Some dogs are up for anything…until it’s time to get in the car. Dog car anxiety can make it difficult to go to the vet, plan a vacation, or even visit the pet store. Some dogs feel mild discomfort that keeps them from settling down during a car ride (whether it’s long or short). 

Other dogs whine, pant, pace, or cry for the duration of the trip. If your dog is suffering from car anxiety, your friends at Oakland Veterinary Referral Services are here with helpful tips to mitigate this fear:

Getting to the Root of Dog Car Anxiety

While it can be hard to determine exactly what is causing your dog’s fear in the car, it is important to understand that there are a variety of factors that could be the reason for this reaction. Some common stress triggers for dogs in cars include:

  • Feeling nauseous while moving
  • A previous traumatic experience in a car
  • Difficulty with confined spaces
  • A negative association with the car (like when they only travel in it to go to the vet)

While you don’t necessarily have to figure out the trigger to teach your dog to enjoy car rides, understand that it might be worth a little trial and error. With a little bit of effort (and a lot of love), you can teach your dog to enjoy riding in the car with you.

Desensitizing the Car for Your Dog

You can minimize your dog’s anxiety for the car with desensitization and counter-conditioning. To do this, you must slowly help your dog get used to the car while working to replace negative responses with positive ones. Walk slowly with your dog toward the vehicle and find the closest spot where your dog remains relaxed. This could be right next to the car or a little further away. 

As soon as he starts to show signs of anxiety, return to the last spot where he was calm. As you move toward the car again, give the dog a treat, positive affirmations, a toy, or anything else that will help him start to associate the experience with something happy. If you get to a point where your dog gets anxious again, simply take a few steps back and continue the process until he is ready.

Practice in the Car

Once you can get your dog inside the car without feeling so anxious, you want to give her plenty of time to feel comfortable in the vehicle before you start to drive. Give her a treat when you secure her into her seat. Pass her another one when you get into the driver’s seat. Repeat when you turn on the vehicle. It’s important to spend some time just sitting in the car with the engine running to give your pup time to get used to the sound. Working slowly and calmly through the fear can help your dog overcome this anxiety.

Start Small

Since you’re dealing with dog car anxiety, give your pup more time to get used to the car with a few short trips once he is used to being in the vehicle. Drive to the end of your street and back. The next time you get in the car, go to your favorite park or stop for a pup cup. Make your first few trips to locations that your dog loves and continue to offer positive reinforcement the whole time. By the time you take your next trip to the vet or drive to a nearby town, your dog will be much more comfortable riding in the car.

At OVRS, we always want to help you and your pets live your best lives together. From our plentiful list of owner resources to our specialty and emergency veterinary care, we are always here when you need us. Call (248) 334‑6877 to learn more.