Driving home for Christmas? Here’s how you can keep your dog calm in the car

The presents are wrapped; the car is packed, and the festive playlist is ready to go. But the long-anticipated drive home for Christmas can be an entirely different experience if your dog hates to travel in the car. Like humans, dogs can suffer from motion sickness, which can mean that even a short journey can become a stressful trigger for them.

Here we share some simple tips to help ease any motion sickness or car related anxiety that your dog might be feeling, so you can get back to enjoying the drive together.

How to spot an anxious pet?

Just like humans, our puppy pals can experience anxiety when in new, unusual or triggering situations. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of anxiety in dogs, so that you can properly identify how your dog’s feeling and offer appropriate solutions. Anxiety in dogs can look like excessive salivating, barking, howling, pacing or moving frantically inside the car, clawing to get out, and vomiting. While some dogs are fearful of the destination, others can be sensitive to the sound of being inside a car, or some might have experienced motion sickness in the past and are anticipating the bad feelings.

Get your dog used to travelling by car

The best way to help your dog overcome their travel anxiety is by slowly acclimating them to being in the car. Depending on the severity of your dog’s anxiety, gradually building up their tolerance to car journeys might mean spending time with them in the car with the engine turned off, a short trip to a nearby park or simply practicing getting in and out of the vehicle (with plenty of treats to reward calm behaviour).

Dog in car

Create a safe space for your pup

The Highway Code states that any animal travelling in a vehicle must be suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you or themselves if you stop quickly. Crating your dog during car journeys can help keep them safe and secure while travelling in the car and provide a safe space for them to call their own on longer trips. We recommend setting up a calming spot in the car with some familiar smells – such as an unwashed jumper, so they can pick up your scent even if you’re out of sight. You might also want to put their favourite toy or chew in the crate to occupy them during the trip.

If your dog’s anxiety is caused by their motion sickness, it might help your dog to face forward while travelling. You can do this by strapping them into the seat with a specially designed canine seatbelt. If you buckle your dog into the front passenger seat, position the seat as far as possible from the dashboard or disable the passenger air bag, which could pose a hazard to your dog. An airbag is only designed to provide protection for a human, and the cushioning is in the wrong place to protect our canine pals. When an airbag deploys it does so with so much force it can even crush a dog cage, so if you do seat your dog in the front passenger seat, even in a crate, ensure you move the seat as far back as possible and disable the airbag before setting off.

Before you set off on your journey, take them on a long walk to tire them out. If your drive is considerably long, it might also be worth planning a stop in a safe place for them to get out and stretch their legs and relieve themselves. During the drive, lower the car windows a few inches to equalise the inside and outside air pressures. You might also consider withholding food until after you arrive at your destination, to reduce your dog's urge to vomit from car sickness.

Take steps to keep your dog as calm as possible

Dogs can pick up on your energy and if you’re calm, they have a better chance of staying calm too. Speak to them in a soft tone throughout the drive, or you can play classical music softly – which has been shown to help calm dogs in rescue centres, said the Scottish SPCA. You can find tried and tested songs for your road trip on the Classic FM website. For many dogs, the most important thing in their lives is us, so naturally our presence can exercise a calming superpower over our pets when they’re scared or stressed.

For extremely nervous dogs, it might be worth taking advantage of the many natural calming remedies available. With everything from Rescue Remedy to ADAPTIL Calm Transport Spray on the market, you might need to shop around to find the right product for your dog. There are a variety of products available, but the important thing is to begin administering it with plenty of time before your trip. Allowing your dog at least a month for the calming drops to build up in their system before your journey gives them a better chance of staying calm.

With these tips in mind, your drive home for Christmas should be centred around the joy of the season, instead of the contents of your dog’s stomach. From all of us here at Project Blu, we hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family and friends, and furry pals too.

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