Telling tails…


Some dogs happily jump into the car, sit quietly, are relaxed and enjoy the ride or snooze the kilometres away. Others aren’t so keen. So, whether you’re just needing to take a quick trip to the park or would like your dog to feel safe on a longer car journey, there are a few things to consider before heading off.

If you are planning a big driving trip or holiday then give yourself, and your dog, plenty of time to work on a solution prior to your planned departure date.

If you have a new puppy, be sure to include car travel as part of the many types of socialisation and situations that they regularly experience between 8 and 14 weeks of age. If your puppy seems travel sick, seek veterinary advice to support them and ensure that car rides remain as a positive experience. This will help them to enjoy car travel as they grow up.


How do I know if my dog doesn’t like car rides?

There are many varied signs that your dog may not be enjoying car journeys, which may include:

  • reluctance to jump into the car
  • yawning
  • lip licking
  • drooling
  • panting
  • vocalising (whimpering, barking or howling)
  • hyperactive or ‘crazy’ behaviour
  • hiding
  • trying to escape
  • inappropriately toileting
  • destructive behaviour (chewing, biting, digging)
  • vomiting or diarrhoea, during or after the car trip


Why doesn’t my dog like travelling in the car?

The two main reasons why dogs don’t like being in a car are true motion sickness and anxiety. Other reasons for reluctance to get into the car include painful conditions like arthritis meaning that your dog won’t want to jump up or climb as it hurts. Knowing how to approach the situation and treat your dog is dependent on knowing the underlying cause.


What can I do to help my dog?

If your dog is showing any of the above signs when you try to take them in the car, then a consultation with your veterinarian is the first step. Your vet can help to assess whether illness or pain may be contributing to the problem as well as differentiating between motion sickness and anxiety. They can then make suggestions for behavioural training and/or medication based on your individual dog.

Puppies commonly suffer from true motion sickness and tend to grow out of it. Although some adult dogs may feel nauseous and drool or vomit in the car too. Providing a firm booster seat for your dog to see out the front window, ginger (in the form of a gingernut cookie or Blackmores Travel Calm Ginger tablet) or anti-nausea medication from your veterinarian prior to travel can help in these cases.

A solution will only work if it’s targeting the underlying cause so there is no magic general answer for all dogs.


After ruling out pain and illness, here’s a training approach that you may wish to try:

  1. Start small. With the car turned off, get your dog to sit in the car and give a reward or treat for being calm, if they seem nervous then give a command first (like ‘shake paws’ or ‘lie down’) and reward immediately for following the instruction. Repeat: get them out of the car, hop back in, command and reward. Repeat 5 times and again every couple of days, increasing the time spent in the car each time. Continue to repeat until they are showing no signs or reluctance or nervousness. Do not reward nervous behaviour and never tell your dog off or punish them – if it’s not working then remove him/her from the situation as they may need extra help to combine with this strategy (see the next section below).
  2. If this first step is working and your dog can repeatedly get into the car and act calmly, progress to doing the same thing then start the car. If your dog is calm, reward. If your dog shows signs of nervousness, give a command and reward. If your dog is too nervous and not responding, stop the car and return to Step 1 for a bit longer.
  3. Progress to small car trips. Different dogs respond differently, you may need to start just rolling the car a few metres forwards before stopping, you might get to the end of the drive way, or drive to the end of your street. Continue to praise and reward calm behaviour, distract nervous behaviour with a command and reward, or stop and return to the previous step if your dog is not coping. Once your dog is comfortable with small car trips, drive to a fun spot like the dog park to reward them.
  4. Once your dog is more comfortable with progressively longer trips, you can reduce rewards to every second or third time and replace them with praise, pats or cuddles.
  5. Great work! Dog training can be intensive and hard work but it’s well worth it and you’ll be rewarded by many happy years spent with your adoring companion.


If your pet needs a bit of extra help then some natural anxiety support may be considered:

These support items should be used in conjunction with behavioural training, as outlined above. You can try one or combine a few, whatever works for your dog.

