How To Calm an Excited Dog in a Car

Are you anticipating an upcoming road trip with your best canine companion? Are you currently undertaking an adventure by car with your pooch? Or perhaps you’ve recently rescued a dog and discovered they become overly excited about car rides. 

If your dog gets excited about car rides or is uncomfortable riding with you, you could have major problems. Let’s talk about why dogs may get excited about car rides and well as some potential solutions.

What’s All the Fuss?

Dogs usually get excited about car rides because of what they associate those rides with. If you’ve recently adopted a dog and found they become borderline hyperactive about car rides, it possible they have been conditioned through experience to associate car rides with something good (think a long walk or trip to the dog park). If this is the case, it is natural that getting in the car will be a very exciting experience for your canine companion.

What Can You Do?

Whether you’re a driver or a passenger, having an excited dog in the car can be challenging because you are unable to work with your dog as you normally would. Here are some tips on how best to keep a dog calm while driving.

How do I get my dog to stop whining in the car?

If the only time your dog goes on a car ride is to the dog park, hiking trail, or some other exciting locale, he or she is much more likely to become over-excited and whine during car rides. Whining isn’t necessarily a bad thing, your dog may just be very, very excited to get where you’re going. While whining may not be bad behavior, it can be annoying to you, the human.

One of the easiest ways to mitigate this behavior is simply to take your dog on more car rides, but to make them less exciting ones. Try taking your dog with you on more “boring” endeavors such as running errands or picking up friends or family members, that way your dog does not associate every car ride with the excitement of the dog park.

Alternatively, the excitement of a car ride could stem from your own actions. Do you “rev” the dog up before a car ride? Do you use a high-pitched tone of voice and energetic body language before you depart? See if there are possible triggers to your dog’s excitement in your own behavior and body language.

Positive Reinforcement

The most accepted way to teach your dog correct behaviors is through positive reinforcement. What this means is the addition of a reward, such as a treat or head rub, in response to the performance of the desired behavior. Taking the time to slowly teach your dog what you would like them to do is the best route to a well-rounded and well-behaved dog. 

The best way to begin this kind of training is by setting a framework. First work on your dog remaining calm when you call them to the front door. When they have that down, move on to calm behavior while being leashed. Next work on your dog remaining calm and seated while you open the door, allowing you to walk through the door first. Lastly, make sure your dog can calmly walk by your side to the car. All of these are small steps in training that may require several separate sessions each. Try to keep training sessions to no more than 5-7 minutes, and always try to end on a positive note.

Once you’ve set the framework, the next step is training your dog in a stationary car. Over the course of a few training sessions, let your dog into your car when it isn’t moving. Any time your dog is quiet and calm, give them a reward. If your dog is food-motivated, try training treats or even kibble. If your dog is not food motivated a reward could include playtime with a toy or verbal and physical praise.

Once your dog has mastered being calm in a car that isn’t moving, you’re ready to get rolling. Using the help of a friend to act as a driver, continue rewarding your dog anytime they are quiet and calm while the car is in motion. Your dog will eventually learn that being calm in the car leads to very good things! Don’t be discouraged if your dog needs to take a step back in training at any point. Be patient and consistent and you will eventually see your desired results.

Rescue remedies such as medicines and physical items may assist with this behavior, but the root cause of your dog’s over-excitement in the car is psychological and can only be truly solved through diligent training and time.

Use a Restraint

A restraint such as a harness or a crate can be a great way to keep your dog calm, as well as safe, on car rides. Harnesses act like a seatbelt built specifically for your dog, keeping them seated in place and preventing them from running all over the car, which only increases their excitement. Harnesses also keep drivers safe from dogs that may want to crawl all over them. 

Use a noise device

Devices such as bark collars or shock callers can be used to teach your dog to associate making noise in the car with an adverse reaction, in this case, a shock. This addition of a negative response to discourage behavior is called positive punishment. Many reputable dog trainers discount positive punishment techniques, touting instead that one should use positive reinforcement, where you reinforce the behaviors you want.

Though people often want quick fixes for their dog’s behavior, these animals require patience and training to learn what we want of them. Through diligent and consistent training, your dog can learn what behaviors you desire and how they can best please you.

My dog is suddenly scared of car rides.

If your dog is suddenly showing fear of car rides, there are a couple of possible causes.

One possible cause is that your dog is becoming car sick. While nausea from a moving car can result in your dog vomiting, this is not always the case. Your dog may be experiencing nausea without you knowing. Check for increased salivation and consider using a mild medicine to help your dog with his nausea. Decrease the risk of nausea by never smoking in a car with your dog.

Another possible reason for a dog’s fear of car rides could be road noise. Try turning the radio on, not too loud, but loud enough to drown out some of the noise, and making your dog as comfortable as possible with a favorite blanket. You can also attempt to distract your dog from his fear of riding in the car with interactive toys and puzzles or a favorite chewable item.

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