In two weeks I’ll be driving to San Diego with Frankie to do a signing for Am I Boring My Dog? I’m no longer worried about my book’s title question; Frankie is plenty entertained (and plenty entertaining). But when it comes to car trips, the question arises: Am I stressing my dog?

Frankie loves being with me but he hates the car. That’s why we’re doing the training I’ve been detailing every Tuesday. And I was convinced by the testimonial of spokesdog Wrigley on this site to buy a copy of Through A Dog’s Ear. We’ll road test it and I’ll report back.

But there are other things that people swear by to calm their dogs, from DAP collars to calming masks to drugs, herbal and prescription. So this week the question is: What are the best methods of calming your dog during a car trip?

All testimonials from people or dogs are appreciated.

By the way: Safety first. I’m talking about dogs that are securely belted or crated in the car but are still stressed.

19 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Calming Your Dog in the Car”

  1. Buster is our problem traveler, Ty doesn’t mind AT ALL about being driven anywhere. We really take our time with Buster. Slowly, putting his harness on. Talking to him calmly. Getting him to lay down. Then we start the RV. Then we go back to asking him to lay down, talking calmly. Then we give him a bone to chew on. Then we pull out. Obviously, all of this takes time – we believe Buster can really pick up on our anxiety if we are in a hurry. We allow for at least 15 minutes for this acclimation process.

    Every now and then, Amy will try a few drops of Rescue Remedy – I am not convinced that it is effective.

    Finally, we do our best to keep Buster from looking out the windows – this is much easier to do in the RV than in a regular car or SUV. We, and others, theorize that Buster sees oncoming traffic as objects to be herded … and they continue to fly by at 60 mph! The audacity!

    Good luck on your book signing!

    1. You really are sweet with your dogs (is that okay to say to a guy? if not, pretend I was just addressing Amy). I’m not convinced that Rescue Remedy works either, but will include that in my Friday discussion. As for the windows, interesting… many people say dogs like to be able to see outdoors. I wonder if it’s breed specific, i.e., good for lap dogs not for herding dogs?

      Thanks for your good wishes. There’ll be plenty more announcements relating to the event.

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  3. I have been so lucky with Jessie and the car! Her shelter brought her to many adoption days before I brought her home, so she’s always associated the car with a lot of welcome human attention! She loves cars!

    But I’ve walked some dogs who didn’t much care for cars. And had to get them in cars for vet visits, grooming visits, etc.

    It helps if people make the dog a fun place and arrive at fun places when the dog is young. Take him on rides to fun places frequently, rather than only to the vet or the groomer (which can be stressful experiences for dogs).

    But if you’ve found yourself with a dog who hates the car, you’re really starting over with car training.

    Every step of getting ready for a car ride needs to be fun and rewarded. Getting into the car in your driveway, even when you aren’t going anywhere, needs to be fun and rewarded. Turning the car on with dog in it-fun and rewarded! Then moving to very short trips, perhaps only down the driveway, again with the fun and rewards.

    It’s a long process with a dog who is already fearful, and you’ll have to try to move at his comfort level. You’re doing what you can with Frankie! If he’s really not ready for a car ride though, perhaps reconsider taking him with you. You don’t want to undo the progress you’ve made so far!

    1. Oops, typing fail. I meant “make the car a fun place”, not “make the dog a fun place”. My that mistype makes one wonder, eh? LOL

    2. I take Frankie to a fun place, to the trail where we walk, by car every single morning. He loves being there, just not getting there. Frankie has done this car trip to San Diego with me before and I can’t leave him behind this time; he’s the star of my book! And I can’t afford a pet sitter. And he wants to be with me. So, it’s a question of the getting the full artillery out and trying to make the experience better.

      1. My 5-lb. Yorkie Sydney is the same way. She’ll be a year old this week and she has always behaved this way in the car. When we first journey to the park, she’s pretty good, but as soon as I slow down or hit the turn signal, she cries and barks. When I stop the car, she barks and snarls. I’ve harnessed her to a doggie car seat so she could see out and I’ve also harnessed her inside a seat belted bag so she couldn’t see out. The same result. I’ve tried DAP, treats in the car, feeding her in the car, but the results are always the same. I also have a husband with a severe traumatic brain injury, so traveling with a barking, crying dog is a real annoyance for him and a potential road hazard for me. I love taking her for walks with us, but as you said, getting there is the problem. I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

        1. Thanks for writing. Wow — and I thought my situation was stressful! It sounds like you’ve done all the right things and I don’t know if I’ll be able to provide any answers but I do have a question: Is there a reason you can’t take Sydney for walks around the neighborhood instead of taking her in the car with you? I can’t do that with Frankie — he refuses to go beyond a four block radius when we’re in the vicinity of our home. It would be funny if it weren’t so annoying. I used to take him for two short walks a day without worrying about it until he got diabetes, and the vet said more exercise would be good for him. And so the car struggles began, because Frankie’s happy to walk for a long time away from home. In your case, it sounds like the best option for all of you might be to forgo the car trips if they’re not essential.

