Frankie wearing his aromatherapy collar: Calm enough to pose for the camera

I discussed carsickness and its possible impact on a dog’s fear of car rides in the first part of my Friday Focus story. As promised, I’m now going to discuss fear that doesn’t necessarily relate to a specific physical cause and offer some possibilities for eliminating it. Many of these car phobia remedies can be applied to other anxieties, such as a fear of thunder.

Or of hearing cockroaches whacked.

Counter conditioning

The slowest, most painstaking, and often most effective way of getting your dog over auto anxiety is teaching him to associate the car with good things — or at least not bad things. Here is one example of how it might work, taken from

To get a dog used to getting in the car, start by only giving the meals in the car. The dog will have to get into the car to eat and after a while will learn to jump into the car. As soon as the dog is jumping into the car on her own, then start closing the door and just sitting there for 5 minutes. Do this for about 2 days. Then after closing the door, start the car and sit for 5 minutes with the engine running. Do this for another 2 days. The next time drive a short distance, like around the block. Each time when you let the dog out of the car give a very special reward like a piece of chicken Vienna.

Once the dog is happy going around the block extend the distance and drive to a park and have some fun in the park.

Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all technique. It’s not a good idea to sit in a car in Tucson at this time of year, for example, without the engine running and the a/c on. And some dogs — like Frankie — are too stressed to eat outside the house, even if he were allowed such treats as chicken Vienna — whatever that is — which he isn’t, because of his diabetes.

But you get the picture.

Anti-anxiety props

By this I mean items that your dog doesn’t ingest. They include:

Thunder shirt

Dr. Temple Grandin, animal scientist and autism expert, has written about how cows — and some humans such as herself — are comforted by being enclosed in a “hugging device.” The same gentle constant pressure applies to baby swaddling — and to the Thunder Shirt, which is purported to help alleviate travel anxiety as well as fear of the noisy natural phenomenon for which it is named.

Calming collars

The best known type of soothing neck wear for dogs is the Dog Appeasing Pheromone collar, described here by Dr. Janet Tobiassen-Crosby on her Veterinary Medicine site:

  • Pheromones released during lactation give puppies a sense of well-being and reassurance, known as appeasing pheromones.
  • DAP is a synthetic version of this pheromone, called Dog Appeasing Pheromone.
  • The pheromones are embedded in the plastic collar. The dog’s body heat helps emit the odorless pheromone from the collar.

Dr. Crosby tried the collar on her dog, Sophie. Read her review here.

More recently — and I’m very excited about this — I learned about aromatherapy calming collars when their creator, Deb Mendez, offered to send me one for Frankie.  As it turns out, she sent me two, one extra strength. I haven’t road tested them yet, but Frankie has been wearing them around the house and looks very dapper. And he seems calm. Which, admittedly, he generally tends to be around the house.

Calming Cap

Peek a boo

Basically, this product blurs your dog’s vision so as to block out overly exciting stimuli. It’s recommended by some prominent behaviorists in conjunction with behavior modification programs but, frankly, it seems a bit too Hannibal Lecter-ish for me.

Calming music

For example, the Through a Dog’s Ear driving CD. Once again, I’m going to refer you to Wrigley, the canine music critic,  who attested to its benefits on this blog.

Sound-blocking Headphones

Don, one of the many people who commented on yesterday’s roach-thwacking post, suggested I use headphones to keep Frankie from hearing the sound of my vermin attacks. That was a joke, right? Turns out, there was more truth to it than we knew. Amy H,  commenting on my first auto-anxiety post, wrote:

My lab of 11 years was fine in the car but hated the airplanes (he had over 1000 hours in small airplanes). I tried all kinds of things but finally figured out it was more about the noise than the motion; in an aircraft, unlike a car, if flight is coordinated there will not be sideways g-forces, only straight down. With my new pup (who loves riding in the car) I got some mutt muffs which are designed specifically for passive noise attenuation for dogs. They might also help in cars if noise is an issue (or on the 4th of July for that matter).

So there you have it: several more ways to deal with car anxiety. Has anyone tried them — especially the Thunder Shirt and Calming Cap? If they weren’t so expensive, I’d be very tempted to get Frankie those headphones…

Thanks to Rod at and Roxanne at for referring me to several articles on these techniques and products.

But I’m not quite done. When nothing else works… turn to drugs. Part 3 –wait for it!

24 thoughts on “Calming Your Car-Crazed Canine, Part 2”

  1. Thanks for the shout out on Calming Collars. Frankie looks quite handsome in his Calming Collar! I hope it helps, along with the other tools, on the big road trip.

