So your dog doesn't love the car?

Help make their ride as comfortable as you can.

Small dog peering out car window

Dogs are often thought of as good travel companions. It's easy to imagine the wind in their ears, the sun sparkling in their eyes ― but not all dogs enjoy the open road. 

Some dogs may prefer the safety of their own home, and aren't always comfortable in new environments. Others may be frightened by the sound and vibrations of the motor, or recall that the last time they were in a car, they ended up at the veterinary clinic. Wherever their phobia comes from, you can help them to associate your car with positive experiences. A little time, patience, and a lot of treats can help your dog (and even your cat) learn to enjoy car rides ― or at least tolerate them a little better.

Tips for a successful road trip with your dog

Rule out motion sickness

If motion sickness is the root issue, you can purchase over-the-counter medications that help ease symptoms. First talk to your veterinarian to determine if anti-nausea meds are a good option for your pup based on the symptoms you're observing.

Behavior modification

Some dogs may cower at the sight of the car, while others will cautiously approach but tremble with fear as the door shuts. It's crucial that you don't force your dog toward or inside the vehicle. Rather, work with them to help overcome their fear or associations with the car.

  1. First, grab some high-value treats (something they just can't resist) and entice your dog toward the car, allowing them to approach on their own terms. Some dogs may jump right in, but it may take longer for others, perhaps even a few attempts before they find their bravery. The most important part is to take things slowly!
  2. Once your dog is in the parked vehicle, let them roam around inside for a little while. We suggest you open all the doors so they don't feel trapped inside. Offer treats, plenty of praise, and even a few belly rubs and ear scratches so they know the car isn't so scary after all. You may want to introduce toys and bedding ― items with familiar scents that remind them of a safe place. This part of the process may take a few sessions. The goal is to get your dog comfortable with being inside your car before it starts moving.
  3. When it appears your dog is totally comfortable with being in your car while it's shut off, it's time to move to the next step. Start your engine! Once the car is running (but not moving), offer treats and praise again. Leave it running for a short while, then turn it off. Continue to start and stop your car until your dog shows little to no stress.
  4. Now it's time to move! Start with short trips (around the block), providing treats and praise the whole way. You can then gradually progress to longer distances. Remember, moving at your dog's speed is key to behavior modification.

For optimal safety, we recommend your dog is wearing a seat belt or harness that can be clipped to a seat belt. Read more safety tips for road trips with your dog. If you choose to let your dog roam freely, be extra careful when opening and closing car doors. The last thing you want is your pup darting and getting lost in an unfamiliar place. Make sure your dog is wearing proper identification so if there is an escape, they can be returned to you.

Calming treats

Some pet parents have found success with using calming treats for longer road trips. You can find calming treats at any major pet store. Talk to your veterinarian first to make sure this is a healthy option for your pooch.

Prescription medication

If you’ve tried behavior modification and calming treats, but traveling is still super stressful, talk to your veterinarian. They may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or mild sedative. Not only will this help with your dog’s stress levels, but it’ll also make your trip more enjoyable.

If you don’t have a veterinarian, schedule an appointment at our Vet Centers now. If you need help finding a vet that's closer to you in proximity, start by reviewing our list of local veterinary clinics.

Sign up for AHS email

If you found this article helpful and want more information about pet parenting, sign up for email from AHS. You'll receive behavior tips, stories about adorable, adoptable animals, and more!

SIGN UP NOW

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline