What is Travel Anxiety

Although some dogs love going for car trips, others are less than thrilled. Dogs suffering from travel anxiety become highly agitated and distressed while riding in the car (or other moving vehicles). Some will even start shaking and panting at the prospect of getting in the car.

Symptoms 

Dogs with travel anxiety may exhibit one or more of these behaviors:

  • Resists getting into the car
  • Trembling
  • Whining or barking
  • Panting, yawning or drooling
  • Constant lip-licking
  • Chewing or licking themselves
  • Urinating or defecating
  • Vomiting
  • Tries to escape while riding in the car

Causes

A variety of factors can lead to travel anxiety in dogs:

  • Motion sickness or other bad experience while traveling, causing a negative association with car trips
  • Learning that a car ride means going somewhere unpleasant, such as the veterinarian’s office
  • Stressed by certain sights or sounds while riding in the car (e.g., car noises, traffic, etc.)
  • Feeling unstable or insecure while in motion

Tip: Use a harness, carrier or crate to keep your dog properly restrained in the car. This will help them feel more secure — while keeping both you and your dog safe. 

Photo courtesy of Sleepypod®

Treatment Options

Your dog’s travel anxiety isn’t likely to go away by itself and could get worse if it’s not treated. To explore your options and create a plan of action, make an appointment with your veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist, certified behavior consultant or certified dog trainer.

Medication

In many cases of travel anxiety, medication can be helpful — especially when used in combination with other training techniques and therapies. If your dog’s travel anxiety is triggered by motion sickness, medication that reduces nausea and vomiting could make a difference. Talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. 

Note: Never give your dog human medication without first consulting your veterinarian.

Counter Conditioning and Desensitization 

When used together, these behavior modification techniques are highly effective in reducing and treating travel anxiety:

  • Counter conditioning teaches your dog that good things happen (e.g., treats, toys, etc.) whenever they’re riding in the car. Over time, they learn to associate traveling with something positive instead of negative.
  • Desensitization helps your dog get used to traveling. This technique involves slowly and carefully increasing their exposure to being in the car and taking trips. (Depending on the severity of the anxiety, you may need to start with your dog just standing near the car.) 

For the best results, we recommend working with a certified behavior consultant or dog trainer. An experienced professional can provide you with effective and positive training techniques, and help you identify your dog’s threshold for anxiety. It’s extremely important to progress at your pet’s speed.

Other Therapies

In addition to training techniques and medication, you can also explore:

  • Anti-anxiety wearables, such as a compression jacket or hood
  • Calming supplements and pheromones
  • Massage 
  • Acupuncture 
  • Playing calming music while in the car

Note: You should never scold or “discipline” your dog for their behavior. This will only create more stress and fear.