Many dogs love to take rides in the car. Going on an adventure with their humans is the best! But for some dogs a drive can be extremely stressful or downright scary. The stress and fear can cause problems both for the dog and for the human. In this blog we will go through how you can help your dog learn to enjoy car trips.
There can be many reasons as to why your dog finds the car ride scary or stressful. Maybe your dog is sensitive to noises? Maybe something traumatic has happened to them while riding in a car? Maybe they feel sick? Or maybe the excitement of going somewhere is just too much for them to handle? Letting the excitement turn into possible stress instead. No matter the reason it is important not to force your dog into the car if they are scared, as that will only enhance the fear (Read more about Fear in dogs here).
Your dog might be sensitive to noises. Maybe the sound from the engine is scary? Or maybe the air conditioning or the cage? Many dogs are sensitive to noises. Their hearing is much better than ours and they hear things we cannot. Sound also creates vibrations, which your dog might find uncomfortable.
Go through potential unpleasant sounds in the car. Can you do something about them? Is there something you can do to minimize the sounds if you can’t remove it? And if it is a sound that cannot be removed or minimized, like the sound of the engine, can you then do something to make that sound more pleasurable for your dog?
If your dog has arrived from another country when you’ve adopted them, they might have gotten scared during that trip. This is something I see very often with rescues. They might have had no problem with car rides before but after being in a car for potentially many days, they’ve gotten scared. Sadly that causes your first drive with them to be a chaotic stressful trip for the both of you.
It might also be that your dog has been in a car accident where they have potentially suffered an injury. The car is now associated with pain and not a place your dog wishes to go again. Many fears can be helped by working slowly with the dog turning the car ride from a negative to a positive by using positive reinforcement training and desensitization (Read more about how to train your dog here).
Motion sickness on the go
It’s the worst isn’t it!?! Just think of the times you’ve suffered from motion sickness. All you really wanted was just for the car to stop so you could get out. The lack of control and the increasing nausea is enough to freak anyone out. That is exactly how your dog would feel as well!
Except they cannot ask us in human language to stop the car. They might try to communicate this in other ways – like scratching on the door or barking (Learn more about dog body language here). Not being able to get out increases the stress and panic, which might manifest itself as a very unpleasant experience (Read more about choice for dogs here). Next time you want to go for a drive, your dog pulls all breaks the minute you open the car door.
The signs of a dog suffering from motion sickness are drooling, repeated mouth licking and of course throwing up. Good news is that you can help your dog through their motion sickness. If you’ve ever suffered from motion sickness you’ve probably learned over the years what helps you during the car ride to keep the nausea at bay. Maybe it is letting in fresh air in the car? Maybe looking straight ahead? Here we can help our dog’s by limiting their vision in different directions. This could be done using shades for the site windows.
Another aspect is also looking at where your dog is in the car. Is (s)he in the back in a cage or sitting on the back seat in a safety harness? Direction matters, and being able to look straight ahead might help your dog not to get sick. Some of us might need medicine to help us not to go green. You can get motion sickness tablets at your local veterinarian. Finally, think about how you are driving. Is the road winding? Are you maybe doing sharp turns? Drive slower and take your time in curves and turns.
Excited but stressed
Your dog might get over-excited when going on car rides. Finally they are going on an adventure and on top of that with their favourite human(s)! It’s impossible to wait! Let’s go! Let’s go! With all this excitement pounding around in their body, your dog cannot possibly sit still! I must pace around, hyperventilate, bark, jump because I cannot contain all this excitement…but wait…now I am a little stressed because we are still not there and that makes me anxious.
Overexcitement can be helped by teaching your dog calmness in and around the car. Just sitting in the car for a little bit, being calm without going anywhere or having a calm petting session can help your dog learn to be calm in the car. For overly excited stressed dogs it is also important to have both gotten physically and mentally stimulated (Find out more about mental stimulation here), so that they are a little tired and not so wired when entering the car.
These are just some of the advice to help your dog enjoy the car rides more, if you need help do not hesitate to contact me.