Are you trying your absolute best to cope with your dog’s intense fear of travel, but you just don’t know how to help cure dog car anxiety? Does it seem like every car ride, no matter how short, is horrendous torture?
Why is your dog so anxious in the car anyway? When did this dog car anxiety get so bad, and what led to it? If you’re wondering how to calm a dog in the car, consider why he is upset in the first place.
Find the Cause
You’ll need to understand the root cause of your dog’s fear before you can truly begin to change this unwanted behavior. In fact, this is true of nearly any unwanted dog behavior. Without understanding the exact cause, you’re shooting in the dark.
Does your dog become queasy, sick, or disoriented when traveling in your car? Have you noticed your pet vomiting during car rides? Maybe your suspension isn’t that great, and the ride is just very rough. Perhaps you’ve slammed on the brakes too many times, sending your furry friend catapulting into the back of your seat.
Ensuring a smooth ride is probably the best way to teach your dog to love car rides in this case. Your veterinarian may also suggest 1 mg. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) per pound of bodyweight to help calm your dog and eliminate motion sickness simultaneously.
What About Dog Car Seat Covers?
You might think about purchasing ‘dog car seats’ that provide cushioned barriers between the front and back seats and attach well to your vehicle thus preventing movement. You can even find comfortable ‘dog seat’ restraints that latch to your seat buckles.
Fear of Confinement
Your dog might simply consider the car one big, unnatural metal cage. After all, moving at those speeds is an experience very few animals would ever endure had we never entered their lives.
Unfortunately, when dogs aren’t able to escape a frightening situation and don’t know how to respond defensively, they can become very anxious. If the dog anxiety in the car is bad enough, it might continue to build on itself until impacting your dog’s physical health.
This is sometimes seen in extreme cases of separation anxiety when dogs will cause tremendous bodily harm to their mouths and paws trying to break out of a metal crate.
Think of a dog fight survivor (i.e. a ‘Bait’ dog), or an abused shelter rescue cowering in the corner of his cage in an attempt to seem as small and non-threatening as possible. In both of these cases, the dogs would have developed an intense fear of their tormentors.
That bait dog will have such an intense fear of other dogs, not even the most educated behaviorist in the world will have an easy time curing it completely!
Dogs can suffer from PTSD just as easily as humans can! Unfortunately, they lack the same coping mechanisms we’ve spent hundreds of years developing. The tormentor is the car this time, instead of other dogs or abusive humans.
Coping with Past Trauma
Like nearly any other traumatic situation, it may take very slow desensitization work (see below) from an experienced behaviorist to diminish fear at this level. Forcing trips might only make your dog’s intense anxiety worse, no matter how gentle you are.
For extreme situations like the examples above, you might want to discuss anxiety medication with your veterinarian.
Have you ever become so frustrated with your dog for refusing to hop in the car, you’ve lost your temper? Has this dog been screamed at or punished for refusing to leave? Though no one wants to actually admit to it, this type of aversive punishment will nearly always increase a dog’s anxiety toward the car.
You want your dog to feel like car rides are rewarding! Your pet is being treated to this amazing new experience, as opposed to dreading a fearful punishment.
How to Cure Dog Car Anxiety
Despite any one of the issues above, you can still teach your dog to love car rides! Through careful, gradual training, help your pet form positive associations with the car and car rides.
Congratulate your dog for getting into the car with enthusiastic praise! Entice your dog with tasty food rewards and treats! Provide plenty of entertaining toys!
By using reward-based positive reinforcement, you can easily teach your dog to love car rides. In other words, your goal is to calm your dog in the car by creating enjoyable situations.
Desensitization: In simple terms, desensitization dog training involves gradually introducing a normally disliked stimulus at a very slow pace, building familiarity until your dog no longer dislikes that stimulus!
Counter-Conditioning: You’re changing the way your pet feels toward a situation or object (in this case the car). You would accomplish this by combining something your dog enjoys more than his fear of car rides or that enjoyment outweighs the discomfort.
Teach Your Dog to Love Car Rides!
Is your dog suddenly scared of car rides? If you are trying to figure out how to cure dog car anxiety, desensitize your dog to car rides through counter-conditioning!
- Begin by gradually and subtly re-associating your car with pleasant memories. Have your pet sit outside the car and give your dog a high value treat like a piece of chicken then go for a short walk then come back to the car. Open the rear door. See if your pet goes in. If not, try to lure your pet by placing a high-value treat on the rear seat not too far from the door for your pet to easily take it. If your pet jumps in the seat then go inside to sit with him but if not, go for another short walk. Do not force your pet to get in the car. Doing so will only increase their anxiety. For older and very small dogs, consider getting a ramp.
- Come back to the car and open the rear door and sit down. Try to lure your dog by placing another high-value treat on the seat. If your pet jumps in, give him some more treats and play with him gently for a few minutes. Make sure the car is not too hot and the engine is turned off. Keep doing this until your dog looks comfortable.
- Exit the car then go for another short walk then come back. Open the rear door and place another treat. Allow your pet to jump in. This time start the engine then gently drive a short distance. Ideally not more than a few minutes. Try to drive as gently as you can. When you get back, give your pet another high-value treat and give lots of praise. Be patient and remember that it might take some time before your pet re-adjusts. If your dog refuses to cooperate, save it for another day.
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DOg Car Anxiety – top tips
- Put 2 drops of Bach’s Rescue on your pet’s water bowl to reduce anxiety
- Do not smoke in the car
- Crack the window to get some fresh air. If you’re not able to crack the window then set the a/c or heat to a comfortable temperature.
- Do not give your dog a full meal before getting in the car to prevent motion sickness and vomiting.
- Leave some poop bags, some paper towels, and bottled water in your glove compartment just in case you need to clean up
- Let your dog eliminate before getting in the car to prevent accidents.
- Try to wear a Thundershirt on your pet to reduce anxiety
- Play music from the i-Calm.com car version. This psychoacoustic music has the right balance to keep the driver alert and your pet relaxed.
- Do not force your pet to get in the car. Doing so will only increase your dog’s anxiety. Your dog must do this willingly. Resist the temptation to punish your dog if it has an accident in the car. It is not the dog’s fault and will make him associate your car with a negative experience. Let your dog relieve himself before getting in the car.
Medication for motion sickness
- Ask your vet about Cerenia which is the first and only FDA-approved medication used for dogs and cats to prevent motion sickness and vomiting.
- Ask your vet if you can give your dog Benadryl to reduce your pet’s anxiety in car rides.
- CBD oil can help your pet with motion sickness, among many other things
- Homeopathic Remedies are also effective with motion sickness.
Conclusion: Curing Dog Car Anxiety
In most cases, it really isn’t difficult to calm your dog in the car as long as you are careful. Instead of the fear or discomfort your pet felt before, relate wonderful things to the car! Always be enthusiastic and optimistic! Try singing songs with a cheerful voice, and incorporate new toys or treats.
All information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarians’ advice.