Tag Archives: car anxiety

Car Anxiety in Dogs

So, Michga is not exactly the calmest dog in the world. My mom says she’s neurotic; my aunt says she’s just mean (she calls her “Bitchga”); my brother says she’s a “schizoid.” I say she may not be exactly perfect, but we do not need to go putting labels on her, okay? She’s just got a couple of nervous habits.

One such habit, as we’ll call it, is her tendency to be a bit… overdramatic… when it comes to car rides.

THE PROBLEM

Okay, let’s be honest – she’s got a serious case of car anxiety.

The weird thing is that Michga seems to forget how much she absolutely does not like car rides until the actual moment we get into the car. If I say “time to go for a ride” or “who wants to go for a ride,” she is up and running around and barking to get in the car and acting like she has literally never been as excited in her entire life as she is in this exact moment.

CAR RIDE CAR RIDE CAR RIDE

CAR RIDE CAR RIDE CAR RIDE

This good mood, sadly, only lasts until we get in the car. Almost the second I shut the door and buckle up, she’s shaking or panting or both. I don’t know how she works herself up so quickly, but all the sudden she’s gone from a kid in a candy store to a kid at the dentist.

Then, after a couple of seconds or minutes, the noise starts – the tragic, pitiful, high pitched whines; the little yips and howls she throws in here and there. Perhaps she’s singing the song of her people as a cry for help, or trying to burst my eardrums as punishment for putting her in this position.

Possibly both.

don't worry, I wasn't the one driving

don’t worry, I wasn’t the one driving

Michga usually does calm down, but only after half an hour or so (she’s mostly only in the car for long drives). She stops with the whining, but the shaking or panting typically persists a bit longer.

And it’s not that this annoys me. It only concerns me for her, and how distressed she must be by this anxiety. I want her to be able to ride in the car without working herself up into a state of pointless panic.

THE SOLUTION (?)

In my attempts to solve this anxiety, I have tried a couple of simple solutions, such as giving her treats in the car, rolling the windows down, or wrapping her in a jacket that smells like me to calm her.

Unfortunately, she refuses to eat the treats. Having the windows down helps sometimes, but not always. And the jacket thing only worked for about 30 seconds.

I don’t want to medicate her just to calm her down. I’ve seen dogs on calming pills, and it’s a pretty depressing thing to watch. I have a friend whose dog is afraid of fireworks. They have to give him drugs so he doesn’t go insane on the Fourth of July. He walks around in a half-awake state, his legs collapsing underneath him; unable, sometimes, to even stand properly. You can tell how confused and distressed he is by the condition he finds himself in.

So unless it’s absolutely the only way to solve the problem, I would really rather use some other technique.

The best solution I found when I researched the problem (read: Googled “car anxiety in dogs”) was to drive your dogs to fun places, like the park, so that they associate the car ride with happy times. This is a bit of a challenge. Michga’s anxiety extends to more than the car – she is wary of strangers, other dogs, sudden noises, suspicious-looking trees; all of which she would most likely encounter at a park.

hmm... this plant smells suspicious

hmm… this plant smells suspicious

Another piece of advice I found was to put them in a crate or some sort of restraint in the car, so that they are held still in the moving vehicle. But Michga is not crate trained – I let her be free in my room when I’m gone.  So she would not see the crate as a safe place. Plus, when she’s scared she would much rather be in my lap than anywhere else. I’m afraid separating her from me to put her in some sort of doggy car seat would only make the problem worse.

I’m stumped. Anyone got any better ideas? Or have you had a dog with car anxiety? I’m sure Michga would appreciate any help.

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