Having a calm and happy dog in the car starts as early as possible. As soon as you get your dog, whether it be from puppyhood or rescue, try to expose them to as many possible scenarios as you can in a positive manner. It would never be good if your dog only gets in a car to go to a vet, so try some short trips to dog parks or trails at first!
LEARNING TO STAY CALM
A crate in the back is the safest way to travel with your dog, especially if your dog gets too excited. You can also train your dog to stay calm in the back seat, but you will need someone’s assistance to train them for this (so one person can concentrate on driving.)
First, teach your dog to lie down in the back seat (or wherever they are contained) in a non-moving car with treats. Make the walk to the car calm, and then start up the car calmly (no excited voices!) In the beginning, when your dog is calm, reward them with treats they’ll receive while lying down every minute, then work to every 5 minutes. Try a drive around the block calmly and reward them heavily when they are calmest. Keep the treats hidden so they can concentrate on the environment and not the treats. Soon you can try longer drives, rewarding as they are calm. Even if your dog is calm to begin with, make sure you reward! Long car rides can be difficult, so make sure you space out some walks in new areas to reward them for the long drive time.
Be patient with dogs that have anxiety already. Keep to short rides to happy locations with lots of attention and rewards. Make an effort to do this daily or as much as you can. Thundershirts (tight jackets) can help with anxiety along with a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, and your calm demeanor (your dog can pick up on your own expectation and anxiety.) Watch your dog for any signs of anxiety and work on baby steps, even if that means not moving the car for a week or just driving down the driveway with a piece of roast chicken as a reward! It will get better!
PUPPIES & MOTION SICKNESS
It can be quite normal for a puppy to get sick in the car, which reinforces or causes them to make the mental connection between cars and sickness. Do not feed your puppy for 12 hours before a car ride if this is a known issue. Make sure they have had enough to drink and only give treats towards the end of a journey.
If you can, have some play time around a stationary car or just drive the car around the block to start with. Having cool air (windows down on a hot day) and natural Ginger Gravol can also help. Work your way up to a trip several blocks away and try to expose your puppy every day, if possible.
Whiskey had motion sickness in cars for about 6-8 month, but she was also taken for walks every day by car and grew out of it eventually. We found smaller cars and long rides with winding turns were worse. We could tell she was about to vomit, or wasn’t feeling well when she would start drooling. Watch if you can see the signs your puppy is starting to feel badly and make extra stops to prevent accidents.
Attempting a road trip with a dog with anxiety or motion sickness can be a challenge! Try and work your way up towards a road trip at least a month ahead of time, and make sure there are dog-friendly activities planned on the road trip so the car will be a “good” place in the future! When you are driving everyday it’ll be easier for your pup to become accustomed to the routine, so make sure this is a happy routine and that they are more than willing to jump in. I keep bullysticks or other dog chews in my car just in case I have to make a longer than expected stop.
Has your pup experienced car sickness or anxiety? Give us your tips in the comments!
Adele is a photographer, adventurer, visual effects artist, entrepreneur, and most importantly, mom to Whiskey. Whiskey is a Hungarian Vizsla, one of the most active breeds, and captain of all hiking, camping and roadtrip adventures. Follow their adventures on @mywhiskeygirl on Facebook and Instagram or their blog, The Dog Walks Me.