Some dogs love nothing more than feeling the wind beneath their ears, and sniffing the air from the open car window.
While other dogs spend much of the ride being nervous and clearly wanting the car ride to end as soon as possible. If your dog falls into the latter category, I would like to share with you some possible solutions, so that you can get your dog to love the car.
How Can I Tell if My Dog is Stressed in the Car?
The first step is to determine if your dog likes the car or not. In my experience, many dogs who are uncomfortable in the car display the following behaviors:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
- Shaking (yes, some dogs even physically shake in the car because they are so uncomfortable and anxious.)
Since we don’t want our dogs to be uncomfortable or anxious in the car, here are my suggestions for helping your dog get used to riding in the car.
1) Take Shorter & More Frequent Trips
If you don’t take your dog on a lot of trips, OR if your dog is still young and has spent a lot of their life taking trips to the vet for vaccines and a spay or neuter, your dog might be associating trips in the car with trips to the vet. To help them get used to the idea that the car can actually mean a lot of fun, take them for shorter more frequent trips. For example, have your dog get in the car and take them to the nearest park, which MIGHT be 2 blocks away. It might even be the park that you walk to all the time, which is GREAT for exercise, but for the purposes of desensitizing your dog to the car, you can use this park as a reward.
In terms of frequency, you know your dog the best. Try to make sure you aren’t stressing them out. However, give them opportunities to get used to the idea (see the “Treats” section below) and slowly increase the frequency of positive car trips over time.
2) Make Sure They Are Comfortable
Safety and security in the car are key. Car seat covers can help your dog feel more secure because they won’t slide around on the seat. Additionally, bring any beds or blankets that your dog really loves, so that the car feels more familiar. Lastly, make sure they are secure in the car either by seatbelt, or by securing them in a car crate.
Many dogs will feel safer when they are secured in their crate, especially if they are already crate trained. Rooney loves car rides, and often commutes with me to work, but for long road trips, he really only feels settled if we bring his crate.
3) Improve the Loading and Unloading Process
Can your dog easily get in and out of the car? This can definitely be a problem for larger vehicles or older dogs with joint or muscle pain. Providing them with a ramp to get in and out of the car can really help them feel more secure about the entire car ride experience.
4) Treats Help
Desensitization often requires high-level rewards and treats. When your dog is in the car make sure to provide them with lots of positive reinforcement, which can be given as verbal praise or as treats. VetStreet suggests providing treats and then turning the car engine on and then off, and never actually going anywhere at first.
Be careful, some dogs can get carsick so be sure to keep the treats limited at first to understand their tolerance to food in the car.
5) Bring a Buddy
Many dogs will be more comfortable doing or trying something when they see another dog doing it. If your dog has a good dog-friend who likes to ride in cars, a joint car ride might motivate your dog to want to be in the car with their friend.
When testing this theory for the first time, make sure both pet parents are in the car and someone is there to moderate the situation. When dogs are uncomfortable, they might react negatively in the car. Always make sure there are lots of opportunities for human interference and moderation.
6) Work with Your Veterinarian
If your dog is still very nervous in the car, or possibly getting continuously car sick, ask your veterinarian for help. Your veterinarian will be able to provide advice and guidance to make the early part of the desensitization process more pleasant and less stressful for your dog.
7) Be Patient
Desensitization to the car can take a lot of time and effort. Your dog is going to be overcoming a fear or possibly something they just simply don’t like doing. As with most training, it can be helpful to remind yourself to be patient and celebrate the little victories!
Have you had to desensitize your dog to car rides? What worked best for you?
Rachel Sheppard is the author and founder of My Kid Has Paws. She is a Social Media Manager, blogger, corgi mom, animal lover, volunteer, graduate student, and shoe collector.
After graduating from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science & Management, she worked as a Veterinary Assistant for 3 years. Her daily interactions with pet parents inspired her to start her blog focused on pet health, pet rescue, and pet products. She has a true enthusiasm for veterinary medicine and animal science, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with pet parents.