What to Do If Your Dog Hates Car Rides

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Dogs don’t always enjoy car rides—some dogs love traveling, while others approach road trips with trepidation. Your dog might hate car rides for several reasons, including anxiety or motion sickness—or he may simply sense your stress and react to it.  A shaky-kneed, carsick dog can put a damper on your travels, but you can still take him on adventures if you work to overcome his backseat woes. You can train or condition your dog not to hate riding in the car, just as you trained him in basic obedience. Read on to learn how you can help your car-averse dog tolerate—perhaps, even enjoy—the ride.

How to Train Your Dog to Like the Car

Training a dog to like the car will take time, especially if he already associates it with vet visits or bouts of carsickness. Work toward a better car ride experience with these tips.

Make Your Dog’s First Car Rides Fun

Ideally, training your dog to enjoy riding in the car begins when he is a puppy. Make the first rides with him relaxed and fun. You’ll have to bring him to the veterinarian for his vaccinations and checkups, but make sure your car rides also lead to enjoyable places—hiking, agility classes, or the dog park across town. This way he’ll associate car rides with fun and not the sharp end of a needle. It’s helpful to think of these jaunts as part of his early obedience training. It’s also a perfect time to introduce a dog seat belt—some states require dogs to be restrained in a car, so buckle in your companion from the first car ride to keep him safe.

Retraining Dogs With Car Anxiety

If your dog already has car anxiety, shift your focus from prevention to retraining. To start, always keep a stash of treats in your pocket so you can reward achievements. Then begin exposing your dog to the car routinely when he is relaxed. Depending on the severity of his anxiety, this exercise may include simply walking him near the car door, or opening the car door with him by your side. The trick is knowing when he usually begins to fuss, and stopping just shy of that to give him a treat and a pat. As he begins associating approaching the car with positive results, you can get closer to the car.

When your dog is comfortable around the car, open the door nearest his usual riding spot—if he sits in the back seat, open both doors so he doesn’t feel trapped. If he gets inside, offer praise and a treat for a job well done. If he still hesitates, don’t push it: Climbing inside the car should happen on his own terms, so move on and try again later. Practice getting into the car—no trip involved—for a few days. Hop in, offer treats and praise, hop out.

Once he’s comfortable sitting inside the vehicle, focus on hooking him up to his dog safety harness, or getting him inside his travel crate. The keys, as in all dog training, are patience, working in small increments, and paying close attention to him before moving on. Take the next steps—closing the doors, starting the car engine, and eventually driving around the block—as your dog seems ready.

Desensitize your dog to known stressors, too: If he shows anxiety related to speed bumps, rumble strips, or driving through the tunnel, enlist the help of a passenger to offer distracting affection and treats as you encounter the triggers. Or, find alternate routes to avoid those situations.

Finally, when driving with your dog, whether he’s a puppy or an older dog, it’s also important that you remain relaxed. Dogs are sensitive to their person’s moods, and your furry companion may pick up on any anger or stress you feel on the road.

Why Do Some Dogs Hate Car Rides?

If your dog hates car rides and he’s miserable during every outing, he is likely suffering from motion sickness, anxiety, or both. Puppies and young dogs are most at risk of motion sickness because the part of their ear that manages balance is not yet fully developed. The motion of the car makes them feel more off-balance than it does mature dogs, causing nausea and possibly vomiting. Puppies usually outgrow motion sickness at one year of age, but adult dogs may continue to suffer from carsickness.

For adult dogs who hate car rides, anxiety—rather than physical discomfort—may be the culprit. The anxiety probably took root when they were young. Dogs with bad motion sickness as puppies can grow up to associate car rides with that terrible nauseous feeling. Sometimes adult dogs hate car rides because the veterinarian’s office was the only destination, or they had other negative experiences during or immediately after car rides. You can change fear or stress related to car rides—an indication of car anxiety—with positive association training exercises. 

The Best Dog Breeds for Car Rides

While there’s no best dog breed for car rides, some fare better than others. Short-snouted breeds may have more difficulty breathing in a stuffy car, which can contribute to discomfort or motion sickness; high-energy breeds may have difficulty settling in for longer trips; very large dogs may have trouble getting comfortable inside the vehicle; and territorial breeds may be too worried about guarding the car to relax and enjoy the trip. Breeds that adapt well to change may enjoy car rides: Happy-go-lucky Labrador Retrievers, easygoing Golden Retrievers, laid-back Bernese Mountain Dogs, or biddable Border Collies often enjoy traveling with their people.

Signs of Motion Sickness and Travel Anxiety in Dogs

Whether your companion is a puppy or an older dog, knowing the signs of motion sickness can help you manage it. A carsick dog may display these symptoms:

  • Listlessness
  • Yawning
  • Whining
  • Panting
  • Lip-licking
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Uneasiness
  • Unusual stillness
  • Vomiting

Panting is one of the more common signs of motion sickness or carsickness in dogs—in fact, it’s a coping mechanism for discomfort ranging from carsickness to pain to overheating. Panting combined with lip-licking or smacking could be a sign your dog feels nauseated. Pulling over for a short walk may help his stomach settle—before there’s a mess to clean up.

