Whether you're planning a long car trip with your favorite pup or just trying to take him to the dog park, a car ride can be very stressful for both of you if your dog is suffering from car anxiety.
Travel anxiety can have many causes, including fear of the car, fear of an unfamiliar situation, or simply motion sickness. Here are some important things to know about recognizing travel anxiety in dogs and helping your pup.
What is dog car anxiety?
Dog car anxiety, or travel anxiety, is a stress or fear that occurs while in a moving vehicle. It can range from mild discomfort to full-blown panic, or any degree of stress in between. In addition to the mental and emotional consequences for the dog, an anxious dog can also be a dangerous distraction for the human driver.
What causes car anxiety in dogs?
For a number of reasons, a dog may associate a car with an unfortunate event. For example, if the dog has been abandoned, it may associate the car ride with going to the shelter. Or the dog may associate the car with certain places, such as the vet or groomer, which may create anxiety or stress when getting into the car. But sometimes there is no specific reason or traumatic event, instead some dogs simply find the car a scary or uncomfortable place.
Indeed, dogs in the car may have poor balance, fall, or be afraid of the noises around them. Some dogs, especially puppies, get sick in the car, which can make car rides very unpleasant, even if they otherwise enjoy adventures outside the house.
What are common symptoms of travel anxiety in dogs?
- Reluctance to get in the car
- Whining, panting or barking
- Is very agitated
- Excessive drooling
- Licking or smacking lips
- Shaking or trembling
How can I prevent car anxiety?
As with many things in life, prevention is the best cure for car anxiety. If your dog is not used to car rides, smart training strategies can help him learn to view the car as a neutral place, so that travel anxiety never develops.
The main strategies behaviorists use to get a dog used to the car are desensitization and counter-conditioning, two types of healthy training techniques that avoid any type of punishment and help the dog feel safe.
Desensitization helps the dog get used to the car gradually. Trying to get a dog used to the car by playing with him in it while leaving the doors open, or by taking him to a place he likes and rewarding him for doing so will help make the car a positive experience. This process takes a few weeks to complete, but it can make car rides much more enjoyable for you and your dog in the long run.
In addition, there are steps you can take to relieve the dog's sense of anxiety in the car. Keep the car cool with air conditioning or by opening the windows, and create a comfortable place for your dog to rest so he doesn't look out the windows or struggle to keep his balance. If the dog seems to be suffering from motion sickness, also limit food intake for a few hours before the car trip.

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