          1. I think an upset dog in the car, regardless of the situation, is stressful. Unfortunately, we live on a busy street and not a neighborhood. You do have a good point, though. Thank you. I hate not being able to take her places. Once we’re out of the car, she’s great, and even when we get started in the car, too, but once we hit city limits (irregardless of the city) the barking and crying begins long before we get to where we need to be. I have not tried music specifically for dogs, only Enya, so I’m curious how that will work for Frankie. It sounds like your poor little guy gets very stressed. My grandparents had a German Sheppard that was the same as Frankie. I remember poor Pepper panted and drooled over my book bag, soaking it. (I smelled like dog breath for the remainder of the day). That was 30-years ago, and I would have hoped that a magic bean or wand would have been found versus drugging for a ten-minute ride anywhere. (I haven’t tried drugging her–too afraid).

            Good luck with Frankie and your book signing!

          2. You’re welcome. Maybe Sydney isn’t an Enya fan? I know I’m not! 😉

  4. I have no experience to offer since our guys are perfectly happy to take a ride, long or short. Except for our late rescue, who was really freaked out the first time we took him camping – short rides were fine with him, but a long ride put real fear in his eyes. Clearly the only time he took long rides was when he was going to be dumped some place. Once he realized that after arriving to the destination we still remained all together he was really excited and didn’t mind long rides since.

    My thinking would be that in your case, with a long ride a high anxiety, medication might make a good sense. This is an article our vet has on his site (hoping the link works)

    I think that the last thing you want right now is to undo all the hard work you’ve done so far, and an extended stress could well do that.

    While I am not a big fan of medicating dogs, I feel that in a case like this it would make a good sense.

    1. The link worked, but I couldn’t find anything about medication for car rides (unless you mean the Prozac article?). I’ve been down the medication road… stay tuned for the stories on Friday.

      1. Yes, meant the Prozac article, the link doesn’t work as well as I hoped 😉
        I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend a particular medication, but posted the link for information why it sometimes makes sense to medicate.

        I know I have to get myself medicated for a trips to Europe, long story, but wouldn’t survive the trip otherwise.

  5. Does Frankie ever seem woozy or near lethargic after a decently long car ride? I know a lot of people who use Dramamine (motion sickness drug) to help their dogs through the journey.
    Also, what does he think of the car in general? Is he fine until you ask him to go inside; maybe fine until you start it up, start driving, etc?
    Is anything on the car broken? (A broken something-or-other can cause grinding that we as humans can’t hear, but to the dogs it’s high pitched and hurts their dear little ears.)
    (I read a few blogs back so I wouldn’t be asking too many redundant questions, so sorry if I did anyway…Oops!)
    Also, I read that Frankie becomes a little…unentusiastic when the training gear comes out. How often do you finish on high notes? (This means leaving the training session while he still feels like he’s conquered the world. It’s like… if I ask my project dog to look at me by saying his name, I know that after the fourth time he’ll be too stressed out to do it, so I stop at two. I built it up to 12 pretty quickly after that.)
    How do you think you can make the car the best place to be EVER?
    I once parked mine in the backyard with the agility equipement. My dog, Kittie, LOVES agility, and I taught her to dash through the backseat and out the other side as part of the “course.”
    She liked it for about two weeks, and then some idiot almost hit me…and I slammed on the breaks. We’re back at square one! Only this time, my agility trick is not so tricky! I have to think of something new.
    On medication, um…Kittie is on lorazapam because of anxiety, and she still has a lot of issues. We only put her on because we couldn’t get within any distance of any of her triggers because the moment she saw them she was too far gone to respond. Can’t countercondition a dog who is so afraid she can’t even form a thought other than RUN!
    How is Frankie with the car? Is he already too strung out the moment he sees it to respond to training?
    Oh! One more note… When you have a dog who is afraid of the car, that’s when it’s an exteremely good idea to make that trip to the icky fast food place, grab a plain hamburger, and say, “Here, Frankie. The car’s gift to you!”

    1. Julie, thanks for your long, thoughtful comment. I’m going to just address a few points because I’m going to cover a great deal of the car stuff — including drugs — you asked about on Friday and several of the training issues on Tuesday.

      Frankie actually jumps into the car because he must see it as a safe haven on some level. Then he starts shaking, even before we go anywhere. He doesn’t eat in the car (or anywhere else) when he’s stressed so even if I could give him the burger (I can’t; he’s diabetic) he wouldn’t eat it.

    1. Thanks — I just looked it up on her site and will provide a link to the story she did advocating it.

  6. I have a 2 and half year old, he has always been in the car,from 8 weeks old. Whenever we go anywhere, he starts barking, and keeps it up the whole journey. He travels in a cage with his sister, she is fine. We have tried the sitting in there with him, without going anywhere. He refuses to eat in there, he ignores his kong, and favorite toys. I am at my wits end with him. We have also tried various calming products, but nothing seems to work.
    He loves the end result of a nice walk, but getting there is a nightmare.
    When I take him to the groomer, and have to stop a lights his bark gets louder, people stare at the car, as if I’m hurting him.
    We are going on holiday at the end of the year, and have never left either of the dogs, so we are taking them with us, I’m worried about how he will cope!
    Please can anyone give me an idea what to od with him.

    1. Oh, that must be frustrating for you! I feel your pain.

      I don’t know what size he is, but can he see out the window? That might help if he is in a crate.

      And have you tried Through A Dog’s Ear, calming music for dogs? There’s an automotive version. Lots of people swear by it.

      Best of luck, Sharon.

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