9 Good Ways To Calm a Dog in the Car

For some dogs, riding in the car is a treat they look forward to. As soon as they hear their owner say, “let’s go for a ride!” their eyes light up, their tail starts wagging, and they’re ready to hit the road. Once they get going, their head is out the window, their ears flapping in the breeze with a big doggy smile.

Most of us know a dog like this. 

ways to calm a dog in the car
9 Good Ways To Calm a Dog in the Car

On the other hand, most of us also likely know a dog who views car rides the same way humans might view a root canal – a necessary evil that brings anxiety and trepidation. 

If you’re a pet parent of a dog in the second category, you know how difficult it can be to get your dog into a car and keep him calm for an entire ride. An anxious dog in a car can make a trip a trial not only for the poor pup but also for the humans in the vehicle. It can even be dangerous.

A driver distracted by a panicky dog won’t be able to watch the road as they should.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to soothe your dog’s anxiety! 

How Common Is Travel Anxiety in Dogs and What Causes It? 

Travel anxiety is quite common in dogs. There are varying anxiety levels, from mild restlessness to full-on panicked reactions. 

Dogs may show fear by trying to run away, panting, whining, throwing up, or having diarrhea. It’s a very unpleasant experience for all involved and can make it hard for pet owners to enjoy vacations with their dogs or even something as simple as a trip to the groomer. 

It’s not always easy to tell what causes travel anxiety in a particular dog. Just like people, some dogs are more prone to anxiety than others, and something about car rides makes it kick in. 

It could be the noise of the car, the new smells, the disorienting motion, or a claustrophobic reaction to being in a small space. In rarer cases, the anxiety can be due to a serious trauma like abuse or a previous car accident. 

Don’t despair; your dog’s travel anxiety doesn’t have to be an insurmountable problem. We’ve compiled some helpful tips for you to try that should help your fur baby chill out while they ride. 

big black dog inside a car
Dog with his owner inside a car.

Tips To Help Your Dog Overcome Travel Anxiety

Here’s how you can help!

Start Slowly 

Your dog isn’t going to overcome their feelings of fear overnight. Easing into the experience is the best way to go. Where to begin depends on your dog’s anxiety level. 

For some dogs, even being in the vicinity of the car makes them upset. If this is the case, getting them to be around the car – and eventually to go in it while it is parked – is the first step. Things to try: 

  • Playing with them around the car. 
  • Showing affection/giving praise when the dog approaches the car. 
  • Giving treats when in/around the car. 
  • When they’re ready, start with short trips to fun places like the park, so they form a positive mental association with riding. 

The length of the process varies from dog to dog. Some pet owners may see progress immediately, while others with more timid dogs may have to wait a while to see results. 

Be patient! When your dog has anxiety, they’re looking to you to be the strong, grounding force that guides them and makes them feel safe. 

dog licks owner
Dog licks owner while in the car.

Enlist Some Help

This is especially helpful if your anxious dog tends to be wiggly and hyperactive or barks throughout the journey. Having another human there to distract your dog can help calm the canine down and help you drive in peace. Or, if it works out better for you, you can sit with your dog while a friend does the driving. 

girl and dog in the car
The girl looks after the dog during a car ride.

Create Security

Safety comes first whenever your dog is in the car, but this is even more important when it has anxiety. Dogs can feel disoriented and afraid when they don’t feel stable in a moving vehicle.

Some anxious dogs cower when they’re afraid, while others become hyperactive and literally bounce off the walls. Whatever the case may be for your dog, they must be properly secured while riding. 

There are dog car seats available, or you may choose to crate your dog during travel. This is recommended for a longer journey because it’s safer and gives your dog a sense of its own space within the vehicle. 

dog crate in the car
Owner put her dog in a crate before travelling.

Make It Cozy 

When introducing your dog to the car, it can help to have some of their favorite things inside. Do they have a chew toy, blanket, or dog bed that makes them happy? Put that in.

You can also try adding a T-shirt of yours so that they can have the comfort of your scent nearby. 

As they progress in their ability to travel, you can add a few new items to keep them excited and interested so that they see car rides as fun activities. Your dog should sense that they have their “own place” inside the vehicle where they can rest, relax, and feel at home, just like they do at your house. 

Yorkie chewing toy
Yorkie is busy chewing on his toy.

Address Physical Discomforts

For some dogs, car rides are difficult because of the physical reactions they have to the motion. Car sickness is fairly common in dogs, and it happens for the same reason in humans; a disagreement between the inner ear’s perception of movement and what the eyes see.

Carsick dogs sometimes vomit, but they may also just become nauseated, drool, pant and act restless. You can take steps to help your dog feel better on the road. 

  • Reduce visual stimuli by transporting your dog in a pet crate or by using a calming hood. These special hoods are designed to reduce visual distractions so your dog can stay relaxed. 
  • Try herbal remedies like ginger to ease nausea.
  • Keep your car cool and as quiet as possible
  • Ask your veterinarian about motion sickness prescriptions that can help. 
Chihuahua feeling sick in the car
Chihuahua is not feeling well inside the car. Heading to the vet clinic!

Experiment With Tunes 

Not all dogs are affected by music, but some seem to find comfort in it. Choose some calm music to play during the ride and see if your dog responds well to it. Classical, smooth jazz, easy listening, or adult contemporary are all good choices to calm your dog down; you can also try nature sounds or New Age music.

It can’t hurt! 

dog listens music
Dog listening to the music.

Get Them Moving

A dog with pent-up energy can have trouble sitting still and may get worked up in the car. Try taking your dog out for a long walk or run, or play a game of fetch before going for a car ride. A tired dog will be more chill and may even sleep for part of the ride. 

While this may not work for a dog with serious anxiety and aversion to car rides, it may work for one who simply gets hyper on rides. 

Labrador Retriever catching a ball
A Labrador Retriever catching a ball outdoors.

Ask About Medication

Your vet may have some anti-anxiety medication suggestions to help your dog relax. These prescriptions are used only when necessary and are safe and effective when used as recommended. Prescription medicine isn’t necessary in all cases, but some dogs have trauma or health conditions that require medication to make travel easier. 

give small dog a pill
Dr Burstyn from Vanvoucer Vets demonstrates the technique to give a small dog a pill.

Seek Natural Remedies

There are plenty of alternative remedies that can help your dog get relief from anxiety. Several therapies have shown success in treating anxiety in dogs. Some to try: 

  • Melatonin is a natural supplement that helps regulate the sleep cycle. Using melatonin can give your animal a sense of calm and help your dog get some sleep during a car trip.
  • Lavender oil is a popular aromatherapy oil used for stress reduction. It can also aid in the relief of upset stomach and sleep issues. Lavender oil, while not safe to use around cats, is fine to use for dogs in small amounts. You can place a drop on the dog’s bedding or in a part of the crate. 
  • Pheromone therapy is a little-known way to help your dog be less anxious. The pheromones are used to mimic the ones a mother dog releases when she’s nursing her pups. When a dog is exposed to these pheromones, it reminds them of their puppyhood and gives them a calm feeling. 
  • Massage is another wonderful way to help your dog relax before a car trip. There’s lots of information and tutorials available about the specific types of pet massage, but a nice cuddle and scratch session can be all it takes to get your pup to wind down. 
dog massage
Dog getting a massage to calm down.

Final Thoughts 

There are so many options available to relieve travel anxiety in dogs. Hopefully, this article has given you a few new ideas on addressing this common issue in dogs. 

With time, effort, patience, and love, your pup can overcome its fear of being in a vehicle and be ready to experience a new world of fun. Happy travels!