  2. Thanks for another great article! My dog is fairly comfortable in the car, however I see above you mention the Thunder Shirt. I have looked at the website, but I’m not entirely convinced. Cooper has an awful time during a thunderstorm. Have you had any experience with this product?

    1. You’re welcome. I almost bought a Thundershirt for Frankie too but haven’t yet. I forgot to ask for feedback on this post. I’m going to do that right now!

  3. Unreasonable fear of anything is very hard to overcome but enough about me: let’s talk pets.

    As you may have heard me mention my dog Molly gets hysterical when she sees other dogs. I have had her in training before and I now am actually enrolled in another training program.

    Problem is the first trainer told me we went about as far as we can go (avoidance is the best policy from here on in) was the advice. The second one (a group class) started out with positive motivation but now has changed to “you got to show her tough love”.
    Not sure what that means and as far as I know Molly does not have a drinking problem so I am not sure I need her to hit bottom.

    At this point my budget is blown on training for a bit and I am at a loss as what to do.
    I hope no one laughs too hard but I am wondering if SSRI’s may be of help with fear.

    I can’t qualify Molly as having a phobia but I do know SSRI’s have helped with phobias in humans.

  4. I’ve found that counter conditioning has worked the best to relieve the frantic part of Tashi’s storm phobia. He no longer runs into weird places in the house (like trying to get behind the toilet!), and the panting is not constant and in earnest and I am very grateful for that.

    In the middle of the night with lots of lightening and thunder it’s tougher. I find that holding him close works for a little while, and I try to keep him from seeing the scary lightening flashes with pillows strategically placed on the bed, and I turn this big floor fan on for it’s noise masking qualities. It is successful to different degrees every time. Once he just ignored it after four minutes and went to sleep!

    When he’s just too wound up that he feels like he has to jump off the bed and worry himself by pacing or going to door, or decides to sleep on the floor next to the bed, then I let him. Every now and then I invite him to come back on the bed and go to sleep, but I leave it to him at that point and go back to sleep myself.

    I think products like the Thundershirt are hard to gauge for success and for just this reason. I don’t know what others have experienced with this phobia or if anyone has reversed this fear to a predictable, measurable degree. The shirt may take away a lot of static electricity, but there is an “OMD the world is coming to an end” noise component that is left unattended. Any input on this? Do we put our dogs in shirts and add the mutt muffs:) I gotta go check those out – can’t imagine my dog putting up with that, but I like to know about what products are out there! Thanks, Edie for reminder on Amy H’s comment!

    1. Luckily Frankie isn’t too freaked out by thunder though he definitely seeks me out and wants me to hold him. I would also be curious about the Thundershirt. My sense is not that it takes care of the static electricity — the Storm Defender cape, which I’ve asked my friend Karyn to explain, works on that principle. The Thundershirt works more on the simulation of human hug premise…

      1. Very interesting information about the Thundershirt. If it resembled a human hug, than one would thing my dog is comforted by a hug, which during a thunderstorm is certainly not the case. However, I have found that soft classical music calms Cooper during a storm! But he must be sitting in my lap at that time or the music is useless.

        Do Mutt Muffs exist?

  5. That was very informative.
    I wonder what would work for loud booms like firecrackers and fireworks? Lily absolutely goes berserk around 4th of July and New Years Eve.
    For thunderstorms and even high winds, we use the Storm Defender cape which helps tremendously.

    1. Well, maybe those Mutt Muffs are for Lilly…

      I thought of your Storm Defender cape when I wrote this but didn’t think it related to car trips. But since we’re talking about general anxiety, maybe you can explain what it is and how it works?

  6. The Thundershirt doesn’t address the static electricity. It’s just the abdominal pressure similar to Premiere’s Anxiety Wrap, except the dog has more freedom of motion.

    I have had some success with it with one of my dogs. Much more than I did with DAP.

    I may be trying a Storm Defender.

    1. Karyn swears by the Storm Defender cape (and her greyhound, Lily, looks very dashing in it). Yeah, I checked about the Thundershirt for car travel because I didn’t really care about the static electricity aspect. One of the problem is that Frankie refuses to drink during car trips and I don’t want to further dehydrate him by putting extra clothing on him. If only dogs could sweat, it might be perfect! (And yes, I do put water on his face and try to get him to drink but it just annoys him.)

