How to Calm a Dog in the Car

Planning trips with the family and family pets can be a fun experience, but when your dog is scared of riding in a car this can make travel harder. Just like we do not enjoy being in stressful situations, dogs can feel stressed in a car. Cars are not built with dogs in mind, so it is up to you to make car rides fun for your pup.

We will take a look at what causes dogs to be afraid of a car ride and what you can do to help ease your dog’s stress and anxiety.

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calm a dog in the car

Why is Your Dog Scared of the Car?

Dogs can be scared of cars and car rides for many different reasons. It is up to you to find out just what is causing your dog stress and what you can do to make car rides more fun. There are several common reasons dogs can be afraid of car rides.

  • Car sickness. The motion of the car can unsettle a dog’s stomach. This is unpleasant for your dog and may prompt them to vomit as a sort of relief mechanism. If dogs remember this uneasy feeling every time they get into a car, they will not feel comfortable and most likely vomit each time.
  • Unfamiliar environment. Cars have their own smells and the noises of the engine or radio could scare your dog when getting in a car for the first time. Also. seeing everything pass by quickly outside the window could stress a dog out.
  • Previous negative experience. You are often putting your dog into the car when they are going to the vet or the groomers. If your dog has had a bad experience in the past he may think that every time you put him in a car he is going to this bad place.
  • Negative memories associated with car rides. This can happen with rescue dogs that may have been in a car accident or were stuck in a car for a long period of time in the past.

Whatever reason your dog may have for why they fear the car, it is up to you to recognize this and help them get over their fear and learn that car rides can actually be fun.

Why Your Dog Needs to be Comfortable in a Car

It is better to have a calm dog in the car to prevent driving distractions. If you are preoccupied with checking on your dog constantly to see how he is doing or reaching over to pet him to calm him, then you are not completely focused on the road and your driving.

Trying to get a dog into a car when he doesn’t want to get in can be very stressful and time-consuming. If your dog is comfortable in the car then he will just jump right in and you won’t have to spend time encouraging and calming him every single you want to go somewhere.

If a dog is calm in a car it can also make transport easier in the case of an emergency. Without having to worry about a scared dog in the car you can focus on escaping any emergency situation safely.

Stress and anxiety can lead to health issues for your dog. Keeping your dog calm in the car will help their health and happiness greatly.

How to Calm a Dog in the Car

The first step in helping your dog be calm in a car is to start car rides as early as possible while he is still a puppy. If you get your dog at an early age, it is easier to establish a positive relationship between the dog and car. If you happen to have an adult dog, with prior negative car experiences, then it may take a bit more work to get your dog used to the car.

Positive reinforcement is a must to encourage your dog to be comfortable in the car. Start with the car turned off and allow your dog to sniff and explore the car. Praise them if they do not back away or show fear of the car and encourage them to get closer to the car if do show fear. Once your dog is able to get into the car with little fear then start with short car trips to get them used to the car’s motion. Don’t forget to constantly give them praise for doing a good job. Use your pup’s favorite treats for this.

Always keep your nervous dog in the back of the car. This provides less of a distraction for you while driving and can help you focus on the road. This may seem cruel as some owners enjoy the idea of having their dog as a copilot, but while a dog is still getting used to the car it is best to give them their own space as you are trying to help them over their fear.

Sometimes a dog is afraid of the car because they do not feel secure. To help this, you can get a special car harness for your dog that will act as a seatbelt for them. Some dogs tend to feel comforted when restrained, especially anxious dogs, as the pressure provides a form of support.

If the harness idea does not work you can try a crate or carrier. This will give your dog a personal safe space to keep them from moving around too much. Some do not enjoy the idea of creating their dogs in a car, but just like how a room is a safety zone for people, crates act the same way for dogs. Make sure the carrier is comfortable and there is nothing that your dog can get hurt by, like a leash that could accidentally wrap around their neck if they were to panic.

Try bringing your dog’s favorite toy or a blanket or article of clothing that has the scent of home. These familiar objects can help ease a dog similar to how a child is calmed at night by their favorite stuffed toy. Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell, so the familiar smelling objects will show them that cars are safe and a comfortable place to travel in.

Only if the other methods listed above do not work should you try sedating dogs with medication. It is best to try and avoid this option since it can trigger a negative connection for dogs. Always consult your vet about what type of sedation is best to use before attempting to medicate your dog for car trips.

Have a Pawsome Ride!

Not all dogs take to the car as well as others for whatever reason. It is best to try positive reinforcement and to keep a positive attitude when it comes to helping dogs get over their fear. It will take some time and patience, but every dog is capable of learning to enjoy how fun a car ride can be.

For more on keeping dogs calm, read these articles:

How to Calm a Dog Down

How to Massage Your Dog

How to Calm a Dog After a Seizure