It is very hard to determine why some dogs have anxiety about traveling in cars, but usually it is related to a negative experience, and sometimes to motion sickness.
Dog car anxiety symptoms can include excessive salivating, barking and howling, running and jumping around the car, clawing to get out, and vomiting.
The best way to help with any dog travel anxiety is to slowly acclimate your dog to the travel situation.
If your dog has motion sickness, please see the article on car sickness in dogs for help with that particular problem.
Your dog is acting out like this because they are scared. Now this is not to be confused with a dog that is excited about being in the car. Many dogs will go from one side of the car to another, looking out, out of pure excitement. Others may do this as a way to figure out how to escape.
Travel anxiety in dogs is best treated with training and natural dog travel anxiety remedies before resorting to any tranquilizers from your vet. You have a couple of ways to help calm dogs naturally, such as DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) and anxiety wraps. Using one of more of these methods along with proper training and acclimation for your dog, and you should have a dog who is happy and stress-free traveling with you.
Training To Help With Dog Car Anxiety
The main thing to remember with training your dog to not be scared of traveling in a car is to
- take things very slow
- keep calm
- only use positive reinforcement (no yelling, no crying, no being forceful with the dog).
Also remember that any kind of petting or hugging of your dog is a positive reinforcement – so if your dog is scared and you pet them, you are reinforcing them to be scared.
Instead, stay calm and talk to them calmly and lovingly. They sense your fear and if you are fearful they will get scared, they will get scared because you are fearful.
So when your dog does well and shows signs of being happy and relaxed, pet them, hug them, show them you are proud of their behavior.
The basic steps to train your dog to get over car travel anxiety is as follows: NOTE: There are some dogs that just will not be able to travel without some sort of tranquilizers, though. No matter how much training and natural methods you use to help, they just won't calm down. If that is your problem, don't hesitate to go see your vet for some tranquilizers.
- Take your dog, on leash, to the outside of the car. Let them sniff around and investigate the car. Praise them when you like their behavior.
- Open the car door and encourage your dog to jump in, if they can. If they need you to pick them up, do so very slowly and place them in the car very slowly. Your attitude and feelings will transfer to your dog – if you are anxious about putting them in, they will pick up on that. Likewise, if you have a 'no big deal' attitude and lovingly put your dog in the car, they will pick up on the fact that they have nothing to worry about.
- Give them a little time to investigate the car, then properly restrain them. This can be with a dog car seat, a dog car harness, a travel crate, or for large dogs, putting them in the area behind a dog car barrier – see Different Ways To Travel In Your Car With Your Dog on your safe traveling options.
- It is best to reward good behavior with verbal praise or a quick pet or hug. Avoid food treats, because if they start feeling anxious, or have motion sickness, this will just come back up.
- If your dog is doing well at this point, you can try starting the car. If your dog is not doing well at this point, calmly take them out of the car and go back inside. Repeat steps 1-4 until your dog is comfortable and calm being restrained in the car.
- From here on you take baby steps with your dog. Start with just turning on the car. If/when they are OK with that, try a very short, and preferably, slow ride. If/when they are OK with that, go for a longer ride. Always keep calm during this acclimation period. If your dog barks in the car (out of fear and not excitement), calmly and firmly tell them 'No', but do not stop the car – if you do, your dog will learn that you will stop when they start barking.
It is difficult because you really have to think about how you respond and what your dog takes it to mean. We are conditioned to comfort and care, so not doing that is very difficult.
It is kind of like letting a baby 'cry it out' to get them to start sleeping on their own. If the terror is too great, then yes, you must intervene. But, if you know they are OK and they are just trying to control the situation, then you must stay strong – the same is true for your dog.
And if you took the above steps very slowly, letting your dog acclimate and adjust to riding in the car, in which there are no external, bad repercussions, then they should not have extreme fear.
Dog Travel Anxiety Remedies
There are also natural dog travel anxiety remedies you can try while training your dog. The two most popular are:
An anxiety wrap is a jacket-like device that uses velcro to provide a snug fit for your dog. The pressure gives the majority of dogs a sense of calm. They are used to help with separation anxiety in dogs, as well as noise anxiety and travel anxiety. One such wrap, called a Thunder Shirt, boasts an 85% success rate in helping to calm dogs. The great thing about an anxiety wrap is that there is nothing to refill.
Dog appeasing pheromones have been around for a long time. Pheromones are a scent emitted that a dog can pick up on, however we don't smell it at all. Most DAPs mimic the scent of a lactating mother dog, and brings a sense of comfort for dogs. DAP can be used as a spray in the car and can also be used on a dog collar.