dogs and car anxiety

Dog Anxiety in a Car – How To Fix It


This article tackles dog anxiety in a car. A car ride can be one of a dog’s top favorite activities. It gives your dog a chance to see the world outside the four corners of his home and time to bond with his “pack”. Occasional trips to McDonald’s for ice cream or just giving him his favorite treats in the car will let your dog associate car rides with happy memories. A dog would jump in the car the first chance it gets. Our dog, Watson, would even jump in the trunk whenever we open it. 

Then one day your pet refuses to get in no matter how hard you try. You’re dumbfounded. How can this be?

Possible Causes

  • If your dog was recently adopted from a shelter, your dog may have associated feelings of abandonment with car rides. It may take a little work to get your pet to trust riding cars again.
  • Motion sickness. Your dog associated this nauseous feeling with car rides and doesn’t want to go through it again.
  • Your pet could have been a little too excited when he jumped in the car and got yelled at excessively
  • Only riding cars when going to the vet. Your dog then associates your car and riding it to be a negative experience. 

There can be many possible reasons but what ever it is, you can be confident that it is related to an unpleasant experience in the car. Dogs can easily tag a negative experience to a location. I used to drive my wife every morning to the subway station with Watson in the back seat and he would start to whimper at the exact same spot which is about 30 feet from the drop off area.  This happened each and every time. 

A car ride for a dog isn’t always fun. It can also be a stressful experience. Think about it –  they’re sitting in the back, being tossed around every time you speed up, slow down and make a turn. The unnerving sensation they feel when you drive over a pothole or speed bump. The sight and sound of a large passing truck can overwhelm their senses as well as cars honking around you. They can get motion sickness just like us humans and actually throw up. For a dog, it’s like riding a roller coaster. 

The same thing happens when a dog that usually has no problem going up and down the stairs suddenly refuses to go up and it’s because they hurt themselves at some point and they connected that pain to climbing stairs.  

What You Can Do

  • 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.

Also, Do The Following

  • 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 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

All information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarians’ advice. All photos credited to Pixabay


24 thoughts on “Dog Anxiety in a Car – How To Fix It”

  1. I really had no idea that this was such an in depth issue. We’ve had six dogs over the last twenty three years and none of them have had any issues whatsoever with being in the car, we’ve obviously been very lucky. Still, I was glad that I read the article, as I now feel somewhat more prepared than I was before, should I ever have the misfortune to have an anxious dog.

    I’ve bookmarked the page as my wife helps out at a ‘dog rescue’ and is always moving them around. I didn’t realise there was specific music available to help keep them calm. You are so right with the negative associations, they have a kind of sixth sense, certainly when it comes to visiting the vets and on one occasion when the one had to stay a few nights in a kennels. We always have a supply of ‘Rescue Remedy’ on hand, should the need arise. 

    1. Hi Twack, we also use Rescue Remedy. It’s powerful stuff and its safe. Im glad you found this article to be helpful and yes, dogs are smart. Sometimes almost telepathic


  2. This site effectively addresses a specific pet concern – anxiety.  Even more attention is focused on fear of riding in cars.  

    The reasons for the development of these anxieties are identified, and particular methods of dealing with them are set out, including a description of hands-on training, and the use of various medications for anxiety.  

    The navigation of links to these medications is very well developed.  The site will be helpful for those seeking answers on this subject.    


  3. Thank you for this guide to how to fix dog anxiety in a car. I found it very helpful 

    I have a dog (Boby) that I took to the supermarket once in my car, but I had a bad experience with him. It was the worst part of my day! So I stopped going out with him in the car a while!

    I’m going to try to apply the tips you shared with us to see if I can get a good ride with him.


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