Some dogs just naturally love car rides, but others find it a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. If your dog is the latter rather than the former, that doesn’t mean that they can’t come to love the car, but it does mean that they need a little extra help. Here are eight ways to help your dog enjoy car rides:
Begin Where They Are Comfortable
Some dogs are okay with getting in the car but freak out when the vehicle starts moving. Others won’t go near the car at all. Discover whatever point your dog is comfortable at, and then slowly entice them into the vehicle with toys, dog bones, or other incentives. Don’t take them on a car ride right away. Let them get used to being in the stationary vehicle with the doors open so they don’t feel trapped. Only when they are acclimated to the car should you try going for a short drive.
Don’t Rush Driving At First
Some dogs need a lot of steps to get acclimated to the car, and that’s totally okay! If your dog is really resistant to getting in the car, try feeding them one meal a day beside the car with the doors open until they get curious enough to check it out. You can also play with them near the car (again, leave the doors open) to teach them that good things happen around the car. Once they finally get in the car, try cuddling in the back seat. Don’t do this in the front seat since your dog can’t ride in your lap while you drive. Some dogs are freaked out by the sound of a car engine, so you might need to practice snuggling while the car idles in the driveway until they are ready to start moving.
Consider Using A Crate
Crates are the safest way to travel for both you and the dog. They prevent the dog from jumping on you or otherwise distracting you, and they protect the dog from being thrown around in case you have to stop suddenly. They can also provide a den that makes your dog feel safe and enclosed during the car ride, helping to ease their stress. If your dog already knows and loves their crate, then putting it into your vehicle can help them feel comfortable and protected during car rides. If they hate the crate, use a dog bed or a favorite blanket to create a cozy nest for them instead, plus a car harness for security.
Start With Short Trips
Long trips can be overwhelming even for a dog who likes the car. In the beginning, limit trips to just a few minutes at a time, even if all you do is drive around the block or even to the end of the driveway. Lengthen the trip a little bit each time until they are able to comfortably run errands with you. As for long road trips that last multiple hours, you can work up to that using a similar method, taking increasingly long drives until your dog is ready for a full road trip. Make sure to take plenty of breaks so they can stretch their legs and take a pee break.
Run Fun Errands Together
If you only ever make your dog get in the car to go to the vet, then, of course, they’re going to hate going for a car ride. Make it a point to take them to some fun places on your first few trips in the car, whether that is the dog park, the pet store, a friend’s house, or a drive-thru to get a fun dog chew for them. Choose places that they are familiar with and enjoy so that you can create a positive, stress-free experience for them. If they also have anxiety about these places, then find another alternative that doesn’t stress them out. You might even need to ride around the block and then simply return home if nothing else works.
Create A Calming Atmosphere
Bringing along comforting objects can help your dog get acclimated to the car and feel calmer during a ride. Favorite toys or blankets will make the car feel more like your house and help reduce your dog’s stress. You can also create a calming atmosphere by playing some background music at a low volume. Try singing along softly so that your dog can be calmed by your voice. You can even bring along a friend or family member who your dog loves, and have them praise the dog and give them treats as well.
Prevent Car Sickness
Dogs, especially puppies, can be vulnerable to motion sickness. To lower their chances of getting motion sick, keep temperatures in the car cool and lower the windows so you can get some fresh air flowing. You should also limit their food and water consumption a few hours before the car ride so they’re not traveling on a sloshy stomach. You can also ask your vet about motion sickness or anti-anxiety medications for your dog. Some dogs also benefit from dog pheromone sprays, which mimic the smell of a nursing mother dog and encourage them to relax.
Watch For Specific Triggers
Your dog may be okay with car rides in general, but get triggered by specific stimuli. This is more common in shelter dogs and other puppies who may have potentially had traumatic experiences in the past. Keep a close eye on your dog to figure out what triggers them, whether that’s rumble strips, loud semi-trucks, or speeding cars. When they experience one of these triggers, give them a bully stick for dogs and some praise to help calm them down and show that the world isn’t ending.
Did you do anything else to help your anxious dog love car rides? Let us know in the comments below so we can all learn from each other and help our dogs travel stress-free!