Dog Anxiety and Car Rides: How You Can Help
For some dogs, a car ride is a sign of something fun. They happily leap into the backseat or into a crate in the trunk, excited for a new adventure.
Other dogs feel differently.
Dogs can experience motion sickness in cars and may feel anxious and uncomfortable in a car. If you like to take your pet with you when you travel, this can create problems. Is there a way to deal with your dog’s motion sickness? How can you ease their distress while travelling? More importantly, how can you be sure your dog is safe and secure in a car?
Signs Your Dog is Anxious in a Car
If your dog is anxious in a car, don’t worry – they’ll let you know about it. Some commonly known car anxiety symptoms include whining and crying, restlessness, drooling, or even vomiting. Your dog may huddle down, tail tucked between their legs, displaying physical signs of discomfort. Frequent lip licking and lowered ears also indicate discomfort or nerves.
It’s good to try and establish why your dog is uncomfortable in the car. It could be because of a bad past experience. For example, a car accident with your dog in the car could make them nervous in the future. Car accidents are a reasonable cause of anxiety since humans often have the same reaction to traumatic incidents.
However, your dog could have also come to associate the car with bad places. If the only time you’ve put them in a car is to take them to the vet, your dog will understandably associate the car ride with the ultimate destination.
Straightforward motion sickness can also be at the root cause of your dog’s anxiety. If that’s the case, it would be best to avoid long car trips until you’ve dealt with it.
Safety First for Dogs
Just like a person, your dog needs to be properly secured in the car when it’s moving. Some pet owners have a special crate in the trunk of the car, which keeps their dog safe and secure. You can put plenty of comfortable blankets, toys, and treats in that area, to keep your dog entertained during a journey.
Other pet owners use specialised seatbelt harnesses. It attaches to your dog’s body like a regular harness but includes a loop or attachment that you can slip a seat belt through. These harnesses prevent your dog from roaming around the car as you drive and protects them – and us – in the event of an accident.
Nervous dogs may try and move around the car while it’s driving. They may bark, whine, or scratch, all of which can be dangerous. The driver may be distracted. If you’re getting your dog used to travelling in the car, it may be an idea to take a friend or relative along with you, to keep an eye on your dog while you drive.
Keeping your dog safe and secure in a car is the first step to calming their nerves.
The absolute best way to get a dog comfortable with car rides is to start training them young. Puppies are more open to new experiences, and this is a key period in their development.
Of course, this isn’t always possible. But that doesn’t mean that an older dog can’t learn to love the car.
First, try and establish when your dog begins to show signs of nervousness. Do they begin to get uncomfortable as the car ride goes on, or are they reluctant to get in the car at all? If you’re not sure of the root cause of your dog’s anxiety, try consulting a vet. They might be able to help you decide whether it’s straightforward nerves or motion sickness.
The key is to get your dog to connect a car ride with food and fun. Start small, perhaps with only short car rides. If your dog is exceptionally nervous, start by getting them comfortable sitting in the car with the engine turned off.
You could play a game with your dog and their favourite toy and offer them treats. Once your dog is relaxed, move on to the next stage of the training – turning on the car. Once again, wait until your dog is completely relaxed before moving on.
If your dog seemed very distressed, you may need to finish the training for that day. But don’t give up, you can try again.
Once you’ve built your dog up to be comfortable with short car rides, use the car to take them somewhere fun, such a dog park or out for a treat. They’ll quickly learn to associate the car with fresh air and fun.
Of course, you’ll still have to take your dog to unpleasant locations, like the vet or the dog groomers. But if you also use the car to go to fun locations and bribe them with food, treats, and attention, you should be fine!
Dealing with Dogs Motion Sickness
Motion sickness can cause anxiety in dogs, as well as vomiting. If your dog knows they’ll feel sick and ill in the car, and possibly get told off for vomiting, they’ll be reluctant to get into a car.
Getting your dog used to driving in the car can help them to get over their motion sickness. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to ease their discomfort.
- Wind down a window (make sure your dog can’t climb out!)
- Keep the inside of the car cool.
- Limit food and water before a road trip, as a full stomach may make your dog feel sick.
- Exercise your dog before a trip, as this can ease any stress.
- Use anti-anxiety or motion sickness medication for dogs. Consult your vet about what to use.
Should You Take Your Dog in a Car?
With a little patience and training, you can get your dog used to road trips. Being able to take your dog in the car opens up a huge range of next activities. You can go hiking with your beloved pet, take them on picnics, beach trips, holidays, and more!