How to Calm a Dog in a Car

By Britt Kascjak

Are you planning a road trip, but worried about the way your dog acts in the car?

Is bringing your dog to the veterinarian a trying experience?

If your dog isn’t a polite passenger, don’t give up hope. There are steps that you can take to help calm him down and enjoy your next car ride together.

Why Does My Dog Freak Out in the Car?

There are two main reasons that you will see your dog start to freak out in the car.

The first is that he loves his car rides so much that it’s a source of excitement. It’s a similar response to the child that starts to jump up and down when given good news.

On the other hand, if your dog is unsure of the car or associates it with stress, it could be anxiety.

Many dogs are scared by the sound or movement of the car. This is only made worse when the only rides that they take are to visit the veterinarian.

Understanding the reason for your dog’s response will help you respond to it properly. Pay attention to any body language that may give it away.

Is his tail wagging or tucked between his legs? Are his ears up and excited or back in a fearful expression?

4 Ways to Help Calm Your Dog on Car Rides

Control the Energy Levels

It may be tempting to hype your dog up before getting in the car. But, this is setting your dog up for an over-excited response.

Rather than asking him repeatedly where you’re going or if he wants to go for a car ride, keep the energy in check.

Calmly walk your dog to the car and get him settled in his spot.

Don’t forget to reward him for being calm. A gentle pat, some verbal praise, or a treat can go a long way to reinforce this behavior.

Create a Comfort Area

Speaking of your dog’s spot. If your dog is nervous about car rides, a comfort area can be a big help.

To do this, consider incorporating a familiar bed, blanket, or soft toy with his scent on it. Another option is to have him lay on an unwashed shirt with your scent.

A dog’s sense of smell is a powerful thing. These familiar scents can help to calm him and give him a sense of security in the space. 

Start in the Driveway

If you have a dog that is very scared of the car, don’t be afraid to start small.

Start conditioning while in your driveway. The first few times, don’t even turn the vehicle on. Bring your dog out just to hang out or to eat a meal in the vehicle.

This will help to teach him that the vehicle is just a common thing, nothing to be afraid of.

When you notice that he’s comfortable hanging out in the car, try turning it on but not going anywhere. This will introduce the noise of the engine.

When you’re ready to start moving, be patient and start small. A simple trip around the block may be all your dog can do the first time.

Consider Calming Aids

If you need to take your dog somewhere and don’t have time to go through the conditioning process, there are options.

You may be able to use calming treats or supplements from your favorite pet store.

In more severe cases of anxiety, you may want to ask your veterinarian about a prescription option.

Photo of author
Britt Kascjak
Britt Kascjak has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering, and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. Her ‘pack’ includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx.