How to calm your dog down from car anxiety

There are two methods to help dogs overcome their fear of riding in cars – training and medication.

Training is usually the first choice, but depending on the severity of your dog’s car anxiety, you might find that a combination of training and medication is the best approach.

Desensitisation Training

Desensitisation training involves repetition and positive reinforcement to gradually transform the scary car into a source of positive experiences for the future. For mildly anxious dogs, it might only take a few sessions. For more severe cases, it could take several weeks. Patience and lots of love are key here.

Getting the Dog Near the Car

First, make your dog want to approach the car. Never drag or force the dog. For most dogs, their initial reaction to something they fear is to hit the brakes. You’ll want lots of their favourite treats as bait. Use high-value treats to entice them toward the car, giving them a treat each time they get closer to the car. Generously praise them as well. If they reach a point where they won’t progress further, don’t force the issue. Instead, put the training aside until the next day and start the whole process again until your dog makes it all the way to the car.

Getting the Dog in the Car

Now that your dog is getting close to the car, it’s time to get them into it. Start by opening every door so your dog doesn’t feel trapped. You can also put their favourite toys or blanket in the car, making it as friendly and familiar as possible. Then, with plenty of rewards and praise, gently coax them into the car. It’s okay if the seats make a bit more noise than during the first attempt.

Remember, you don’t want to rush it.

Continue to offer treats and praise until they are comfortable inside the car or won’t walk away any further.

Repeat this process every day until your dog easily enters the car. Starting the Engine

Once your dog is comfortably in the car, it’s time to start the engine. However, you won’t be going anywhere.

Overcoming a dog’s car anxiety is a gradual process that takes several steps. When the car starts moving, give your dog rewards and praise. After that, immediately turn off the engine.

Repeat this process until your dog feels comfortable with the sound of the car engine running.
Then, you can begin starting your car and letting it idle on the driveway for increasing amounts of time while offering your dog treats and praise, so they can handle it.

Time to Drive

Once your dog willingly gets in the car and is comfortable with the engine running, it’s time for a short drive. Have plenty of treats on hand and keep the driving time short. If so, you won’t want to go too far. Throughout the drive, give your dog lots of treats and praise, continuously reinforcing the positive experiences happening in the car.

Gradually increase the distance of your drives while still giving treats and praise.

Remember, don’t go too far too soon. Pushing your dog farther than they can handle will undo all the progress you’ve made.

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