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There are a number of reasons your dog might be anxious in the car. It could be that the car’s movement makes them nauseous. It could be that they only ride in the car when they’re going somewhere like the vet. It could be that the sound and vibration of the engine are too much. Whatever the reason, a dog’s car anxiety can be overcome with patience and, in some cases, a visit to the vet.
Motion sickness and nausea in dogs
Let’s start with the problem of motion sickness. Many dogs become sick to their stomachs in the car. I’ve found this to be especially true for puppies because their ears are underdeveloped, which means they can’t regulate their balance well yet. As they mature, many pups will simply grow out of motion sickness.
You’ll have difficulty overcoming car anxiety until your dog’s motion sickness is taken care of.
You may not be aware that your dog is suffering from motion sickness, as not every pup will vomit when feeling sick. Other signs of canine car sickness include:
- excessive drooling
- lip smacking
If you suspect your dog feels nauseous in the car, the first step is to try to keep them as comfortable as possible during the ride. Like people, they will probably do better if they can face towards the front versus looking out the side windows, perhaps by using a doggy seatbelt.
Be sure your passenger airbag is disabled so that your dog isn’t injured if you are in a collision. Keep your dog physically comfortable by giving them something soft and familiar to sit with like a blanket or dog bed and, if you can, keep car trips short. Allow fresh air to circulate by lowering the windows a few inches.
If your dog’s motion sickness is particularly bad and regularly induces vomiting, limit food before car trips. You may also want to consider providing your dog with anti-nausea medication before you travel. Your vet can recommend over-the-counter or prescription options.
Unfortunately, because nausea is such an unpleasant sensation, you are likely to have difficulty overcoming car anxiety until your dog’s motion sickness is taken care of. Once it is no longer a factor (or if it never was), you can begin to reduce your dog’s negative reaction to the car.
Overcoming dog car anxiety
If the car is a scary place, just approaching it will produce anxiety. To treat the fear, you’ll need to start there—helping your dog form a positive reaction to the car before even starting the engine.
- Step 1: Begin by walking towards the car, rewarding your dog with a small, high-value treat for approaching. Repeat until your dog is happy to approach the car.
- Step 2: Approach the car, open the door and reward. Walk away. Repeat several times.
- Step 3: When your dog is able to stand comfortably next to the car with the door open, begin to encourage them to investigate the car on their own. Place a high-value treat inside and speak happily to them while they search. Start with the treats near the door and, as your dog becomes more bold, encourage them to put more of their body inside to find the reward.
- Step 4: Next encourage your dog to enter the car and close the door for one second, then open the door and reward your dog, allowing them to exit if they wish. Repeat until you can close the door for 30 seconds to one minute without your dog becoming concerned.
- Step 5: Encourage your dog to enter the car, then close the door and get in the front seat, rewarding your dog for calm behavior once you’re fully seated. When they’re able to stay calm, try starting the car, rewarding your pup, then turning off the car and allowing your dog to exit.
- Step 6: Drive very brief distances (i.e., a block) before stopping the car, rewarding your dog and allowing them to exit. Gradually increase the distances if your dog is relaxed.
Other things to try
If your dog isn’t suffering from motion sickness, you can make their ride more enjoyable by offering them a puzzle toy to focus on during the ride. Freezing it before your journey will make the deliciousness last longer.
The pressure created by a ThunderShirt may help decrease your dog’s anxiety during car rides.
Soft music may be helpful for soothing your dog in the car. Try an album created specifically for calming dogs!