Help! My dog has car anxiety!
If this is you, and you want to know how to cure dog car anxiety, you have come to the right place today!
Lexi, my GSD/Collie, was not a fan of the car. She would shake, drool, pant excessively and do whatever she could to avoid the car. But that was a long time ago!
Today, if the door is open, she jumps in. And she loves nothing more than to pop her head out of the window on a drive.
She loves the car so much that I often find her happily sitting on the back seat while I'm unloading the shopping!
So, I'm here to tell you there is hope. You can help your dog get over their car anxiety, and I'm going to share all the tips, tricks and training available to you.
Reasons Why Dogs Fear Cars
The first step in solving this problem is to pinpoint why your dog has car anxiety. Depending on the reason, the next step in the process is to reframe the situation into something positive. Or resolve a health issue that may be causing car anxiety.
Nausea and Motion Sickness
It's not unusual for puppies and even some adult dogs to become sick to their stomachs in the car. But it's especially true for puppies. However, most puppies outgrow this problem. Although there are the unlucky ones who never do.
The exact cause of motion sickness is not fully understood. But there are a few theories. The most popular one being “mixed sensory signals.” For example, when the eyes tell the brain there's no movement, but the inner ears sense motion.
Vomiting is not the only symptom of motion sickness. So keep an eye out for any of these other telltale signs.
- Lip licking
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive panting
- Listlessness or uneasiness
If motion sickness is the issue, you'll need to address this first before you can successfully cure your dog of car anxiety.
8 Ways to Keep Your Nauseous Dog Comfortable
If you suspect that the problem is indeed motion sickness, there are a few things you can do to make your pooch more comfortable.
- Seat your dog so that they are facing the front and not looking through the side windows. You can achieve this by using a doggy seatbelt.
- Keep your dog physically comfortable by offering them a familiar blanket.
- Help them stay firmly seated and not sliding around into turns. For this, I use a comfortable dog bed placed on their seat.
- If you have the space available, consider using a crate when transporting your dog in the car.
- Allow fresh air to circulate inside your vehicle by lowering the windows a few inches.
- If your dog is regularly vomiting from motion sickness, consider limiting food intake an hour before taking a car ride.
- Keep car rides as short as possible.
- Speak to your vet about anti-nausea medication if all else fails.
Another reason why your dog might not be so keen to take a car ride is that the experience is unfamiliar.
Dogs have a strong sense of smell. Even if all you can smell is your new car freshener, your dog is picking up way more scents. And this can be overwhelming for them.
There's also the restricted space to consider. In everyday life, your dog has ample space to move around. But inside your vehicle, they are confined to a much smaller area which can cause anxiety.
Not to mention the sound of the engine and other cars whizzing by. All of these factors will influence your dog's mood and experience.
The right training, done slowly and with positive reinforcement will solve this issue. Keep reading to find out how…
Previous Negative Experiences
Some dogs don't set their paws in a vehicle unless they are taking a trip to the vet. For some dogs, this is enough to fuel anxiety.
If you've adopted a shelter dog, the possible negative scenarios are endless…
Perhaps their only car ride they had was to the shelter. Or to the deserted area where they were abandoned.
And if your rescue dog was hit by a vehicle or involved in a car accident, the chances are they already have a long-lasting phobia for cars.
If previous negative experiences are the problem, you can solve this with force-free positive training. It's likely to take a while, and you might need to be patient for a few weeks or more.
How to Cure Dog Car Anxiety with Training
For this training, you'll need high-value treats and a clicker. Your dog should already understand what the click from a clicker means.
The idea behind this training is to break the entire car ride experience into easy to learn steps. This training will help change your pooch's perception of car rides in slow strides. While at the same time learning is a positive way.
Step 1: The Approach
Casually walk towards the car. Click and reward your dog for approaching the vehicle. Then walk away from the car and approach again, click and reward your dog for approaching. Rinse and repeat.
Note: If your dog is not comfortable approaching right up to the car, no problem. Click and reward them right up to where they are comfortable. Then rinse and repeat, slowly working towards them approaching right up to the vehicle.
Step 2: Open the Door
Approach the vehicle and open the door. Immediately click and reward if your dog is calm and stays put. Then walk away. Repeat this step several times.
Note: If your dog bolts when you open the door, don't worry, it just means you're moving too quickly. Take a few steps back and try again.
Step 3: The Investigation
Once your pooch is relaxed and comfortably standing next to the vehicle, it's time to encourage them to investigate the car at their own pace.
Place high-value treats near the door, on the seat, on the floor inside the car and anywhere else they can reach from outside.
Speak to your dog in an encouraging and excited voice while they explore and find the rewards.
Note: Your dog will become more fearless as you encourage them. At this point, you can place rewards so that they need to put more of their body inside the car to reach the treats. Give plenty of praise when they do this.
Step 4: Hop in
At this point, your pooch should be bold enough get into the car to reach the rewards. If they have an absolute favorite toy, try throwing it into the car for them to follow. But using your high-value treats will work just as well.
Once your dog is inside the car, close the door for a second and open it again immediately and give a jackpot reward (this is a bunch of treats in one go!).
Repeat this step until you can close the door for 30 seconds without your dog freaking out. They must be calm while the door is closed, or you're moving too fast.
Note: Your dog must always have the freedom to exit the car at any point. Never force them to remain in the car because this will be counterproductive and have the opposite effect.
Step 5: The Driver's Seat
Use your high-value rewards and encourage your dog to jump into the car. Then shut the door and get into the driver's seat. If your dog is calm, reward them handsomely once you're seated. Rinse and repeat this step until your dog is calm and relaxed with you in the driver's seat for at least 30 seconds.
Step 6: Start the Engine
Start your vehicle's engine and reward your pooch for staying calm. Then turn off the engine and allow your dog to exit the car.
Step 7: We have Liftoff!
Drive a short distance with your dog in the car. Then reward your dog and allow them to exit the vehicle.
Note: You might have to start as short as just backing out of your garage or driveway and then in again. The idea is to desensitize your dog and increase the distance over time. If you notice your dog displaying any nervous behavior, go back to the distance where they were calm and relaxed and move forward slowly from there.
More Ideas to Cure Dog Car Anxiety
If motion sickness is not an issue, there are other things you can incorporate to make car rides more fun and comfortable.
Puzzle games are a great way to keep your dog occupied during car rides. Kong toys are trendy for this reason. I like to make my dogs an organic peanut butter and banana mix to stuff inside their Kong toy.
You can freeze it for a few hours before the car ride which will make the filling last longer.
Gentle music is another way you can soothe your dog during car rides. Believe it or not, Amazon sells albums specifically created for dogs!
Thunder shirts are another tool you can use to calm your anxious dog during car travel. They work by creating a gentle pressure which is naturally calming. Amazon has some great options to choose from.
Desensitizing your dog to triggers is something you'll need to work on over time. Your dog might be relaxed in the car, but certain sights and even sounds may trigger them. Anything from motorbikes, car horns, joggers to other dogs can be a trigger. To counter-condition fears, offer your dog a high-value reward whenever a trigger is present.
Plan car rides that are just for fun by taking your dog to rewarding destinations. Be creative, like taking your dog to a hiking spot or spoil them with a play date to canine friends. Any destination your dog deems as rewarding will work.
Helping your anxious dog learn to love car rides takes time, training and commitment. But the rewards are well worth it.
And now that you know how to cure dog car anxiety with these handy tips and tools, you can begin to work with your dog to change their perception of car travel.