Travelling in the car with a dog who shakes, whines and looks extremely uncomfortable is not nice. When we first got Annie, taking her out in the car was a real worry as she was so anxious. I did a whole lot of research at the time to try and work out how to calm her down in the car and wanted to share here what I found out.
She’s much better in the car now, but still does shake a bit – we’re still a work in progress!
The main thing I learned was that to keep dogs calm in the car you should create a positive, comfortable environment for them.
- Make sure that they are comfortable, secure and not sliding around.
- Take your dog for a quick walk beforehand so they can go to the toilet
- Be reassuring with your voice
- Give treats and play with them to reinforce the positive aspects
- Try and make the end of the journey positive too – if you only ever go to places they hate they might associate that negative experience with the car.
What are dog car anxiety symptoms
First of all you might be wondering what are the symptoms you should be looking out for with your dog. How do you know if she’s anxious in the car or not?
There are a few ways that dogs exhibit anxiety symptoms. For us and Annie, it was shaking uncontrollably and looking incredibly scared the whole time in the car.
Dog car anxiety symptoms can include:
- being sick
- weeing and pooing
Your dog might have one of these symptoms or lots of them.
Dogs can’t reason that the car is perfectly safe for them, unless they have been on car rides so often that they are just another aspect of their life. If your dog only rarely gets in the car it’s not unreasonable for them to be anxious of the trip, no matter how short.
How do you calm down an anxious dog in the car?
The first thing we noticed with our dog is that she didn’t feel secure in the car. We had a car with leather seats and she’d slide and not get a good grip of where she was sat. It wasn’t good for making her feel secure at all.
We worked a lot on different ways to make her feel secure. We tried putting her in the boot area, tried different harnesses that attached to car seats and also different blankets to put down to give her some grip. She’s definitely better when someone is sat with her too rather than her being on her own on the back seat. We found that she’d squirm out of her harness if on her own! (The harness we ended up getting was the Kurgo one – it’s worked well for us for over a year now – see our post about it here)
If you have a small dog or a puppy then a car seat or crate might be a good idea as it gives them a smaller, more secure area to sit down in. Something like this one below could work well but get one that is appropriate for the size of your dog.
Once you know your area for your dog to travel in is the best it can be, then focus on positive reinforcement while in the car.
Give treats when she gets in, and when she settles down in her spot. You can try and take her mind off the journey by playing with her if you bring some toys.
Always have a soft voice and aim to speak reassuringly to her.
It’s a good idea to vary where you’re going on your car journeys too. Go to the park, the beach, the river and anywhere where the dog will have a good time once you’re there. Vets and groomers are probably the places they might associate negatively – when you have to do this journey you could always try and fit in a quick walk beforehand too so that the dog doesn’t associate the car with the scary stuff.
Try and make car journeys short but regular at first. Make it something that happens so much that it’s not out of the ordinary for your dog.
Can dogs get car sick?
Dogs can get motion sickness and often this can be brought on by anxiety. Puppies can often start to be sick in the car while their bodies are maturing and their balance in their ears are growing. They can grow out of it.
For those dogs that don’t grow out of it, any of the ideas on this page can work but I’ll also add to it increasing air flow in the car. Think about when you feel ill – fresh air can help and it’s the same with dogs.
Always try and have some towels and cloths on hand to clean up in case they do get sick – it can happen and if we want to associate the car with positivity then being prepared is going to be key.
How can I keep my excited dog safe in the car?
If your dog is more on the excited scale than scared you might be wondering how to keep them safe, and yourself safe, while driving in the car.
The most important thing we’ve found is to make sure the dog is secured in the car. You need to make sure that they can’t interfere with the driver. We use a harness that’s attached to the car seat belt but if she’s overexcited she could get herself out of it quickly or could get herself tangled in it.
Another option for excited dogs might be a barrier between them and the drivers seat. Either something between the boot and the passengers or between the back seats and the front. This would give your dog room to move but also keep them contained.
If your dog like toys then this might be the moment for that, perhaps a chewy toy that can keep their mind off the journey and calm them down.
Again, small and regular journeys are the best to try and get a routine working for your dog that keeps them calm.
What if your dog is suddenly scared of car rides?
If your dog has always been good with car rides and all of a sudden has started being scared then it can be a little worrying.
First thing to do is to think about if anything has changed on the journeys? Have you changed vehicles? As I said before, Annie was terrible in the car when we had leather seats as she felt so insecure. Once we changed to one with fabric seats she was much better. When we changed again to another car she had a little less room as the seat was slightly smaller. Each change meant she had to readjust.
If you’ve had an accident in the car, or maybe even a near miss where you’ve had to brake hard, you might have inadvertently caused a worry in your dog that might take a bit of undoing.
It might be nothing to do with the car or situation at all – change of food might have made your dog sensitive to something else in their world too. Try and look at the big picture to see if there’s anything that might have triggered them.
If you can’t think of anything that might have stressed your dog out and you’re particularly worried make sure you have a word with your vet.
Is there a dog sedative for car rides
There are a number of ‘over the counter’ calming remedies available to dogs. I’ll be honest, we haven’t tried any of these but if Annie was really struggling and we needed to calm her down more I’d definitely consider them.
As with anything like this, make sure you’re buying from a reputable company with history and I always like to see they have a load of good reviews too.
Something as simple as calming biscuits like these ones from Lily’s Kitchen might be enough to give to your dog and help them through the ride.
If your dog needs something a bit more then something like this supplement from Lintbells might work – it’s a daily supplement and can help with nervous dogs so might be worth a go. If you have a long journey coming up you could try giving them them a few days before.
As always, asking what your vet recommends is also a good idea!