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  • Writer's pictureSara Scott

Helping Your Dog Overcome Anxiety About Riding in Cars

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Does your dog turn into a panting, pacing, whining mess every time you try to get them into the car? Or do they freeze in place and resist entering the vehicle altogether? Many dogs develop fear or anxiety associated with car rides that makes any travel stressful for pets and owners alike.


Yet with patience and proven techniques, you can help your anxious dog become more comfortable and confident in the car. Let’s explore why dogs may develop car anxiety and practical strategies for easing their distress.


A mixed breed golden retriever dog exhibits signs of stress in the back seat of a car. The dog's ears are back, eyes widened, head lowered, and posture hunched and tense. This demonstrates symptoms of anxiety a dog may display when fearful of car travel due to lack of familiarity, association with vet visits, or susceptibility to motion sickness. Using desensitization training and calming products can help dogs overcome travel-related anxieties.

Understanding Car Ride Anxiety in Dogs


Anxiety about car travel in dogs typically stems from one or more of the following factors:


  • Motion sickness

  • Lack of familiarity with car travel

  • Relating the car to an unpleasant experience like trips to the vet

  • Discomfort with confinement in a small space

  • Unpredictability and inability to control the environment


Symptoms of car anxiety can include panting, salivating, pacing, whining, shaking, hiding, vomiting, urinating, refusal to enter the vehicle, and attempts to escape the car.  Making travel experiences positive from a young age reduces likelihood of phobias later.


Desensitization Training


The most effective approach to reduce car anxiety is gradual desensitization combined with counterconditioning. This means slowly acclimating your dog to the car and associating it with good things rather than distress. Perform training sessions in short 5-10 minute intervals over days or weeks.


Begin by feeding your dog treats for approaching and looking at the motionless car. Progress to the dog entering the off car, then sitting inside and being rewarded as the engine remains off. Next graduate to very short, low-speed trips around the block with ample treats.


Work up incrementally to longer rides only as your dog remains relaxed at preceding steps. If signs of anxiety surface, go back to an easier level. Remaining under their stress threshold is critical so the car triggers pleasurable feelings rather than fear. Consistent, gradual training rewires the dog’s perception of car travel to be enjoyable.


Environmental Management


Optimizing the car’s environment can ease anxiety triggers. Use a dog car seat, hammock, tie down or barrier to restrict movement, prevent falling or interrupting the driver. Covering crate carriers blocks outside stimuli. Cool circulating air might also help motion sickness. Dogs will have individual needs, so you’ll need to see what works best for your dog or enlist a trainer to help you.



Medications


In some cases, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or sedatives to use for car rides. Only give medications under your vet’s guidance. While useful in the short term, continue desensitization training to reduce reliance on medication.


The Takeaway


With commitment and creativity, you can guide your anxious dog toward feeling at ease in the car. Consistency is key. The more positive associations they build with every step, the faster their ride anxiety subsides. Soon your dog may even excitedly hop in the backseat ready for new adventures! Patience through the process allows you to open up a world of carefree car travel again.


 

If your dog's car anxiety has you stuck and standard training tips aren't helping, you don't have to keep struggling alone. I offer customized training programs that combine proven techniques like desensitization, counterconditioning, and positive reinforcement with an individualized approach tailored to your unique dog and situation.


My science-backed but compassionate methods aim to understand the root causes of your dog's car fear and work to change their emotional response from stress to comfort through targeted behavior modification protocols. With my guidance, you'll get the step-by-step training plan you need to reduce your dog's travel anxiety and restore their confidence whether running errands around town or going on road trips.


Click here to learn more about my personalized training programs for effectively and humanely resolving car travel issues in dogs. Let's get your dog happily hopping in the car and ready for adventure!

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