Friday, May 31, 2013

Road Trip - Helping Your Anxious Dog in the Car

So you want to get outside with your dog? There are so many options for outdoor fun as the weather warms up, but the problem may be that you have a dog that doesn’t enjoy car rides. Getting there is certainly NOT half the fun if your dog shows signs of stress, barks out the window or even vomits. Working to solve your dog’s issues in the car can be beneficial to both you and your pooch.
Try to determine what it is about the car that is causing your dog’s stress. Though you may never know what the exact issue is, there are always methods of improving the car ride. Some dogs will do better riding in crates, some can do better in a fixed position with a dog seat belt, and some might even need a frozen Kong in the car in order to keep the visual stimulus down. You can experiment to find out what works best for your furry family member before taking your dog on longer trips.

Start by getting your dog used to the car. Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, there are steps that you can take to help them adjust. If you have a puppy that is in its socialization window, which is before 20 weeks, it’s important to get your dog in the car as much as possible. Bring your puppy with you when making short trips. If you are running to the bank or picking your kids up from school, take them with you on these trips to get them used to the car. With puppies, you have the added benefit of adding different environments to your “socialization checklist” when bringing your dog in the car to run quick errands. Every place you bring them is a new environment that will help increase their confidence outside the home.

This process can be slightly different when dealing with adult dogs. For dogs that are afraid of the car, short trips as simple as driving around the block are key. Just once around the block and heading back home can help your dog better adjust to the car. It’s also important to end the short car trip with something that your dog loves, like a long walk. This method can also work for a dog that gets an upset stomach when riding in the car. The idea is to keep the ride short, and again end it with something that your dog goes crazy for, like a walk. This needs to be continued until your pet seems “over it,” and then you can begin starting longer trips with your dog. This process can be done with any dog that is having any type of problem in the car.

If your dog is clearly stressed out in the car, the best thing you can do is work on it over time. However, if you are looking for other things to help, they could benefit from the following:
  • A Crate: Crates are a great tool for the car and can take some of the stimulus away that could be causing your dog‘s stress, like movement or sounds out the window. They can also serve as a safety measure; keeping your dog in a crate or in a single position through the use of a seat belt can help reduce risk of injury should you have an accident or even just need to slam on your breaks.
  • Rescue Remedy: There are pheromone sprays similar to ones that a mother dog would naturally produce in order to help calm her puppies. These “Rescue Remedies” can be sprayed in your car in order to help your pooch calm down. Remember that it’s not a cure, but it can help your dog quite a bit.
  • Thundershirt: The thundershirt is designed to help calm your dog by making them feel more secure. It’s important to first put the thundershirt a few weeks prior during feeding times and other random “good” times. You don’t want to just use the shirt as a way to calm your dog down. If you only put the shirt on the dog when they are going in the car, they will begin to associate the shirt with the car, which could hamper its effectiveness.

If your dog vomits in the car, there are steps that you can take in order to prepare them for the car ride. Don’t feed them before they go for a car ride, and make sure they aren’t consuming a large quantity of water before getting in the car. Keep a cleaning agent with you just in case, and remember that it is easier to clean up if your dog is in a crate.

With the weather heating up, it’s keep in mind your dogs safety when being left alone in a hot car. A car’s interior heats up very quickly, even in lukewarm weather and with the windows down. If it’s 70 degrees or hotter outside, it is definitely too hot to leave your dog in the car alone, even for a short period of time.

Remember to address the issues that your dog has in the car before your drive. You should never address an issue while you are driving; not only does it put you and your dog in danger, it also endangers other people on the road. By addressing your dog’s fears and stress prior to the trip, you can help improve the car ride for yourself and your dog, and move on to enjoying outdoor activities together.


  1. this was a super helpful post. My Sheltie is 6 yrs old and doesn't enjoy the car. Whenever he is in the car he ONLY wants to sit on the floor. What do you think about that?

    1. Hi Caren! Thank you for your comment. We think whatever makes your Sheltie the most comfortable would be the preferred method.

  2. Thank goodness Chester and Gretel don't have any issues in the car. In fact, they love it. However, I did buy a trailer they can ride in behind my bike and they don't really like it. This is the first time I have had to deal with motion issues. I tried a thundershirt, kong and calming sprays and drops. Right now I am just trying to get them used to it tiny trips at a time. They don't mind being IN it at all. They will sleep in it if it's in the house. If definitely has to do with the motion.

  3. All you need is dog trusting you in your road trip.