What Do I Do If My Dog Is Afraid of Car Rides?

Written by: Casey Estorque

March 1, 2019

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Does your dog dread car rides more than you dread working overtime? Does your pup become overwhelmed with anxiety and fear whenever they have to enter a car? While some dogs are eager to call shotgun, others are stressed by car rides. If the latter describes your dog do not panic, this is quite common. To dogs, cars are large, strange, metal masses that make wacky noises and move super fast. Understandably, entering this foreign and intimidating object can be very scary to a dog who cannot fully comprehend the concept of a car. Yet, there are things you can do to help make car rides a smoother and easier process for you and your dog.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Scared Of Car Rides?

Pit Bull Eyes Closed

Though we cannot have a talk therapy session with our pups, there are many observable behaviors that tell us when our dogs are feeling scared or anxious in a car. Being mindful of these signs is important to gauge whether your dog is feeling afraid and the severity of this fear. Common behaviors that indicate fear in dogs include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive yawning
  • Vomiting/Diarrhea
  • Attempting to be near the human
  • Whining
  • Resisting entering the car

Why Is My Dog Scared Of Car Rides?

Black Pit Bull Mix

A dog’s fear of car rides usually originates from the dog associating cars with negative experiences. Being aware of these associations is important because it can help dog owners know the dog’s triggers and replace the negative association with a positive one. Common causes of fearing car rides includes:

  • The dog has only been in a vehicle to go to the veterinarian.
  • The dog has only been in a vehicle to leave their human family (for boarding, et cetera).
  • The dog rode in a vehicle as transportation to a shelter.
  • The dog experienced intense fear/anxiety in a previous car ride.
  • The dog experienced carsickness.
  • The dog was in a car accident.
  • The dog traveled a long commute during a critical development stage (e.g., as a very young puppy).

How Do I Help My Dog Overcome Fear of Car Rides?

1. Create a comfortable, safe space for your dog.

Pug With A Hoodie

Helping your dog overcome a fear of car rides will require patience since this process happens in baby steps. To start, your car needs to feel as safe, relaxing, and inviting as possible to your dog. Essentially, we’re creating a mobile doggy spa. Make sure the car is set at a comfortable temperature for your pup. Some dogs travel better with fresh air, so cracking open a window may help. Also, canines have super-sonic hearing compared to humans, so be sure that the radio is set to soothing music at a low volume.

Create a space in your car that feels secure and comforting. Often, dogs feel nervous in cars because they are not secured and are tossed about the car with no control. Using a crate is one of the safest methods for traveling with a dog. A crate provides your dog a refuge, minimizes distractions for the driver, and protects the dog in case of an accident or rough driving. For comfort, line the crate with your dog’s favorite pillow, bed, or even towels/t-shirts with your scent. Last but not least, throw in a couple of your pup’s most beloved toys.

2. Provide positive reinforcements.

You can reduce or eliminate your dog’s fear by replacing their negative car associations with positive ones – and what’s more positive than dog treats!? A high-value reward, such as a treat, can motivate your dog to approach, enter, and ride a car. This can be done by providing a reward at every step of the process. This process requires patience because steps must be repeated for your dog to form a strong association between the car and treats.

For instance, the beginning process may be: approach car – give treat, open car door – give treat, walk away, approach car – give treat, open car door – give treat, walk away and repeat again. Once your dog is comfortable approaching the car, it’s time to move onto entering the car. With the car door open, place a treat inside the car and allow your dog to explore without forcing them into the vehicle. Also encourage your pup with praise and pets. Continue to lure your dog inside the car with treats and praise until they have settled inside. Once they’re settled, spend some time in the car comforting and praising them before driving off. With patience, pets, and treats, your dog will become a car enthusiast!

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Written by: Casey Estorque

March 1, 2019

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