trips, making them longer as they show confidence in the car. Try only taking them to fun places so that they don’t build an association between the car and the vet!
Even if you aren’t using a crate or carrier, be sure to keep your dog safely restrained. There are products on the market that are available for this, such as harnesses that keep your dog in place while riding in the car. People wear seat belts; your dog should wear one, too!
My Dog Isn’t Acclimating to Car Rides, What Do I Do?
Dogs are just as unique as people, and some of them won’t truly calm down during car rides without some assistance. There are a number of strategies to employ once your dog is comfortable in the car before it’s in motion.
Things To Do Before the Car Ride
- Modify feeding - If the only problem you’re experiencing is that your pooch gets an upset stomach and inevitably ends up having an accident in the car, consider trying rides where they have been without food and water for a few hours. Sometimes this is the only irritant that a dog will experience, and this can help immensely.
- Introduce lavender - While it seems silly, studies have shown that lavender, when introduced to dogs as well as humans, can provide a calming effect. Try this with your dog on a shorter ride and observe if it produces the desired result. Be sure not to apply any lavender oils to your pet directly, only to other surfaces in the car that they will not come into contact with. It could create an unwanted allergic reaction if touched or ingested and can be toxic.
- Introduce familiar smells - Does your dog have a favorite blanket? Bring it along! It’s their favorite for a reason, and while dogs feel “at home” most in their living dwellings, this smell can still help with their comfort.
- Try using calming treats - While not intended to be a replacement for medication with serious vehicular anxiety, for normal stress due to car rides consider using a calming treat, such as the Wild One CALM Supplement. Reviewed by the Board Certified Veterinarian®, these treats are made of all-natural ingredients and could help your pet relax while getting used to car rides.
Things to Pay Attention to During the Ride
- Determine the scenery - If your dog is in a crate or a carrier and takes no interest in looking out the window, the chances are that the moving scenery may be causing them discomfort. Consider pointing the entrance of the carrier away from the window and covering the side closest to the window.
- If you are opening a window for your pup, always keep the opening small enough so that their head cannot fit through it. Debris and wind can damage their sensitive parts, like ears and noses. It will also keep escape artists from jumping out of the car.
- Try relaxing music - The power of sound can go a long way. The issue your furry companion has in the car may be road noise. Try putting on a soothing genre of music, such as classical or smooth jazz, to mask the sound of road noise in the vehicle.
- Take breaks - If your dog gets noticeably more anxious after a certain amount of time in the car (like on a road trip), when they usually are fine, find a place to stop and give them a break from the ride. Parks and rest stops are incredible from this. Get out, stretch your legs, take a potty break, and have a snack. Both you and your dog will benefit from the detour.
Nothing Else is Working!
When you’ve tried all of the above methods, and nothing seems to work, it’s time to call in the professionals. While all the techniques in this article have been veterinarian and trainer recommended and approved, sometimes a dog’s anxiety associated with car rides is just too much.
Consider having a trainer assist with the anxiety. Oftentimes, they’ll be able to take it just a step further and make a breakthrough where normal training could not. If things are still hard for your pet, consult their veterinarian. There are a plethora of medications available, and your veterinarian can prescribe them for those long car rides that your furry friend just might not be able to handle.
As always, think about your pet’s safety first and foremost. Happy travels!
Dog Anxiety in Car Rides: How to Relieve Dog Stress | American Kennel Club
Road Trips and Car Travel With Your Dog | VCA Hospitals
Preventing and Treating Travel Anxiety in Dogs | Preventive Vet
How to Relieve Dog Travel Anxiety | Pet MD