Do you love road trips? Do you envision yourself driving down the highway heading for your next pet-friendly destination with your trusted canine companion by your side?
Maybe your dog loves exploring new parks and outdoor destinations just as much as you do, but they hate the process of getting there.
Dog anxiety in cars is a common and debilitating condition among our beloved canine friends. In fact, according to a 2020 study conducted by the University of Helsinki in Finland, dogs are especially vulnerable to anxiety-related traits. And car anxiety, or car phobia, is one such problem that many dog owners face with their furry friends.
Not only does dog car anxiety contribute to psychological and emotional problems, but it can decrease their quality of life as well.
So how do you calm your dog in the car?
First, let’s identify the signs of dog car anxiety.
Does your dog have car anxiety?
Stress, fear, and anxiety can make car travel difficult for you and your pet. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can be very different for each individual dog.
These symptoms often include the following:
- Refusal to get into the car
- Moderate to severe whining, crying, or barking
- Excessive drooling, panting, lip licking, or yawning
- Possible urination or defecation in the car
- Shivering or panic
- Trying to escape from the car (through the window, or the second the door opens)
- Chewing or licking themselves
- Destructive behaviors
- Nausea and vomiting
Anxiety during car rides can make trips so challenging and heartbreaking that our beloved pets miss out on adventures we so badly want them to be a part of.
What causes car anxiety in dogs?
Researchers can’t say for sure, but many theorize that our dogs’ genetic makeup may be the reason they’re predisposed to different anxiety traits, such as car anxiety.
After all, dog anxiety is an umbrella phrase used to cover a wide range of symptoms or problems that fall under one common disorder. And car anxiety is just one branch under the anxiety umbrella.
In reality, there are a number of reasons why your dog might be battling car anxiety. Let’s take a look at a couple of the most common reasons…
Car sickness in dogs
Car sickness, or motion sickness, is one of the most common reasons dogs develop car anxiety.
This is especially true for puppies who have yet to grow into their ears. Underdeveloped ears can throw off their balance and orientation. Thankfully, most puppies grow out of this motion sickness phase.
However, dogs who suffer from Vestibular disease, or inner ear infections, may also struggle with unregulated balance and disorientation.
For these reasons, your sweet canine pal may actually be suffering from motion sickness while in the car. And even after they grow into their ears, or their ear infection is resolved, their association between car rides and feeling sick is the reason they get more and more anxious about hopping into the car.
Once your dog’s motion sickness is under control, it should become easier to help them overcome their relentless car anxiety.
Thankfully, the fixes for motion sickness can be surprisingly simple:
- Make sure your dog is on an empty stomach before car rides,
- Reduce nausea with the help of natural supplements, and
- Remember to consult with your vet if you think your dog might be suffering from inner ear issues.
Noise phobia in dogs
While noise phobia also falls under the anxiety umbrella, it’s often paired with car anxiety.
Noise phobia, or dog noise anxiety, is usually triggered by things like fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, and loud cars. But other, lesser sounds like car air conditioning, heavy bass sound systems, and other car-related noises can exacerbate a hypersensitive dog’s car anxiety.
While noise phobia in dogs can be especially hard to treat, it’s not impossible.
In fact, some pet owners have found success using dog anxiety vests, which work by wrapping around their torso and chest to provide a gentle comforting pressure.
In severe cases, some dogs may need to be given prescribed tranquilizers just to make it to their annual check-ups.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way…
Tips for Calming Dog Car Anxiety
The standard behavioral treatment most professional dog trainers recommend is to start helping your dog associate the car with good things, while staying under the “reaction threshold”.
The “reaction threshold” is the moment your dog starts showing signs of anxiety, whatever that may be for him or her.
In practice, this means helping your dog develop a positive reaction to your car before they get into it.
For starters, use treats and reaffirming praise when walking toward your car. This will help condition your dog that your car is safe to approach. Use this same method when opening and closing the car door.
You may have to repeat this method a few times until you see that your dog is at ease when they’re near your car and when they see the door open.