  7. I can tell you what I would NOT recommend, in terms of drugs, and it will once again expose me as a bad mom. Archie likes car trips around town, as it gives him time to rest his head on my thigh and have a nice little cuddle (first example of egregious mom allowing him to resist the seat belt), but he hates any ride longer than 15 minutes. The vet has suggested Xanax for his night terrors (remember, he has CCD) and Valium for car trips. But BEFORE he was diagnosed with CCD I needed to drive to San Francisco, 325 miles from home, and it was a rough trip for him. A dog-devoted friend recommended Valium that her vet had prescribed for her similarly-sized and -dispositioned dog. I gave a 1/2 dose to Archie. He became a stupefied drooling fool, and though he didn’t bother me by vocalizing and cowering the way he did on the trip up to SF, I don’t think he enjoyed his view of the abyss. He could hardly get the energy to pee when we hit the various rest stops, and his limbs seemed to be made of noodles for a good 18 hours. I subsequently consulted the vet and she confirmed that, indeed, I had not given him much of a dose, but we just never know how a pooch will react…I’m sure some of us remember Edie talking about Frankie’s increased libido on Valium!

  8. Guilt free zone, Clare — don’t forget!

    I think you — and I — stand alone when it comes to remembering Frankie’s reaction to Valium. But I promise to tell that story in the promised drug-related post.

  9. Whenever we’d give Penny a bath, she’d freak out when she’d hear the noise from the hair dryer which we had to use to avoid tangles since she’s a Bichon. Every bath time it’d be the same…wash, shake, turn on hair dryer, freak out and run around the kitchen with a wild eyed “I gotta get out of here” stare.

    We finally had success today using positive reinforcement (kibble) while her hair was being blow dryed. She was so busy trying to get the kibble out of my fingers that she didn’t really notice the noise of the dryer and by the end, we could even do it without the kibble. I was surprised at her progress, but we’ll see if her non-fear of the dryer sticks until next bath day.

    I’m not a big proponent of using drugs to calm a pet, but I know that there are times when it would be absolutely necessary (flying in an airplane across the ocean in cargo, etc). The only time that Penny has been “under the influence” was right after her spay operation when she was on pain killers. Instead of being laid back and mellow like Cheech & Chong in one of their 70’s movies, she looked confused as her brain couldn’t make her body do what she wanted it to do. 🙁

    1. If it’s any consolation, Frankie runs around like a mad dog after a bath even without a hair dryer. It’s like he’s trying to escape his own skin. But it sounds like you did great with Penny.

      I know what you mean about the drugs too. When Frankie had his teeth cleaned/several extracted he looked miserable on the pain killers. But he had some funnier reactions to the other “calming” drugs I’ve tried on him. I’ll be writing about some of those reactions when I write my post on that topic.

    1. Thanks for that. Last night my trainer recommended it too, along with the Thundershirt. So Frankie might be getting some interesting clothing…

  10. hello,

    my name is georgia and i am a car-crazed canine.

    i howl and bark [very loudly] all the time when i’m in the car, even if it’s just for 5 minutes around the corner. i have been doing this for 15 months, ever since i came to live with my family.

    i love being in the car and don’t get sick or throw up. i just want to get to the front seat where i belong and get my paws on the steering wheel. I get very upset when i’m not allowed to do this. since i am a big girl [45 kilos], my straining to get to the front makes it quite difficult for my humans.

    my humans have tried de-sensitizing me with little short trips. putting a comfy bed in so i can snuggle. and all kinds of harnesses and barriers. i bit through my first harness in 15 minutes though it was supposed to be a tough one. and also the car safety belt [which i chewed when my humans weren’t looking].

    my humans have tried being calm and gentle and they’ve tried being stern and loud. nothing has worked for them.

    the calming cap looks very cute. i wonder if it’ll work on me.

    thank you for writing stuff my humans can use to make me a *ahem* better dog.

    1. Georgia, I’m sure you’re perfect just the way you are, but since I put up that post I have been told — by my very knowledgeable trainer — that the calming cap is effective. So you might want to give it a try…

      1. ooo, thank you edie jarolim!

        i will make sure my humans add the calming cap to the growing list of things they have to buy to make me a good and happy dog. though maybe they’ll be cheap and just tie a bandanna round my eyes : )

        i look forward to being good in the car soon.

        1. dear edie,

          i just wanted you to know that since they read your articles on car-crazed canines, my humans have put in a barrier for me : ) thank you for helping. i still scream a lot but at least now i can’t get to the steering wheel which is very helpful [for them].


          1. I’m happy to hear it! Maybe they’ll play Through A Dog’s Ear for you and you’ll stop screaming 😉

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