Road trip anyone? Let’s talk dogs and cars. Why do some dogs love going for car rides, and other dogs refuse to get into the car?

Which type of dog do you have? Does your dog jump in the car faster than you can open the door? Or Is your dog scared of getting into the car? Or maybe your dog gets motion sickness when riding in the car?

Learn why and how to help your dog get comfortable in the car and become the super dog you know he can be!

dog sitting in back sit looking stressed

WHY your dog hates the car or has car sickness

Learning WHY your dog hates the car or has car sickness is our first step to fixing the problem.

It’s very common for a recently adopted dog, that is still transitioning to his new home, to be afraid of the car and many other new situations. It’s important to give him time to adjust, follow the 3-3-3 rule.

If your rescue dog has been with you longer than 3 months and is still afraid of the car, he may have never been conditioned to riding in a car. He likely never learned that the car could be fun, even a relaxing experience. Heck, he may have never seen the inside of a car before!

And think about it, if your dog gets car sick in the car, then, of course, he hates the car. Some dogs will have severe motion sickness and vomit or defecate in the car. While others may be milder and may just feel queasy. We will talk more about how to help your dog with his motion sickness below.

Dog refusing to get into car

Do you have a dog that is refusing to get into the car? If he’s small enough you can pick him up and put him in the car. But for large dogs, like our 90 lb. yellow lab, Bear… there is no way I’m able to pick him up every day to get in the car!

I recommend getting a dog ramp for your car, this will make it easier to train your dog to get in and out of your car safely.

dog and girl sitting in back of car

How to get your dog in the car

Start by finding a high-value treat, a treat your dog drools over, a treat he cannot resist. String cheese, small bites of steak, or a hot dog usually work great.

NOTE: if your dog is not food motivated, find what does motivate him. It could be as simple as affection, a favorite game, or maybe a squeaky toy. Here is a great article on how to build food drive in a dog.

For small dogs, it’s okay to pick them up and placing them in the car. For large dogs, start at the bottom of the ramp and move your way up into the car.

Step 1:

Sit in the car with your dog, talking calmly to him, petting and feeding him treats. Nothing else. Leave the car engine OFF at this stage. Repeat this step as often as needed to create a calm dog, a dog that is relaxed in the car. Don’t rush any of these steps, take as long as your dog needs, hours, days, weeks… be patient.

If your dog won’t even get near the car, start at the distance he is comfortable and move closer and closer until you are inside of the car.

Feel free to play games with your dog around or inside the car. The idea is to create the connection car equals fun.

PRO TIP – It can be easier if you have another person your dog trusts to help you. One person can sit in the car, the other can be outside helping the dog move toward the car… all of course in a positive environment.

Step 2:

Once your dog is comfortable just sitting in the car with you, turn the car engine on. Do not go anywhere, leave the car in park, and again just sit there with your dog for few minutes at a time. Repeat until your dog is comfortable with the vibration of the car.

Step 3:

Next, you want to move the car a few feet, up and down your driveway is sufficient. Then up and down your street, then around the block, and so on. Baby steps, little by little until your dog is a confident car riding superdog!

Step 4:

Go somewhere fun. If the only time you take your dog for a car ride is to go to the vet, no wonder he is afraid of the car! Remember we want to correlate car rides with something good.

Your destination should be something to make your dog excited to go. It could be as simple as going through a drive-thru to get him a whip cream treat… or maybe drive somewhere to take a hiking trip together. Dog parks can also be fun but use dog parks with caution.

dog sitting in front seat looking worried

Dog anxiety in car rides

Why does my dog pant and shake when riding in the car? Why does my dog whine when riding in the car?

The simple answer, car rides give him anxiety. For various reasons, dogs are afraid of car rides. He either makes the connection of a car ride to something bad (i.e. going to the vet, being taken away from his home) or maybe he gets car sickness (see below).

Symptoms of car anxiety can range from mild to severe:

  • Barking
  • Defecation
  • Drooling
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Shaking
  • Urination
  • Vomiting
  • Whining

Most people don’t think about introducing the car to puppies as part of their socialization skills, and many rescue dogs never had the experience to learn that car rides can be a good thing. Which leaves you with a dog that has car anxiety.