From there, it’s all about encouraging your dog to explore the inside and outside of your car on their own. You can hide treats in different spots to entice them to explore. Just be sure to let them take their time to sniff around, and be sure to speak in a happy tone as they do so.
Once you see your dog is a little more comfortable in the car, try shutting the door for just a second and then quickly open it with a treat in hand while praising them. If your dog is ready to exit the car, let them do so. This will encourage them that the car is a safe place.
You can then take a few short rides around the block, or maybe even drive to the park to associate car rides with fun places.
If your dog’s most frequent car rides are to the vet’s office, then it’s no surprise that they hate getting in the car. So be sure that your short rides are associated with fun destinations, like the dog park, a swim in the creek, or your local pet boutique. And remember to reward and praise every aspect of their car ride.
Remember: practice makes perfect!
The more often your dog can get in the car without being triggered, the better. With each successful trip, the more you can reward their calm behavior. This will allow you to quickly progress them towards the “reconditioning” of their emotional response to car rides.
Improve Your Dog’s Sense of Security in the Car
Believe it or not, the sense of instability that many of our canine companions feel during car rides can cause them to feel unsafe.
In fact, many well-meaning owners think that allowing a dog “free range” in the car is helpful to their pet.
Some owners even feel that by allowing their dog to crawl onto their lap helps keep them comforted during their journey in the car. But these practices are actually counterproductive for three reasons…
First, it is unsafe. A driver who is preoccupied with their furry passenger has less focus to put on the road.
Secondly, “comforting” a dog who is displaying anxious and panicky behaviors can unwittingly reward those behaviors. And if there’s one thing we know about dog training 101, it’s that any behavior rewarded is bound to increase. Which means, this common mistake can actually make your dog’s car phobia worse.
Third, many dogs are actually disturbed by being unable to find their footing as the car moves. This can add to their sense of insecurity and feelings that the car is not safe. This is because cars are only designed to keep humans safe, not our canine friends.
However, many pet owners have found that specially designed dog car harnesses work wonders.
In fact, dog car harnesses and/or dog seat belts help keep your dog secured in one spot while the car is in motion. This not only prevents possible distractions to the owner, but in the event of a car accident, your dog is most likely to be less harmed than if they were roaming free.
It also helps condition your dog to enjoy a car ride that is more predictably stable and secure.
Using CBD Oil to Relieve Anxiety
Finally, another way to help your dog with car phobia is to consider a natural product, LolaHemp CBD Hemp Oil.
This extract is derived from the hemp plant and contains phytonutrients, like calming terpenes, amino acids, and most importantly the highly therapeutic Cannabidiol (CBD).
What’s most interesting about CBD is that scientists, renowned doctors, and veterinarians are now acknowledging just how effective CBD can be when addressing anxiety.
And here’s why…
First, it can work with the neurochemistry of the brain and nervous system to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Second, recent research suggests it may be helpful to “unlearn” fears that are associated with past trauma.
(Both of these studies may be why some professional dog trainers have found that administering CBD an hour before training sessions and car rides can help calm a dog’s fears.)
Third, due to its effects on our dogs’ Endocannabinoid System (ECS), research suggests that CBD may help regulate nausea and motion sickness. Given that nausea can be a major root cause for conditioning car phobia in dogs, this is a major positive side benefit of this natural product when it comes to helping dogs overcome their fear of car rides.
In the end, the vast majority of dogs with car anxiety can be treated with a combination of behavioral training and healthy/safety aids, such as calming supplements and specially designed car harnesses.
Regardless of the reason your dog may fear car rides, remember that there are ways to help them overcome it.
All you need is the right tools and patience.
Joey DiFrancesco for his contribution. As the founder of pet formulated CBD Hemp Oil LolaHemp and online pet owner novelty shop Lolawawa’s. Both brands are involved in the animal rescue community and contribute a portion of their profits to rescue, foster and adoption organizations.
Wonderful article. I worked with a professional CPDT-KA certified dog trainer, and for the last 10 years she has been helping people to eliminate bad behaviors in dogs and train well behaved, obedient, loving pets…by showing them how to bring out the ‘hidden intelligence’ inside their dog. It has worked wonders for our dog 🙂