How To Get Dogs To Like Car Rides If They're A Bit Anxious About Them, According To Experts
If you have a dog, you probably have to take them to see the vet or to go get groomed every once in a while. If your dog is anxious about riding in the car, though, a simple errand can turn into a stressful experience for you and your pup. According to experts, there are a number of things that you can do to help make the car experience much less scary for your dog.
"Dogs that have had a bad experience while in a car are more likely to become anxious about travel in the future," Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian and vet expert for Chewy, tells Bustle. "There are also two periods of extreme sensitivity to fear in puppies that typically occur around eight to 10 weeks of age and then again for a couple of weeks between six and 14 months of age," she says. "Bad experiences during these sensitive periods can have a lasting, negative impact."
Also, each dog has their own unique personality, just like people do, and some pups might just naturally be more worried about new experiences than others are. "The good news is that with time and appropriate desensitization and counter-conditioning, most dogs can be taught to ride in a car without fear," Coates says.
Here are some tips for helping your dog if they're anxious about the car, according to experts.
1. Start Slowly
If your pup is anxious about riding in the car, they would probably be even more uncomfortable if you cruised around for hours to try to get them to relax. Instead of increasing the amount of time that you keep your dog riding in the car, take them on frequent, shorter car trips. "Start with very short trips even just around the block and slowly work up to long trips," Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian and consultant for DogLab, tells Bustle. "Any time you are going somewhere that you can take your dog, take them with you and eventually they will learn that car rides are not bad," she says.
2. Bring Along Some Comfort
Does your dog have a fluffy stuffed animal that they insist on carrying around the house? Do they always want to curl up for an afternoon nap on a favorite soft blanket? These small comforts aren't just good for keeping them happy at home or helping them feel cozy at bedtime. If your dog is feeling anxious about a car ride, bring along their favorite items and place them on the car seat to help them relax a bit. "Just like with children, sometimes that favorite blanket or toy is what is needed to help keep them calm," Ochoa says.
3. Play Calm Music
If you're someone who listens to chill music to help you relax after a long day, you might assume that the gentle sounds have little to no effect on your fur baby, but that really isn't the case. When you're gearing up for a long ride in the car with your dog, tune into a calming classical or soft indie playlist to help relax them a bit as you drive. "Soft-sounding music seems to help dogs stay calm," Ochoa says. While you play the songs, it might even help out if you sing along a bit so that your dog can hear your voice and feel even more comforted.
4. Take Them To Fun Places
It could be the case that your dog just doesn't like the car for whatever reason, but it's also likely that they associate it with activities that they don't really love. "If the only time they go in the car is to go to the vet, they may become anxious about car rides (assuming they find the vet a bit unpleasant)," Lori Nanan, CTC, CPDT-KA, a certified dog trainer, tells Bustle. Break this association by making an effort to take your pup on a ride to fun things too. "Car rides that result in pleasant outcomes — trips to the park for a walk, to the dog park to play with friends, etc., can help reduce the likelihood of that negative association," she says.
5. Talk To Your Vet
While there could be a mental component to your dog's fear of riding in the car, it's also possible that they are in some physical discomfort. If you realize that your pup is still having trouble staying relaxed during car rides, it's worth checking in with your vet to make sure that they aren't suffering from motion sickness. "There are some medications that can help your dog with motion sickness, which can then ease anxiety," Nanan says. "Motion sickness and car anxiety often go hand-in-hand." Something as simple as a motion sickness medication could be just the thing you need to make a car ride with your dog much less stressful.
6. Consider Calming Supplements
Calming supplements or products could go a long way in helping your pup feel more relaxed when they need to go for a ride in the car. "The scent of lavender for dogs can be very calming," Dr. Jess Trimble, chief veterinary officer at Fuzzy Pet Health, tells Bustle. "Products like Adaptil come in sprays and collars for 'happy pheromones,'" she says. Of course, it's always important to ask your dog's vet before introducing a supplement into their diet. It's also worth noting that natural supplements aren't enough to address some dogs' anxiety, so if you notice that they don't help, be open to talking to your vet about more effective prescription products.
7. Make Sure They Feel Secure
"Products and equipment that can make your pup feel more safe are going to really depend on each dog's needs," Trimble says. "Some dogs love their crate, and travel well in crates but not loose in vehicles." Others prefer products like the Thundershirt, which is a shirt that fits tightly to your dog's body and can make them feel more calm. And always be sure to follow your vet's recommendation for keeping your dog safe in the car, like dog-appropriate seatbelts or harnesses. If your fur baby feels secure in the car, they're more likely to feel calm rather than stressed.
If your dog feels scared or anxious about taking a ride in the car, make sure to be patient with them. As you expose them to this mode of transportation more and more, they'll probably begin to relax a bit.