stressed dog in back of the car

Understanding Why Your Dog is So Stressed in the Car

Are you waging a losing war with your dog's behavior every time you put them in the car? Understand that bad dog behaviors in the car are often linked with high amounts of stress. There's a reason why your dog might be stressed in the car and knowing how you can help should streamline the process and make driving with your dog a lot easier.

Being in a Car Stifles Their Instincts

After millions of years of evolution, dogs are instinctively driven to run and explore their environment. Being in a car slams the door shut on their ability to roam, which often drives many dogs into anxiety. Not only are they limited to a very small area, but they can also see the world outside the window, a world they long to explore.

Overcoming this natural drive will be easier in some pups and nearly impossible in others. For dogs that long to see the outside world, access to a window may be all that is necessary. It might not completely calm their nerves, but it can give them an outlet for their anxiety.

Sensory Overload

Does your dog frantically sniff at the vents of your car or long to stick its head out the window? If so, it may be suffering from sensory overload. Too many stimulating things, such as brand new scents, the noise of the radio, or even a new dog in a yard spotted for a moment, can drive your poor pup into a complete state of distraction and anxiety.

Eliminating this risk is difficult: short of locking them in a small cage, there's little you can do to lower their sensory input. However, you can try keeping your radio off when you drive. Those extra voices or the music may be too much for your poor pup.

Bad Memories

Your dog is much more perceptive than you realize: when you're driving, they're constantly keeping track of the scents and even the visuals of their new location. As a result, they may actually mentally link certain locations with highly negative memories.

For example, your dog might get tense and start misbehaving as you near their veterinarian. Or they may start to howl near a home they recognize. Try to avoid these trigger locations on your route and give them some new scenery to enjoy.

This should help alleviate your dog's "bad memory" symptoms and help them associate driving with relaxation and calm. That connection may be all you need to get your dog behaving rationally again.

Absolute Boredom

Dogs are smart and dogs can get really bored, really quickly. Just think of bad behaviors at home, such as chewing paper or tearing the carpet. These behaviors aren't necessarily the symptoms of a poorly behaved dog: they are usually the result of a sharp mind getting bored and trying to find anything at all to entertain it.

This is one of the easiest fixes on the list: all you need to do is bring along some toys for your pup, such as bones or squeaky toys. Giving them something to focus their behavior on will stop them from getting stressed and acting out.

And while it may be annoying to hear that “squeak” every five seconds, just imagine the stress of a whining dog jumping in your face every six seconds. Not to mention the danger of a 70-pound dog roaming the car with mischief on its mind.

Taking stock of these unique problems may help you get your dog to start behaving like an angel in the car again. However, if these problems continue, you should visit your veterinarian to see if you can find a solution that works for you and your dog.

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