Driving is a task that requires immense concentration, and the more distractions you have in the car, the more complicated it can become. In cases such as these, you may dread the idea of bringing your pet into the car, especially dogs that become agitated once they are in the car. Even if the dog cannot stand or move freely on the seat, the pacing, barking, whining, and general anxiety from your dog can rub off, making it incredibly difficult to focus on driving. On top of that, nobody enjoys hearing their pets in so much distress. For better or for worse, this is a problem that is common enough that there are countless solutions for how to calm a dog in a car. Some of these solutions are designed to work immediately, while others are designed to be a long-term process to get your dog used to the car again.
Taking Preventative Measures Beforehand
Keep in mind that you should always consult your vet before you give your dog any medication, even if the medication is purely supplemental and should not harm the dog. It is simply good practice.
One of the best ways to help a dog tolerate a car ride and for you to tolerate the dog is to ensure that the dog is able to keep calm. Much like people, some dogs need a helping hand in keeping calm. Regardless of whether the hyperactivity is because your dog is excited about being in the car or is a manifestation of anxiety, the method of treatment is the same for both: calming objects.
There are a number of treats that are designed to induce calmness in dogs. Some of these treats may be hemp treats, while others may be all-natural and may not contain any hemp in them. You may want to do some research on what the most effective treats are, how they can affect your dog, and how much you should be giving your dog. If you know your dog has allergies or sensitivities, you will want to double-check with your dog’s vet before administering the treats. You will also want to try a treat at home first, in case your dog doesn’t react well so that you and your dog are in a safe and familiar place to deal with the potential problems.
You can also consider things that are not edibles for your dog. These can be in the form of calming sprays and pheromone collars. Both of these operate under the same idea of using calming scents and ingredients that the dog gets through scent, rather than food. With spray, you would typically spray it on the seat or the blanket covering the seat. Some of them are designed to be topical. You should never spray it into a dog’s muzzle or eyes, as it is a chemically based concoction. With the collar, the idea is the same but the scent and pheromones are now around your dog’s neck, rather than sprayed onto the seat or on its fur. If your dog is prone to skin irritations, you will want to check with the vet with this as well.
Again, try a calming product at home so that you can know how it will affect your dog and you won’t have to pull over because your dog is having problems that need to be addressed immediately.
One way to help your dog calm down is to simply limit the things that it can get excited about. The most common method for this is to block out the windows so that your dog cannot view out the windows. Whether your dog gets excited watching the cars and scenery go by, or it gets agitated seeing the movement without actually moving on its own, blocking the windows serves to remove that aspect of the car trip. There are numerous filters for side door windows that you can choose based on how you want it to affect your car, and for the most part, any darkening or polarizing filters will get the job done for your dog.
Distracting Your Dog
This method can be used in conjunction with the one above, but it is important to keep in mind that how effective it is will depend entirely on why your dog is becoming agitated in the car. If your dog is prone to over-excitation from simply being so excited about everything around it, giving it treats or toys to play with may only exacerbate the problem. Likewise, if your dog is agitated because it doesn’t like riding in the car, providing a distraction can help keep it calm and tolerant of the car, assuming you aren’t driving for so long that the dog will get bored of the entertainment you provide.
There are a few types of entertainment you can consider, and the one that will work best depends heavily on your dog’s own personality and what it enjoys. For some dogs, and for shorter trips, a toy where the dog has to work at getting the treat out can be perfect as long as the treat can’t fall under the seat or into a place where your dog can’t get to it. Of course, this only works if your dog enjoys this kind of toy. Other toys include chew toys (especially squeaky chew toys, if you can tolerate the noise) and other toys that you know will keep your dog’s attention engaged.
Another option you could consider is setting up a TV program attached to the front seat that your dog can view. Using the same mindset as toddlers have in the car, sometimes watching your dog’s favorite show can distract it enough from the process of being in the car that you can have a calm car ride. This works best if the show is something that you know will keep your dog’s attention and it is one that you won’t mind listening to the entire ride.
Stopping the Car
This method is not applicable in all situations, but when you are able to safely follow through with it, it can help your dog out tremendously. Sometimes, your dog becomes agitated because it is overstimulated. The movement of the car, the sights outside, the sounds from other cars, and potentially even the passing smells can all be overwhelming, especially for a dog that doesn’t go outside all that much. With this in mind, the best way to help your dog calm down from the overstimulation is to forcefully stop the stimulation. You can’t necessarily do a forceful complete stop in the car, but finding a place to safely pull over for about five to ten minutes can be enough for your dog to settle down.
This also works for dogs that are becoming excited because they think car rides are the greatest form of entertainment. By taking the entertainment away from them as they become hyper, you are effectively teaching them through punishment. The idea is that if the dog cannot behave with the “reward” of getting to ride in the car with you, then it doesn’t get to have all of that fun experience of watching everything pass by. This method is most effective when you have already trained your dog with this method and it understands what you are doing. If you haven’t tried this method of training before, there’s still a chance it will get the point across for your dog, but the point may not last as long and it may not be as effective.
Exposure and Training
This process is meant to be a long-term method of helping to “normalize” the experience of a car ride so that your dog doesn’t treat it with the same kind of excitement that is causing the issues. This process also works for dogs that become agitated in the car by exposing them to their fears and showing them that nothing bad happens in the car while they are in it. The idea behind this process is to essentially keep exposing them to being inside a car on short trips around the neighborhood, while rewarding them for being quiet and calm and not rewarding them if they get overexcited during the trip. This will, if all goes well, show the dog that car rides are not anything interesting.
You will begin by simply taking your dog on short trips that aren’t anywhere special and do not pass anything interesting to look at. This could be around the block, through the backroads of the town, or across the neighborhood and back. Over time, your dog will learn to calm down and will not be as excited during these trips. If your dog doesn’t act hyper or agitated, you should reward it with pets, treats, and calmly spoken praise (so you don’t excite the dog again). If the dog begins to act agitated or hyper, do not reward that behavior. Do not acknowledge it. Punishing the dog can have adverse reactions and ruin the training process, so it is not recommended. Hopefully, your dog will want the pets and praise it gets for being calm, and as this process continues, it will adopt the overall mindset that car rides are nothing special.