Picture a car ride from a dog’s perspective: You get picked up and put in a small space that smells kind of like your people but also… different. Your person sits in the front (away from you!?) and the weird… thing you’re in roars to life with funny noises. You’re slipping around because the ground feels like it’s moving. Or, maybe you are running around like crazy trying to get to the front but your person won’t let you near her… she’s staring straight ahead like a weirdo. Then, after what seems like forever, the noises and movements stop and poof – the door opens and you’re in a whole different place! It’s no wonder you may need to help your dog learn to love the car.
Needless to say, the car can be a bit stressful for our canine companions. As humans, we understand the process of getting into a vehicle, driving to the destination and getting out in a different place. Dogs? Not so much. Here are a few ways to help reduce travel anxiety and make car transport more enjoyable for both you and your pup.
Play Calm, Familiar Music
Do you play NPR or classical music when you leave your pet for the day? Maybe a certain dog-centric playlist? Try to replicate this in the car. Familiar sounds may help keep your pet calm when it’s time for a ride. It’s important to play this music at different times than just for car rides, however, like when you’re dog is chewing on their Kong or enjoying another positive activity. You do not want the sounds to become associated with just car-induced anxiety.
Go For Short Rides
Instead of making your pet’s first ride a three hour trip to the beach, take shorter rides around town to get your dog used to being in the car. Depending on your dog’s anxiety levels, you may want to start by sitting in your driveway with the car idling. You can increase rides to a minute just up and down the road, for example, and slowly build up. Keep track of what seems to stress your dog out and what helps them. Or, with any luck, they’ll love it from the start!
Don’t Always End Up Somewhere ‘Scary’
If the only place you drive your dog is to the vet’s office, they can begin to associate getting in the car with going to a place that gives them anxiety. By taking rides to “fun” places such as the local park, a friend’s house or the local pet-friendly ice cream stand, your dog will be less likely to associate hopping in the car with unwanted stress.
Bring Treats and Toys Along for the Ride
If you’re still teaching your dog or puppy that the car is a fun place to be, bring along their favorite blanket, toys and some treats to make the experience as positive as possible. Comfort and familiarity is important when being put into an unusual situation. Provide plenty of praise when they settle down!
Consult Your Vet
If your dog has serious anxiety or motion sickness triggered by the car, it may be necessary to discuss medication or other stress-reduction techniques with your veterinarian. Be sure to describe exactly what is happening to help your vet decide if options such as anxiety medication, Dramamine, a consultation with a professional trainer or, in severe cases, if in-home veterinary care is required.
Help Them Feel Safe and Secure
If your dog is not properly restrained and is sliding off the seat every time you hit the breaks, he is unlikely to enjoy the car ride. Fortunately, there is a plethora of different products and possible solutions available to you and your dog. The sheer number of possibilities requires its own post!