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How To Get Anxious, Scared, Or Motion Sick Dogs Used To Riding In The Car

For some dogs, riding in the car is the highlight of their day. They love it! For others, the car is a dreaded source of fear, anxiety or sickness. Since almost every dog will need to ride in a car (for vet appointments, at the very least) it’s nice if they can at least learn to handle the ride without stress or getting sick.

I currently own two dogs that used to get car sick, so I understand the nuisance it can be for the owner and the discomfort it causes the dog. The following are some tips that can help your dog enjoy riding in the car, which will make both of your lives better.

For The Fearful

If your dog is scared of cars, you need to work on that before you ever take them for a ride. There are a few things you can do to make a car less frightening.

car1
Image source: jmcmichael via Flickr

Start with the engine off. Have your dog far enough away from the car that they are not showing signs of stress (relaxed posture, not trying to bolt, will take treats and respond to cues). Then, reward her every time she looks at the car with something she really loves­ – a favorite treat, playing tug, petting, etc. If you use a clicker, click when she looks at the car, then reward. You are conditioning her to associate the car with good things.

Slowly work on getting closer to the car as your dog gets more comfortable. When you can stand next to the car and your dog is still relaxed, enjoying her treats or play, it’s almost time to turn the engine on… but WAIT! First, put distance between your dog and the car again before starting your car.

A lot of times, it is the noise of the engine that scares your dog, so you want to start with it quieter (by adding distance or even being in the house) and then gradually building up to being able to stand next to the car with the engine on.

Image source: @DannyLopez via Flickr
Image source: Danny Lopez via Flickr

Other things you can do to make the car a not-so-scary place – (do all of these with the engine off and then on):

  • Feed your dog her meals in the car
  • Play tug or fetch inside the car
  • Play “hide and seek” by littering the car with treats for your dog to find

When you are ready to go for a drive, start with short ones, just around the block. Take her to fun places she likes – the dog park, training (if she enjoys it), etc. – so the car is associated with getting to do fun things.

If your dog is crate trained, securing her in a crate during a car ride can help her feel more at ease. If she is not crate trained, however, it could just make things worse.

For The Car Sick

Some dogs don’t like riding in cars because they get sick – can’t blame them for that! For these dogs, you want to work on alleviating the sickness.

Sometimes, your pup may be getting sick because she is stressed in the car. So doing the aforementioned exercises to get your dog used to the car can definitely help and it certainly won’t hurt!

Start out with short trips, maybe just around the block, and gradually build distance. This can help her stomach get used to the motion of the car. Obviously, it also helps if you avoid sudden stops/starts and taking turns too sharp.

If you know you dog gets sick, don’t feed her right before getting into the car. Plan it so you have at least an hour after eating to let her digest. (Think of it as eating and then getting on a roller coaster right after.)

Take trips often. One of our dogs was prone to car sickness when we got him at the age of five. However, after many road trips, including a cross-country one, he now rides in the car just fine. He doesn’t even drool! So it possible to get dogs used to a car rides, even if they are older.

If your dog is crate-trained, putting them in a crate on the floor can minimize the movement they feel, which also can help them not feel sick.

 Image source: @JinxMcCombs via Flickr
Image source: Jinx McCombs via Flickr

In addition, try these for alieving the symptoms while you work on the cause:

  • Anxiety wraps like the Thundershirt (this worked very well for my own Sheltie. She no longer needs to wear it.)
  • Feeding your pooch some ginger — but ask your vet before adding anything to your dog’s diet
  • Dramamine — ask your vet for proper dosage for your dog
  • Provide fresh air by leaving a window cracked and/or having the air conditioner blow on your dog
Image source: @JoammTall via Flickr
Image source: Joamm Tall via Flickr

Different things work for different dogs, so you may have to try one or a combination of these to see what works for your pooch.

Puppies

For puppies, doing all of the above training for fearful dogs will greatly increase the likelihood that your pup will like riding in cars.

The great thing about a car ride is that your puppy doesn’t even have to have all his shots, so it’s a way to get him out and about safely while you are waiting on his vaccines.

Image source: @PamealCarls via Flickr
Image source: Pamela Carls via Flickr

Remember – don’t just take your puppy out when he has to go the vet or groomers. If you do, your puppy may decide that the car is not fun, and it only takes him places that he doesn’t enjoy.

I love going through drive-thrus where they give dog treats out. One of my dogs knows all the stops that does this and practically tries to climb out the window into the business–and he used to bark at people! So, taking your dog on car rides is a good experience all around.

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Written by Kristina Lotz
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