Symptoms of Car Anxiety and Carsickness Are Similar in Dogs

You may notice that many of the signs of carsickness—drooling, whining, yawning, panting, and an inability to settle—are also indicators of anxiety. In many cases, a dog’s carsickness can result from anxiety related to riding in a vehicle, as these are common signs of discomfort, pain, and fear.

A dog with car anxiety often shows the above symptoms, but may also balk when you’re getting ready for a car trip by hiding or pulling against his leash. Once inside the car, an anxious dog may whine, drool, or pace around if unrestrained. Creating positive associations with car rides can condition your dog to be more comfortable in the car.

How to Keep a Dog Calm During a Car Ride

Whether your dog is scared of the car or simply has loads of energy, keeping him calm during a ride can be a challenge. First, work with him to reduce his car anxiety. When he’s comfortable getting into the car, work to keep him calm while you’re in motion.

Distract your dog with a brand new toy, or reserve an exciting toy exclusively for car rides, so he has something to keep his mind off the road. Tire him out before the trip with a game of fetch or a few laps around the yard so he can settle in to doze while you drive.

A calming dog pheromone spray—spritzed on a blanket, car seat cover, or a bandana tied around his neck—can help put your companion at ease. Or, pack his favorite blanket for the ride so the familiar scent can soothe him. Opt for relaxing music, and keep the volume low. If he seems anxious about a specific vehicle due to past travel experiences, try riding in a different vehicle to break the association.

The vet may recommend sedatives for a long trip for a dog who suffers from serious anxiety, but training and time can reduce car anxiety for most dogs.

How to Make Your Dog Comfortable in the Car

Your dog may vomit or have diarrhea after a car ride—usually a result of stress or motion sickness. Withholding food before the trip can help keep his stomach settled, but your veterinarian may prescribe medication to manage serious motion sickness. Using a dog car seat protector will save your upholstery and give you some peace of mind.

Here are some additional steps you can take to minimize your dog’s carsickness and anxiety in the car:

  • Keep him facing forward in a dog safety harness. (If he faces backward, the scenery passing by in the wrong direction can bring on carsickness.)
  • If your dog rides in a crate, see whether adjusting its location or covering it helps reduce motion sickness or anxiety.
  • If he rides secured with a dog seat belt, experiment to see if a different seat—window or middle—works best.
  • Lower two windows an inch to depressurize the car.
  • Keep the car cool.
  • Consider a pressure wrap designed for reducing stress in dogs.
  • Don’t drive immediately after your dog eats a meal or drinks a lot of water.
  • Some veterinarians recommend an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) to reduce carsickness symptoms by limiting peripheral stimuli, but some dogs may be more anxious wearing the ‘cone,’ so it may add stress.
  • Get your dog comfortable with trips by taking several short drives to exciting destinations.
  • Use a hammock seat cover or seat extender to help a large or unsteady dog feel more secure in the back seat.

Traveling with your dog can be possible, even if he hates car rides. Taking steps to acclimate him to riding, making the car comfortable for him, and managing symptoms of carsickness can prepare your companion for the open road.

22 thoughts on “What to Do If Your Dog Hates Car Rides”

  1. My rescue dog loves to sit in the car in the garage, but when we drive he gets anxious and cries, etc. he does not appear car sick, however does stick his nose out the open windows. He is restrained with a leash to the seat. He would like to get on my lap, but too dangerous. I have sprayed the backseat with calming spray, but nothing works. As soon as we stop, he is calm. Any thoughts?

    1. I have a 2 year old heeler and he loves his car rides a little too much. He knows when we get in the car we’re going somewhere fun for him and aside from him already being a high energy breed, he jumps from front to back constantly which is dangerous for us both. A restraint causes him the “bad stress” so I dont use a dog seat belt. Ive tried CBD chews and none of them worked. I did have his vet prescribe trazadone, but I do not like giving him medication so I explored other options. I finally found CBD oil drops for pets. I do have to give him 4 dropperfuls in order for it to be effective for his body type and metabolism on a long distance trip, but it works like a charm! He doesn’t like the flavor, so I mix it in with a bit of whip cream and he loves it. The only downside is that it makes him gassy! Riding in a car for 3 hours with a gassy dog is a stinky trip, but hes calm, cool, and makes for a much safer roadtrip. Taking one for the team! ☺ Hope this helps.

  2. I have a 4 year old rescue. He cries when I secure him in his seat. He wants to sit in my lap. He continues to whine the entire trip. How can I handle this?

  3. My rat terrier lives getting in the car. However once we started moving gets very anxious. Has never gotten sick just anxious. If he is distracted by treats he does well. Hard to do when I’m the only one with him. Any suggestions? Note it’s progressively gotten better but better is not good enough!

    1. For short trips, if you haven’t already, maybe try one of those games where they have to slide, or pop open a door to get the treats. That’ll keep him busy & you free to drive. Worth a shot maybe.

