by Wyatt Dalton
My three dogs love car rides. To them, getting in the car means going somewhere fun, new, and exciting (like Kahoots!). They expect to hike, explore, play at the beach, and be around other dogs. These trips are now a central part of our relationship.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Their first car rides as puppies were unsuccessful. The pups were full of anxiety, got violently motion sick, and had … well, accidents. There was a learning curve for both me and the dogs before we came to enjoy riding in the car. Hopefully, reading this article can help you shorten that curve for yourself.
It may take some time for your dog to get comfortable in the car. Many dogs get anxious or sick, while others might simply be uncomfortable. However, with good planning and a few strategies, you can make the car ride enjoyable for everyone.
Why Do Some Dogs Not Do Well On Car Rides?
Looking into the potential reasons that your dog might be uncomfortable in the car is the start of figuring out how to help them learn to love road trips. Here are some of the most common reasons for a dog to be anxious in the car.
All Fear, No Fun: If a dog’s experience with car rides mostly involves negative destinations, such as the vet or grooming salon, they can easily develop a strong anxiety response to being in a car.
Motion Sickness: Some dogs suffer from motion sickness, which can make car rides an uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing experience.
Lack of Exposure: Dogs that aren’t used to car rides might find the experience intimidating. This is why it’s beneficial to introduce dogs to car rides in a gradual, positive manner.
Separation Anxiety: In cases of rescue dogs, they might have a pre-existing association between car rides with being left alone or abandoned.
Before the Car Ride
Mitigating anxiety starts well before your dog hops in the car. This is where good planning and training comes into play. Here are some things you can do before car rides to keep your dog calm and comfortable.
Plan Mealtimes: If you need to feed your dog before getting into the car, schedule mealtime for a few hours before. This helps prevent motion sickness.
Exercise Your Dog: A well-exercised dog is a calm dog. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise before getting in the car.
Desensitize: Start by spending time with your dog in a parked car with the engine off. Offer treats, pets, and praise, gradually introducing elements such as the noise of the car starting. Over time, you can build up to short rides, ensuring the trips always lead to positive experiences.
Counter-condition Pre-existing Anxiety: If your dog is already anxious about car rides, use reward-based training to gradually acclimate them to riding in the car. Your goal should be to help your dog associate the car with something positive—like treats, play, or comfort.
During the Car Ride
Once you’re on the way to your destination, your job becomes making the ride itself comfortable and the destination a positive experience.
Here are a few suggestions to make the ride as enjoyable as possible:
Take Short, Pleasant Trips: Begin with short car rides to enjoyable destinations like the park or beach. This can help your dog associate car rides with positive experiences, instead of stressful ones like vet visits.
Monitor and Reward Good Behavior: During the car ride, be attentive to your dog. Praise and reward them for good behavior.
Provide Comfort Items: Items that your dog associates with comfort, like a favorite toy or blanket, can go a long way in making them feel secure and at ease during the journey.
Ensure Regular Breaks: For longer trips, make sure your dog has access to fresh water and take regular breaks for them to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.
Car rides don’t have to remain a source of anxiety for our dogs if we can create a supportive, healing, positive environment. Changing your dog’s anxiety to excitement is just a matter of taking simple steps to help them feel safer and more comfortable when traveling. Remember, it’s not about forcing our dogs to merely tolerate car rides, but about helping them form positive associations with the car.
Patience, understanding, and consistent reinforcement are key in this process. The ultimate goal is to make every car ride—from short jaunts to the local park to long-distance road trips—a positive and enjoyable experience for your dog. With time and commitment, we can turn our cars from spaces of anxiety to zones of excitement and adventure.