By Monica Weymouth
For some dogs, there’s no better treat than a road trip with their favorite humans. But for other pups, even short car rides can be extremely stressful.
Do whining, drooling, panting, and even vomiting sound familiar? Your pup may be experiencing travel-related anxiety. While it’s certainly no fun—for dogs or their chauffeurs!—there’s plenty you can do to make cruising with your best bud more pleasant and comfortable.
Before heading off on your next trip, consider these expert anxiety-busting tips from veterinarians.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
First things first: If you think your dog is experiencing anxiety, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s symptoms, as well as treatment options. In some cases, they may prescribe medications to reduce nausea and stress.
“When necessary, veterinarians may recommend prescription anti-anxiety medications,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a Colorado-based veterinarian and advisor at Pet Life Today. “Talk to your veterinarian about whether this is an appropriate option for your dog, and if so, what the correct dose would be.”
Get in Gear
Allowing your dog to roam freely around the car isn’t just dangerous—it could actually increase anxiety. Before your trip, select a properly sized dog car harness or secure crate, advises Dr. Heather Venkat, an Arizona-based veterinarian.
“The less movement the dog can make, the better they will feel,” explains Venkat. “The security can help reduce their anxiety and make them feel more secure.”
Take Things Slow
If you know your dog is wary of the car, plan a slow, steady warm-up to the big trip. Coates recommends the following three-step process to reduce fear:
Familiarize the car. Go back to basics and introduce your pup to the car in a neutral, calm manner. “Start by getting them comfortable just being around a car,” says Coates. “Take them out on a leash, ask them to sit by the door, and praise them and give them treats when they’re calm.”
Hop on in. After a couple days of simply sniffing around, have your pup get in the vehicle. “Next, get them used to sitting in the car,” says Coates. “Put them in their crate or seat belt, turn the engine on and off a few times, and again, praise them and give them treats when they’re calm.”
Go for a ride. Finally, it’s time to take a couple practice rides, gradually increasing the distance each time. “Make stops at fun locations like the dog park or a favorite trail,” says Coates. “Hand out treats and praise at unexpected times when they are calm.”
Get Out the Zoomies
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and induce a rush of feel-good endorphins. Before hitting the road, make sure your dog has an opportunity to burn off any anxious energy.
“If you’re worried your dog will be too rambunctious for travel, tire them out first,” advises Dr. Rachel Barrack, owner of Animal Acupuncture in New York City. “Wake up early and go for a long walk or run before you hit the road.”
Once in the car, exercise your pup’s busy brain with engaging toys, adds Barrack.
Offer Calming Supplements
Does your pup need a little extra help relaxing? Calming supplements can be a great, natural way to reduce car anxiety. Consider the following options:
Hemp Oil: Tinctures made from organic, full-spectrum hemp offer potent anti-anxiety effects when administered leading up to car trips.
Soft Chews: Need travel-friendly treats? Anti-anxiety chews are a great option. You’ll find offerings with and without hemp oil and most come in yummy flavors that dogs will love.
Supplement Bars: For a convenient, on-the-go snack individually wrapped, calming supplement bars can help. Look for formulations that reduce anxiety-related behaviors.
In advance of your trip, make sure you have the correct calming products and dosages on hand. “Plan ahead by knowing when you will give your dog calming treats, and get refills if needed,” says Venkat. “If you wait until the last minute, it might not be effective.”
Strike Up a Conversation
Dogs can’t talk. But that doesn’t mean you should leave your four-legged friend out of the conversation. The sound of your voice can provide welcome relief from any scary new sounds, smells, or sights.
“With any travel, it is important to talk to your pet throughout the drive time,” says Dr. Joe Alcorn, a veterinarian at Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. “They will be comforted by hearing your voice, which they are familiar with.”
For added comfort, Dr. Alcorn suggests giving your pup a blanket from home, as well as a couple favorite toys.
Take a Break
Everyone likes making good time. But while on a road trip, resist the urge to drive for as long as possible. Anxious dogs who are thirsty or have to use the bathroom will be extra stressed.
To keep your pet comfortable, plan to stop every 2-3 hours to offer water and a chance to take care of “business,” advises Alcorn. Feed meals at least 2 hours before departing to make sure your pup has time to eliminate.
“Traveling with dogs does not have to be a stressful situation—for us or for them—as long as we plan,” says Alcorn.
Keep Your Cool
Between traffic, wrong turns, and fellow drivers, travel is stressful for humans, too. But if you’re on the road with an anxious dog, it’s important to stay as cool and collected as possible.
“Dogs are attuned to the energies of their owners,” says Barrack. “For this reason, stay calm! Travel can be stressful for even the calmest of dogs, so you want to avoid adding to an already stressful situation.”
Road trips can be a great way to bond with your dog and enjoy an adventure together. Fortunately, with a little work and proper planning, even anxious pups can become great travel buddies. Bon voyage!