Skip to Content

Dog Car Anxiety: 9 Symptoms & 7 Calming Tips (2023)

Dog Car Anxiety

You’d love to take your dog with you wherever you go…

However, that involves putting them in the car.

And, unlike you, Fido isn’t looking forward to a ride.

But don’t cancel your plans yet…

Because I got all you need to know about dog car anxiety and more. 

Keep reading to discover:

  • 9 alarming car anxiety symptoms in dogs.
  • Why your dog is (suddenly) anxious in the car.
  • 7 trouble-free tips to get rid of your pup’s car anxiety.
  • And much, much, more…

Why is my dog (suddenly) anxious in the car?

Your dog is suddenly anxious in the car because of fear of confinement inside a moving vehicle. Sometimes, motion sickness causes anxiety in dogs. Other times, your dog links cars with a bad or traumatic memory. Examples are stressful destinations, like the vet clinic or an accident.

Dog car anxiety: 9 symptoms

#1: Resisting entry to the car

You can tell from the start that your dog has car anxiety.

Because you’ll notice that when the car is parked in your driveway…

Your pup hesitates to go near the vehicle. 

Then, when you take them for a ride, they’ll hesitate to get in.

And they show this reluctance through:

  • Crying.
  • Avoidance.
  • Pulling back the leash.
  • Running away from you.
  • Breaking free from your control.

#2: Trying to escape

Once in the car, your anxious pooch will try all means to get out of there.

Fact: This behavior is also called fleeing, which is 1 of the 4 F’s of fear in dogs. Throughout this article, you’ll get to know the rest. 

That said, your doggo will devise their escape plan through:

  • Scratching the door.
  • Trying to move the latch.

And when someone opens the door and window…

Beware: Your dog might sneak out and turn the trip into a chase.

#3: Fidgeting

This is another 1 of the 4 F’s of fear in dogs.

As anxiety makes your canine frightened and restless…

Vets say there’s a physiological explanation behind this behavior.

Because a dog’s body reacts to anxiety in the following ways:

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • High blood pressure.

And since all of those are sudden and increasing…

It’s uncomfortable for Fido.

Which they fight by not staying still.

So, your pooch with car anxiety will do these inside the vehicle:

  • Pacing.
  • Sniffing.
  • Jumping.

Moreover, they’ll be too hypervigilant.

They’re on high alert and will be easily startled.

#4: Panting

This is part of normal dog behavior…

PetMD says it can mean happiness and excitement in pups.

However, too much panting is worrying…

Because it’s also a sign of stress and anxiety. 

“How can I tell whether they’re happy or anxious when panting?”

The first tell-tale indication is the situation.

A happy pooch will pant when you’re about to feed them.

Or when they know a treat is incoming.

On the other hand, a stressed pooch will show other signs I’ll mention in this article.

Related read: Why Does My Dog Suddenly Pant? 19 Dangers + 5 Tips

#5: Salivating

Your Dog Is Anxious In The Car When They're Salivating

When your dog has car anxiety…

They’ll suddenly drool so much. 

Now, excessive salivation is also due to motion sickness.

According to CDC, that happens when:

The movement your dog sees is different from what they sense in their inner ear.

Fun fact: Science reveals ears aren’t just for hearing. They also help maintain balance. Inside them are sensory hair cells and fluid sending information to the brain. If those transmit contradictory messages, it makes someone dizzy and nauseous.

That said, the car ride makes Fido sick to their stomach…

Which leads to nausea and overproduction of saliva.

Note: Your dog feels they’ve been drooling too much. That’s why they’ll also lick their lips excessively. 

Continue reading: Why Does My Dog Drool In The Car? 5 Reasons + 7 Tips

#6: Whining

According to research, dogs vocalize to communicate with humans.

And with the many years of studying them…

We began to understand the differences between their vocalizations.

As for whining, it means they need your help with something they can’t solve themself.

With that, Fido whines in the car as a sign of anxiety.

Which is their way of telling you to get them out of the car.

Or that they’re feeling scared and uncomfortable…

They need your consolation.

