Driving with Dogs: How to Ease Your Pup's Travel Anxiety

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

small boston terrier dog sticking head out of car window

Having a dog that gladly jumps in the car to join your family for outdoor adventures is one of the great pleasures of having a canine companion. Unfortunately, if your dog gets carsick or scared, that can throw a wrench in your weekend plans. Training your pooch to love the car is easy enough if you have patience and don’t mind putting in practice time.

Note that puppies and young dogs who ride in the car early on will be less likely to develop a fear of car rides later.

The main trick to helping your dog with any phobia is slowly introducing the trigger. In this case, the trigger is the car. You must also focus on keeping her under the reaction threshold. The reaction threshold is any sign that your canine companion is starting to stress out. 

Signs vary, but common stress reactions include whining, panting, or trying to make a beeline in the other direction. Since the reaction threshold varies for each individual, the first step is to identify how close your pup has to be to the car before she starts to have a reaction. 

maltese dog sitting in the back of car

Then, work on a reconditioning program (as outlined below), starting at whatever stage keeps her below the reaction threshold and gradually upping the ante. This process can take a few weeks of regular practice, but it’s totally worth it!

A reconditioning program has two main goals. First, make driving with your dog a positive experience filled with things like treats, pets, and praise. Second, reward calm behavior, not anxious behavior. 

This is why it is important to work at a pace that keeps her under the reaction threshold – otherwise, you are rewarding anxious behavior.

Dog Car Sickness Training: Step by Step

Keep training sessions short, 15-20 minutes tops. 

Feel free to repeat a few training sessions in a row with breaks in between if your dog is progressing well. You aren’t likely to solve this problem in a single session, and going too fast could undo your progress.

If your dog doesn’t have a reaction until one of the stages below, feel free to go to whatever stage comes right before the reaction. Start your training regimen there. 

terrier dog sitting in the back of a car

If you notice that you are getting frustrated, stop the training session and pick it up another time. Your canine is very sensitive to your feelings and can easily pick up on your emotions, potentially reinforcing a negative association with the car.

Using plenty of praise and food rewards, progress through the following stages prior to travel. Once you teach your dog a positive association with the car, even fully-developed travel anxiety can diminish.

  1. Walk near, but past the car.
  2. Walk around the car.
  3. Sit next to the car.
  4. Opening the car door, stay outside, and continue to walk around.
  5. Invite your dog to hop into the car seats, praise and reward, then immediately ask her to exit the car. Repeat this at least 5 times, and even more for extremely phobic adult dogs.
  6. Gradually add a few seconds to the wait time before asking your dog to exit the car, praising and rewarding along the way.
  7. Get your dog in the car for a few minutes of pets and praise before exiting.
  8. Invite your dog into the car and close the door, pausing a few seconds before opening the door. Reward calm behavior. Repeat 5-10 times, gradually adding time.
  9. Load your dog into the car, close the door, and get behind the driver’s seat. Start with just a few seconds, working up to a few minutes.
  10. Start the engine for just a few seconds then turn off the engine. Work up to being in the stationary car with the engine on until you have a calm dog for one full minute.
  11. With your canine companion in the car, drive a few feet, praise, then reward. Once you can drive for a few minutes with a happy dog, you are ready for short trips!
  12. Take your pet traveler somewhere fun like the dog park or the pet store. Or, just take her to the next block over and hop out for a fun walk. The key here is to start associating the car with short rides that land somewhere really fun!
  13. Continue making sure that you practice taking short car rides to somewhere fun. If you only ever get in the car to go to the vet, chances are your dog’s car phobia will return. 

PRO TIP: If your dog gets car sick, a common problem that can contribute to a car phobia, be sure to talk to your vet about motion sickness medications. Also, try not to load your pup for a  car ride after a meal. Give him at least an hour to digest a meal before hitting the road.

retriever sitting and watching out the car window

Can CBD Oil Help Dog Car Phobia?

You may have heard about the natural supplement CBD oil and how it can have a calming effect on dogs. Since it is important to stay under the reaction threshold while training a dog with car phobia, CBD oil can be an important part of your training program. 

CBD oil isn’t a magic pill. It won’t solve your dog’s fear of cars in a single dose. But it can help him be more relaxed during your reconditioning training sessions. This can result in significantly fewer sessions. You’ll go from rewarding a calm reaction next to the car to rewarding a calm ride all the way to the dog park and back!

Simply administer the recommended dosage of Lolahemp about 30 minutes before your training session. This will help your dog stay calm during training. Then, follow the steps outlined above, progressing through each stage at a pace your pooch can handle. Continue to use CBD oil before car rides to reinforce a calm reaction to your trips together.

Soon, driving with your dog can become a pleasurable experience that you both look forward to!

 

References:

https://lolahemp.com/collections/tinctures

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