Dogs and Car Anxiety

Dog in a car used to talk about dog anxiety from cars.

Does your dog have a negative association with the car? 

First, throwing up in the car, tensing up, or just nervous about going on a ride. Put the dog on medication, and now the dog will get a weird woozy feeling. I suggest you give him a new perspective on the car. 

Is your dog treat or toy motivated? 

When I say “T,” you use the word treat or toy. Verbal encouragement is a great way to teach dogs how to learn behavior. Therefore, When the dog earns the reward even if the dog takes baby steps can be enormous in calming a dog of this anxious behavior. If the dog is hesitant, then do not push or prompt him; just let him be and repeat the previous exercise over or back up a step. One reason why dogs get nervous with cars is they are reacting to our emotions. For example, If you are running late or in a hurry, your heart rate is up, which causes your blood pressure to rise, breathing patterns are different, etc. that dogs will sense by practicing with this exercise during a time when your much calmer will make your dog calmer. 

To start the exercise, we need to desensitize the dog of current behaviors he associates with the car. We need to associate the keys with a reward to help curb anxiety. It would be best if you stopped having your keys out, ready to go before you leave the car, or get into the vehicle to help change the dog’s behavior.

The first step is to start in the house, get your keys out, jingle them once, and give him his “T” (treat or toy). Then, ignore him for 1 minute. Next, rattle the keys again, and reward the dog with his or her “T” (treat or toy). This repeated jingling of the keys helps dogs associate an action with a particular item or thing that means we are doing something. For example, leash means let us go for a walk or go for a car ride; mom’s purse and no leash means she’s leaving; dad’s jacket or hat means he’s leaving, and so on. 

Repeat the exercise in every room of the house until you reach a place that you’re not likely to be going for a car ride. He should be very excited about the jingle of the keys by now, if not, then keep working on the exercise. 

Finally, once the dog is looking forward to the jingle, go to the door leading to the car and then open and close the door while jingling the keys and rewarding the dog with his T (treat or toy). 

Still not freaking out? 

Great, onto the next part. Walk around your car, open and close doors, jingling the keys, and rewarding the dog. Leave a door open and put his “T” (treat or toy) inside the door on the floor where he can get it. Do that 3 or 4 times, close the door, go back in the house, and ignore him. 

The next time you take him out there, put him in the car with you (don’t turn the car on yet), jingle the keys and reward the dog. Let him sit and relax or walk around. Repeat the exercise several times, then go back to the house with him and ignore him. I’m sure by now, you can see the progression in the dog’s responses. It’s slow but well worth it not to flood the dog with bad feelings. 

I had to do this with my German Shepherd years ago. He was not treat motivated but highly toy motivated. I would throw his frisbee into the car, and he would get it and bring it to me. I even threw it through the car out the other door. He ran through the car to get his frisbee. Next, I took him on very short rides, down the block. Stopped, got out, and played with him. (no playing in the car now as I want him to anticipate going to the new location.) This method worked on him and several other clients. 

If this exercise doesn’t seem to work for you, email me, and I’ll talk you through it.    

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