  4. My new rescue gets happy excited at the prospect of the ride, gets in fine. It’s not until the car slows down that the screaming panic starts….then it’s game over, freaking out until we get home.

  5. My 6 month old collie will not go near my car no bad experiences with the car when we go for a walk she’s ok as soon as she sees my car she drops down on all 4s and won’t move to get her into the car we have to carry her,as anyone got any ideas on how to overcome her anxiety as we have run out of ideas

    1. Mine is just the same. Once in, she is inanimate, lies down, takes no interest in what’s going on around us, until we stop and give her a break.

  6. Willie just hates to get into the car. I calmly talk him towards the door enticing him with treats. Some days are better than others getting him in. 99% of our road trips are close by trips to the state park for hikes in the dunes and chuck-it fetch time on the beach which he loves, loves, loves. Dog parks or visits with doggy friends are other favorite trips. Once we hit the trails, he’ll look for a spot to relieve himself, typically thin stools.

    Willie was a loving adoption. He experienced 2 stays within months at the shelter. His previous parent was arrested and then sent to jail… I’m just concerned that when they cook his parent into custody he experienced some abuse by law enforcement. Many times the arrested is abused by law enforcement, why not take it out additionally on their pet by throwing them into a back seat.

  7. Our puppy was 13 weeks old and in a very healthy home environment with mom, dad, and siblings. They all left on the same day, we had a blanket that our friend switched between mom/dad/siblings, we had many visits with her in the early weeks she was born. We tried to do EVERYTHING right as it was our first experience with a puppy that was not a rescue!! This poor little thing was snuggled up in the scented blanket from parents and secured in my lap and arms. She was fine with the noise, we rewarded with treats…. Then we started moving…. Shake… Lordy did this poor thing shake and shed like craaaazyyy then she started to cry and whine. It was literally a 1.5 mile ride to our home from hers but boys was it rough. We chalked it up to leaving her family and being young and whatever.

    WE HAVE TRIED EVERYTHING. I MEAN EVERYTHING ALMOST DAILY SINCE SHE CAME HOME WITH US THAT DAY!! She’s 15 months old now, she’s a mountain curr mix and we have tried everything out there and more. She’s gotten slightly better, as long as she’s in the hatchback. She’ll occasionally eat treats, she will sometimes prop her paws up in the middle and observe us she does let the kiddos or whomever is in backseat pet her/comfort her.

    She just got brave enough this week to hop over the backseat divider when we were parked and got to us up front and we were so proud of her. We did treats and loves. It was awesome. She sat down and I hooked up her car buckle and she was good. Then we started moving again… trembling and back to square one. Haha however it’s been 4 days I think now and she’s consistently doing it and getting a bit better. She’s just a silly scaredy-cat haha.

  8. My 50 lb dog constantly drools, tucks & sits on his tail during drives.
    This has now worn the hair off the middle of his tail taking 3 mos. to grow back.
    I understand he has anxiety/motion issues but how can I keep him from sitting on his tail during these drives without having to physically hold it?

  9. We too have tried all the above suggestions with our now 7-year old labradoodle, since she was a puppy, but none have worked. She will shake and pant for the entire car journey – 5 hours yesterday driving from West Wales to Hampshire in the UK. We have tried lick mats, pressure vests, treats, desensitisation, medication – nothing works. I think it is important to point out in your articles that sometimes this will continue to be the case – not everything is fixable. She is, for whatever reason unknown to us, despite having come from a caring breeder, an anxious dog in many ways, just like some humans are of an anxious disposition, and will sadly remain so.

    1. My labrador, now 7 years old is exactly the same. No obvious reason for her dislike of travelling, but we
      travel a lot up to Scotland and around in a motorhome. Anything more than 2 hours and I will give her a
      sedative from the vets, this doesn’t stop it, but apparently means she won’t remember it. She never vomits
      during the journey, just goes into shake/pant mode and will refuse any treats. Our other lab is with her and
      is fine. As soon as we stop she is happy and up for a walk.

      1. Our 1 year old pit started out liking the car! She would stand between the front seats and look out the window, hang her head out the side window. I was so thrilled that she might actually enjoy car rides (unlike our 8 year old pit) , but when she turned 8 months, everything changed. She now trembles and pants the entire car ride (5 hours to our other home, which she throughly enjoys) She has also become panic stricken on any floor surface except carpet. I read that dogs can often go through a phase around 8 months where they start seeing their world as scary, but that they usually grow out of it. We’re still waiting.

  10. I’ve had two English Setters and a Border Collie and they absolutely loved car rides. If we were loading the car ready for a trip, one of the English Setters would be in the back and refuse to get out in case she was left behind. I now have an 11 month old Miniature Schnauzer who HATES the car. She digs her heels in if being lead to the car, and shakes to start with. I took her to doggy day care today, which she loves, but when I collected her she had to be carried to the car. We’ll try following your advice and hope she comes round.

  11. I am moving from North Dakota to OKLAHOMA in a month. Have a 8 year old Doberman that will not get in the truck. Not leaving him and he came to us scared to load ! Should I have the vet give him medicine?

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