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:
- Drooling more than usual
- Unusual stillness
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.