How to Calm a Dog with Car Anxiety for Better Road Trips

How to Calm a Dog with Car Anxiety for Better Road Trips

Many situations can give your dog car anxiety, but there are plenty of strategies for how to calm a dog who feels uncomfortable with car rides. Here are tips for making your next road trip a success.

While some canines are eager to hop in the car and go for a ride, some actually find the experience scary and uncomfortable. Dog car anxiety is common and manifests with some frustrating and sad behaviors that can limit a family’s ability to take their pet along on adventures. Luckily, there are some easy ways to calm a dog for car rides and ensure that everyone enjoys trips together – whether they are across town or across the country!

The Common Signs of Dog Car Anxiety

Dog car anxiety can manifest in a few different ways. If you’ve noticed your dog doing any of the following before, during, or immediately after a car ride, they may be experiencing this condition:


  • Yawning or drooling
  • Whining or barking at the car
  • Trying to hide when it’s time for a car ride
  • Pacing or restlessness in the car


Yawning and Drooling Are Signs of Nausea in Dogs

Ever looked back to notice your dog drooling buckets during a car ride? Especially if your dog is a naturally drooly breed, this might be happening because your dog is feeling nauseous from motion sickness. A dog who experiences motion sickness in the car is more likely to have car anxiety because they are wary of getting sick.

Yawning is another sign that your dog may be feeling nauseous. Of course, vomiting in the car will also indicate that your dog is experiencing motion sickness – a problem that can contribute to dog car anxiety.


A dog standing up in a car with a curious face


An Anxious Dog May Bark or Whine During Car Rides

Sometimes, dogs will communicate vocally if they are feeling anxious about getting in the car or taking a road trip. If you notice your dog whining as you collect their things and open the car door for them, or if they tend to bark excessively while you’re on a road trip, they may be telling you about their anxiety. A normally quiet dog might make a lot of noise in protest when it comes to car rides if they feel anxious about the ride itself.

Does Your Dog Hide from the Car?

Another obvious sign that your dog is experiencing car anxiety is if they tend to disappear when it comes time to load up. Dogs can be masters of avoidance when it comes to something they don’t like, and that includes the car. If you have trouble finding Fido when it’s time to hit the road, he may have dog car anxiety.

Dog Car Anxiety Can Manifest as Restlessness and Pacing During Car Rides

A dog experiencing anxiety can sometimes be a frustrating and irritating experience for dog owners, especially if one of the ways their anxiety appears is with excessive movement in the car. It can be hard for a dog to sit still if they are anxious, and so they might have trouble getting into a comfortable position during a car ride. You might notice your dog pacing around in the back, or sitting down and immediately readjusting over and over again.

Why Does My Dog Have Car Anxiety?

Dogs might get anxious in the car for a lot of reasons, including:


  • Negative associations
  • Motion sickness
  • Sound and vibrations


Your Dog Might Have Car Anxiety Because of Negative Associations

One of the primary reasons dogs have car anxiety is that they have negative memories or experiences associated with being in the car. If the only trips they’ve ever taken have been to the veterinarian to get shots, they might be nervous to hop on board. Or, likewise, if they’ve been in a car accident, had their tail shut in a car door, or been left in a hot car on a sunny day, they will be naturally fearful and anxious about revisiting a place with such unpleasant memories.

If your dog is showing some signs of car anxiety, try to think through an experience that might have contributed to their fear. This can help you effectively calm a dog who’s reluctant to take a road trip with you.

Motion Sickness Can Cause Dog Car Anxiety

Another common cause of dog car anxiety is simple motion sickness. Dogs, like people, can sometimes experience motion sickness from the movement in a car. In fact, it might often be worse for dogs because seats aren’t built to hold them steady and make them comfortable.

Jostling around in the backseat or cargo space might be making your dog feel ill, which is making them anxious about taking a car trip.

The Sound and Vibrations in a Car May Make Your Dog Nervous

Dogs have very sensitive hearing, which might be contributing to some car anxiety. Cars can be loud, especially if your pooch is hanging out on the floor of the car and therefore closer to the road. Additionally, the vibrations of the wheels against pavement can be confusing and irritating for your pet. This audio and tactile stimulation might be giving your dog car anxiety.


A dog sticking its head out a car window with a field next to it


How to Calm a Dog During Car Rides

There are a few strategies you can use to calm a dog for car journeys:


  • Create positive associations with the car
  • Provide them with exercise before car rides
  • Take steps to prevent motion sickness


Positive Reinforcement and Desensitization Will Help Calm a Dog in the Car

If your dog has car anxiety because of negative associations with car rides, you’ll need to employ some desensitization and positive reinforcement techniques. Treats can be a great way to calm a dog with car anxiety (but don’t overdo it and mess up your dog’s diet). Start by offering your dog a treat as a welcome to the car, and continue to give them treats while in the car. You might even do this while parked in the driveway for a while before actually driving anywhere if your dog’s car anxiety is severe.

If your dog gets motion sickness, though, treats aren’t necessarily a good idea – eating in the car might make them feel more nauseous. You can also create positive associations by taking car rides to fun places like the dog park. Always speak to your dog gently and try to drive slowly and carefully so they aren’t uncomfortable.

Make Sure Your Dog Has Their Energy Out Before Car Rides

Another way to calm a dog with car anxiety is by giving them plenty of exercise beforehand. It’s harder to feel nervous or anxious when your body is tired and you’ve been fully engaged in exercise and play. If one of your dog’s signs of car anxiety is pacing or general restlessness, a little exercise before car trips might be the perfect solution.

Avoid Motion Sickness with Environmental Changes

If motion sickness is at the root of your dog’s car anxiety, you might need to make some environmental changes when you take your dog on car rides. It’s very important that the car is kept at a cool temperature and there is fresh, circulating air – open the windows if you can. You should also make sure your dog is completely secure with a dog seatbelt or a crate. Ensuring your dog is stable and the climate is comfortable will help mitigate some motion sickness. Also, try not to take car trips within two hours of feeding your dog.

Medication Is a Last Resort to Calm a Dog with Car Anxiety

If you can’t calm a dog with car anxiety using these simple changes, you may want to discuss motion sickness medication with your veterinarian. Don’t give human medications to your dog – there are motion sickness meds designed specifically for canines that can be useful. There are also medications that can calm a dog for car trips, even if their anxiety isn’t related to motion sickness. Dog car anxiety is a treatable condition, so don’t assume your dog has to hate the car – take steps to improve their experience so you can continue sharing adventures together.