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Is Your Dog Afraid of Car Rides? Here’s What You Need To Do


Sometimes, the world’s most mundane things can be terrifying to dogs.  Garbage cans, plastic bags blowing in the wind, and stairs are just a few common – yet bizarre – things that have caused dogs to run away in fear.  For most dogs, going for a car ride is a source of extreme happiness.  However, a small subset of canines also find this activity to be terrifying.  Is your dog afraid of car rides?  Here, we will discuss the causes of fear, as well as how you can overcome the problem.

Reasons Dogs are Afraid of Car Rides

Have you ever wondered why your dog is afraid of simple things?  There are many reasons why a dog develops fear of a person, animal, object, or experience.  Listed here are three of the most common reasons a dog might be afraid of car rides.

Unfamiliar with the Experience

Dogs – like many animals – are most comfortable when their normal routine is followed.  They like to see the same people (or animals) every day and follow a predictable routine regarding eating and exercise.  When dogs encounter unfamiliar experiences that have unknown outcomes, their “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in, giving the dog the adrenaline required to either flee the area or fight.  For other dogs, particularly ones that are traditionally submissive, fear may manifest as anxiety, indicated by trembling or other body language cues.

Motion Sickness

For other dogs, motion sickness may be the reason that car rides are feared.  Motion sickness is common for dogs (especially puppies), and one bad experience in the car can lead to the dog wanting to avoid automobiles at all costs – just as some humans avoid roller coasters for the same reason!

Negative Associations

Another common reason that dogs fear car rides is that they have negative associations with the activity.  Does a car ride only lead to other fearful experiences, such as a trip to see the veterinarian?  Additionally, did your dog have a traumatizing experience – such as an attack at the dog park by another dog – after a ride in the car?  If your dog has suddenly developed a fear of car rides, it is important to look at your dog’s history and ask yourself whether there may be a negative association causing your pet’s distress.

How Does Fear Manifest in Dogs?

How can you know if your dog is afraid of car rides, and whether he or she needs help?  Most dog owners are well aware when their dogs are afraid.  These animals will refuse to get into the car and then will behave erratically once inside.  In other instances, however, the signs may be subtler.  Look at your dog’s body language.  If your dog is trembling, raising a paw in the air, constantly licking his or her nose (or the air), urinates / defecates in the car, or has it’s tail is tucked between his or her legs, chances are that your dog is experiencing fear and anxiety.

Tips for Overcoming Fear of Car Rides for Dogs

How can a dog’s fear of car rides be overcome?  Depending on the reason for the dog’s fear, there are numerous techniques for helping your dog have less anxiety during travel.

Positive Reinforcement

First and foremost, you should always use positive reinforcement when helping your dog overcome any fear.  Determine what motivates your dog most, such as treats, toys, or a simple pat on the head followed by “good dog.”  Never punish your dog for being fearful, as this action will only serve to make the problem worse.

If your dog’s fear is mild, you can start the training process by simply giving your dog positive reinforcement whenever he or she is near the vehicle.  For instance, every time your dog walks past the car, give him or her a treat.  Next, practice simply getting into and out of the car, without driving anywhere.  Every time your dog gets into the car, reward your pet.  The final step is to create positive associations with the trip itself.  Start slowly by driving around the block and then giving your dog plenty of positive reinforcement.  The next time you go for a car ride, take your dog somewhere fun, such as to the dog park, a new trail to explore, or a place that serves dog-friendly treats.  Your dog will eventually come to realize that the car isn’t a scary place after all!

Overcoming Car Sickness

If your dog’s problem is related to car sickness, the trick is to keep the nausea from happening in the first place.  Before you begin, limit car rides for puppies because their underdeveloped ears increase the chances they will become ill.  Second, try to ensure your dog faces forward when riding in the car, which has been shown to decrease the chances of motion sickness.  This feat can be accomplished by using a canine seatbelt (which will also keep your pet safe in case of accident).

A tried-and-true method for reducing car sickness that is common among pet owners who travel frequently for dog shows is to limit the dog’s food intake prior to the trip.  Then, immediately before getting into the car, give your dog a sugary piece of candy such as a peppermint or a jelly bean.  The sugar is believed to reduce the sensation of nausea.  Opening car windows slightly can also help to normalize the air pressure inside the car, which is especially helpful for younger dogs.

Stress Relieving Strategies

Until your dog is fully desensitized toward car rides, there are numerous stress relieving strategies that you can use if your dog is showing anxiety in the car.  These include:


ThunderShirts were designed specifically for dogs that are afraid of thunderstorms, but can be used in any stressful situation.  The ThunderShirt works by applying pressure on certain areas of the dog’s body to invoke a sense of calm (similar to acupressure points utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine).  This method is also akin to swaddling a baby.  The ThunderShirt company boasts satisfied customers around the world, which makes this technique worth a try for especially anxious dogs. Amazon carries a large selection here.

Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender is well known for its calming properties in humans, which extend to dogs as well.  Never apply essential oils directly onto your pet’s skin or fur, but lavender oil can be spritzed onto bedding or applied to your dog’s collar.  The scent of lavender evokes a sense of peace in your pet that can prevent stress before it begins.


If your dog is accustomed to using a kennel at home, placing a crate in your car will not only make him or her feel more at ease, but is also considerably safer than allowing your dog free reign of the vehicle.  Dogs are den animal and naturally feel safe in small spaces.  You can also spritz your dog’s crate bedding with lavender to increase relaxation.  Additionally, should you get into an accident, having your dog in a crate will reduce the chances of serious injury while also keeping your dog contained and unable to flee the vehicle.

When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, the help of a professional is necessary when a dog is fearful.  If your dog lashes out aggressively due to his or her fear of the car, seek the help of a professional dog trainer.  Additionally, if your dog’s anxiety has become hazardous to his or her health, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian to talk about sedatives for use during trips until a professional dog trainer can remedy the situation.


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Anna Weber

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