Help Your Dog Feel Calm During Car Rides

Dog car rides are a necessary part of our dog’s lives! Many dogs view car rides as incredibly exciting and may bark, pant, and bounce from seat to seat as we travel. Other dogs find car rides overwhelming and stressful. They may drool, whine, and even vomit when in vehicles. For dogs on each end of the spectrum, we want to help them to feel calm and relaxed while they ride in the car, We want to create a safer and healthier travel experience for everyone. Below are our suggestions for how to help your pup feel calm during car rides. Note: We also recommend introducing these tips with young puppies and dogs who don’t have concerns in the car! Thoughtfully supporting our dogs from their very first car ride with us can be helpful in avoiding the development of concerning behaviors in the future.

Pro Tip #1: Confinement in the Car

Confining our dogs while they ride in the car is important for the safety of our dog and human passengers. In the event of a car accident, confinement will be critical to prevent injury to both the dogs and humans. From car harnesses and doggy seatbelts to dog crates (and yes, there are crash tested dog crates!), the type of confinement you choose to use will depend on your individual dog and the size of your car. Confinement also prevents them from leaping from the car before you have the chance to leash them when you arrive at your destination. It also prevents them from possibly obstructing your view as you drive.

In addition to this being an important part of creating safety, confining our dogs can also support increasing comfort and relaxation. For boisterous dogs, the inability to bounce around the car can help them access relaxation more quickly. For nervous dogs, confinement (particularly crates) can create a sense of predictability and safety that they don’t experience while loose. Whatever form of confinement you use, make sure that your dog has comfortable footing underneath them. You want your dog to be able to sit and lay down comfortably without slipping and sliding, which may increase anxiety. If using a car harness or doggy seatbelt, you may need to offer them a blanket, dog bed, or bathmat on your back seat for this same purpose.

Pro Tip #2: Create Positive Associations

Did you know that licking and chewing helps our dogs to experience an increased sense of calm? We can use this to our advantage by providing them a chew or enrichment item when they ride in the car. This might be a frozen lick mat, a filled Kong, a filled Toppl, a bully stick, etc. To begin, support them with practice working on their item without even starting the car. Take them to the car, attach them to their seat belt or put them in their crate, and offer them their enrichment item. You can calmly sit in the car with them and offer them gentle encouragement while they work on their item. Once they have worked on it for 5-30 minutes, you can calmly take them back to the house.

Once your dog has begun to easily settle into laying down with their chew when in the car, you can get ready to take them for short rides. First, just take them around the block and observe their behavior. Do they continue to work on their chew? Do you see any concerning behaviors (barking, whining, panting, etc.)? If they continue to happily relax, work on their chew, or even fall asleep, wonderful! You can then continue to take them for longer and longer rides. If they show concerning behaviors, you’ll explore how to make the next car ride easier for them. This may include going back to just staying in the driveway, but turning the car on, this is a closer approximation of going for a drive. From there, you can begin to pull up and down the driveway, and eventually, go for a short drive.

Pro Tip #3: Call in Reinforcements

If our previous tips are not creating the behavior change that you were hoping for, you may need to seek out additional support. This may include hiring a professional dog trainer to help you develop a more comprehensive behavior modification plan and/or asking your veterinarian if they can offer support to help your dog with the anxiety or nausea, they may be experiencing during car rides.

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