So how can you help your dog feel more comfortable in the car? Using the 4 steps above will help most dogs become a car-traveling superdog.

Tips to reduce car anxiety:

  • Play calming music while in the car, classical music has been shown to decrease anxiety in dogs.
  • Use a travel-approved crate
  • Have your dog wear a Thundershirt
  • Use Rescue Remedy
  • Give your dog CBD oil
  • Try calming products or supplements
  • If all else fails, talk with your vet about dog sedatives for car travel

There are several medications available either online or through your vet. There are even natural solutions which we will talk about below.

If you are taking a long car trip and don’t have time to desensitize your dog to the car, then you may want to consider a dog sedative for car travel. Talk with your vet.

Dog sedatives can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Do your research before choosing to medicate your dog. Google the drug name + side effects and you may decide to try a more natural approach.

Prescription dog sedatives from your vet may include:

  • Desyrel (trazodone)
  • Neurontin (gabapentin)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Niravam (alprazolam)

PRO TIP: Did you know Chewy has a pharmacy? Once you have a prescription from your vet, you can check to see if you can buy it cheaper on Chewy.

You can find over-the-counter dog sedatives for car travel on Chewy. Here are a few of the top-selling products to consider:

Dog panting in car

Dogs pant for a variety of reasons. Panting helps cool down a dog’s body temperature. Dogs also pant when they are excited or stressed.

It’s important to assess your dog’s situation. Is he hot? Is he excited? What is his body language telling you?

If your dog is panting but appears happy and excited to be in the car, you have nothing to worry about. Make sure he stays hydrated and keep the car cool.

If your dog is panting and laying down with his ears tilted back, shaking, pacing, or showing any other signs of anxiety or motion sickness, then you should consider helping him with the training and/or natural remedies we have suggested in this article.

Dog car sickness

It is very common for puppies to get motion sickness when riding in the car. They usually grow out of this stage within a few months.

I can remember very clearly when our 6-month-old newly adopted dog, Ginger, would get in the car to go to training class and one minute later she vomited in the back seat. She has since outgrown this stage and loves going for car rides now. She jumps in the back of the car so fast, I can barely get the ramp out for her.

Symptoms of motion sickness in dogs:

  • inactivity or lethargy
  • excessive drooling
  • whining
  • pacing
  • licking lips
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • excessive panting

Preventing dog motion sickness

Helping your dog to not get sick in the car will help both of you become more confident when traveling. Motion sickness is no fun for your dog and no fun for you to clean up!

Here are a few tips to help ease your dog’s belly before you go for that next car ride:

  • No food or water for at least 2 hours before traveling in the car
  • Walk your dog before getting into the car
  • Use a car-safe dog crate
  • Keep the temperature inside the car cool
  • Use natural remedies to ease stress

PRO TIP: A crate with a soft blanket can not only help your dog feel more comfortable but can keep him safe if you are ever in a car accident. Make sure to choose a crate that is rated for travel.

Dog car sickness natural remedy

I opt to use a natural remedy instead of prescription medicine anytime it’s possible. Mother nature has supplied us with these miracles for a purpose, why not use them? Of course, there are circumstances when prescriptions are necessary, so if you are concerned about using any of these holistic remedies please talk with your vet. Here are several natural treatments for your car sick dog:

Summary of dog car anxiety and motion sickness

You may not want to take your dogs everywhere you go, but there are instances when you must take your dog to the vet or maybe you are moving to a new city and need to travel a long distance.

Conditioning your dog to the car is an important part of creating a balanced dog. So next time you need to make a quick errand, take your dog along.

We take our dogs along on car rides almost every day. They come along to pick up my daughter from school, go to training or agility trials, or simply go to the drive-thru for dinner.

Dog car anxiety isn’t going to go away on its own. But motion sickness can disappear as a puppy gets older.

Using my tips and tricks, I am hopeful that your dog can learn to love car rides as much as my dogs do.

Please leave a comment below and share your experience with your dog and car anxiety or car motion sickness. We can all help each other, one dog at a time.

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About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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