Read also: 15 Reasons Why Dogs Whine In The Car + 9 Tips To Stop It

#7: Barking

This is another form of vocalization an anxious pooch displays in the car.

For your pup’s car anxiety, ASPCA specifically calls this behavior fear-induced barking.

Because Fido considers the vehicle a frustrating place.

They feel confined and unwell inside.

So they bark to let you know they’re scared. 

Moreover, this is part of the 4 F’s of fear in dogs.

As barking can also mean your dog is fighting for their life. 

#8: Shaking or trembling

And the last of the 4 F’s of fear in dogs is freezing.

Which includes shaking and trembling in one place.

Note: Fear isn’t the only thing that can cause this. Feeling nauseous from motion sickness can also make Fido shake.

#9: Suddenly peeing or pooping

In severe cases of car anxiety…

PetMD says their body releases the hormone adrenaline

Which is discharged as a response to stress and anxiety.

Then, that surge in adrenaline urges Fido to go to the bathroom. 

But extreme fear leaves them having trouble controlling their bowels.

With that, your pup will suddenly pee or poop inside the car.

Dog car anxiety: 9 tips

#1: Desensitization and counterconditioning

In the years of domesticating dogs and studying their behaviors…

Vets say these training methods are the most powerful ones.

So, you must try it to reduce your dog’s car anxiety.

First, we have desensitization.

It’s where you gradually expose your pooch to the car. Which is something they fear.

That aims to get Fido used to their fearful stimulus.

In the end, their negative reaction toward it will decrease.

Then, there’s counterconditioning

It’s where you change your dog’s response to their trigger.

Which you’ll achieve through rewards like treats, praises, and toys.

With those, you help them associate their stimulus (the car) with something positive…

Therefore changing their attitude toward the car.

That said, watch this video on how to desensitize and countercondition Fido:

For further reading: 13 Fast & Proven Ways To Calm A Dog In The Car (How-To)

#2: Create a comfortable place for them in the car

Comfort is one of the best ways to calm your pooch during a trip.

So, try bringing a cozy blanket.

Or, much better, throw a few of your clothes in the car.

Because those have your smell on them.

Trust me. Your pup will find them soothing.

As research reveals that when dogs detect their human’s odor…

The pleasure part of their brain lights up.

And that happiness can help counter their anxiety.

Moreover, also pack familiar items that they own.

It could be their toy or their bed.

Since a study reveals, canines think like a 2-year-old…

Then, it’s theorized that dogs develop an emotional connection to their toys. Or any other belongings that are important to them.

#3: Try driving to fun destinations

As most dogs exhibit car anxiety…

Dog parents would limit their pup’s car rides.

But if you only drive them from your house to the vet clinic…

Then no wonder Fido is scared of the car.

Because they associate the vehicle with a stressful destination.

With that, try tip #1 first…

And once you do, it’s the moment to show Fido a good time.

Let them know car rides aren’t only for checkups…

But also for adventures like hiking or going to the beach.

#4: Play calming or classical music

Turn your car stereo and play something by Mozart or Beethoven.

Anything, as long as it’s classical music. Or something that’s equally soothing.

As this research reports, those types of music lulled kenneled dogs to sleep.

Pro tip: Check out this dog playlist on Spotify. They crafted it to calm dogs down.

#5: Use ThunderShirt

Don’t let its name fool you…

The classic ThunderShirt isn’t just helpful during thunderstorms…

Because it can also soothe your dog’s anxiety in the car.

As it’s a snuggly vest that applies gentle pressure on your dog’s body.

Which comforts them and reduces their fearfulness.

#6: Try an Adaptil collar

Another anxiety-soothing calming aid is dog pheromones.

Specifically in the form of an Adaptil collar.

This carries a scent that mimics the smell of a mother dog.

Which calms down a dog of any age and size, from small to large.

#7: Anti-anxiety medications

In severe cases, you can’t curb your dog’s car anxiety through training and other tips…

With that, it’s time to consult your pup’s vet about it.

Then, you can have them recommend and prescribe anti-anxiety medications for Fido.