  • Bring their favourite toy, blanket or an old t-shirt that you have been wearing (so it smells like you)
    • Familiarity and a bit of distraction can help calm the nerves.
  • If your dog is crate trained, look at fitting their crate or a smaller travel crate into the car
    • Your dog already views their crate as their safe place so this may provide them with reassurance.
  •  ThunderShirt
    • A body wrap that provides gentle constant pressure and may stimulate calming hormones.
  • Bach Rescue Remedy for Pets
    • A homeopathic herbal remedy which promotes stress relief. This can be used on a random basis on days that it is needed or daily.
  • Adaptil collar or spray
    • A synthetic dog pheramone based on one that a mother dog releases for her puppies helping them to feel safe and secure. This can be used on a random basis on days that it is needed or daily.
  • Blackmores Paw Complete Calm
    • Contains nutritional supplements which may reduce stress and anxiety. A better result would be seen if used for a few days in a row or daily.
  • Zylkene capsules
    • A natural product derived from casein, a milk protein, which helps promote relaxation. This works best if given daily or a few days in a row. Dr Tania has personally seen good results with this product but it’s not effective in all dogs.


What if none of these things work?

Remember, some dogs will respond faster than others. If your dog is responding positively, albeit slowly or with hiccups, to natural products and training then continue. But, some dogs, usually those prone to anxiety or who have had a bad experience in the car, may need a little bit of extra help requiring prescription medication. Forcing your dog to do something that he/she is scared of or using punishment will only make the problem worse, so if they don’t seem to be improving then seek further veterinary advice.

Have a chat to your veterinarian or a specialist behavioural veterinarian about further training and/or medications which may be suitable for your individual dog. Some dogs may require further investigations, like a blood test or x-ray, to rule out medical issues or ensure that certain anti-anxiety medications are safe for them.

As with all behavioural issues, the sooner that help is started, the less of a ‘bad habit’ that the behaviour becomes and the easier it is to manage or overcome.

For extra peace of mind when out and about, make sure you have packed your Vet in a Van – Navigator Pet First Aid Kit in the car.

*None of the mentioned products are recommended or sponsored by Dr Tania or Vet in a Van, they are only listed as possible options that may help with mild travel anxiety or motion sickness. Different products will suit different dogs. Please chat to your Veterinarian if you are unsure or before giving any medication (natural, herbal or pharmaceutical) to your dog as they may interact with medications that your dog is already on or affect underlying health conditions.


Whether you refer to it as quarantine or isolation, the whole COVID-19 lockdown thing has been pretty isolating and lonely for us humans as well as a sudden shock to us psychologically. On the contrary, our pets have never been happier! Dogs love companionship, which is the main reason why we adopt them as our fur babies, they appear empathetic, they keep us company and they’re definitely one of the family. As a pack animal, dogs rely on us, as their alpha pack members, to take care of them, reassure them and keep them safe.

Our dogs adapt to us staying with them for part of the day and leaving them to go to work or elsewhere. During this lockdown phase, they have adapted again to our full-time presence. Or maybe you decided to adopt a new dog or puppy whilst you were home to spend time with them. Either way, they are now used to your constant company, more walks, more interactive play and potentially more treats (yep, our pets may have gained a few COVID-kilos too!).

This also applies to our travelling pets, if you’re on a ‘Big Lap of Australia’ or have been travelling full time for a while, your dog will need time to readjust when you’re on your way home.

So, what happens when we are released into the wider world again? When we go back to work and our busy lifestyles? It’s a major sudden upheaval on the new routine that your dog has adapted to. And, just like us, they need time and patience to adapt back, because they are flexible and will adapt. Just like we have. They just need our understanding and support.

Here are a few ways that you can help your dog to adjust to post-human-isolation and avoid the associated blues:

Is my dog at risk of separation anxiety when I go back to work/school?

Dogs who already suffer from anxiety-type behaviours, whether they a prone due to their breed or a previous life experience, are more likely to be affected by separation anxiety when major changes occur. Being pre-emptive in our approach with these dogs will benefit them greatly and maximise outcomes. So, be prepared to start behavioural changes, and potentially supportive medication, at least 1 month prior to any major routine changes. Chat to your vet 2 months in advance to work out a plan that suits you and your dog as every dog and situation is different.

Is medication necessary?

Any medication is always used in conjunction with behavioural modification therapies with the aim that the medication is a temporary measure to help your dog adjust and learn coping behaviours with a calm state of mind. There are natural and stronger prescription medications available for anxiety in dogs. Always chat to your vet before giving any medication to your dog, even if they’ve taken it before. Your vet can advise on which medications may be suitable for your dog’s individual situation, symptoms and health status. For mild anxiety, natural medications like Zylkene or Adaptil may be appropriate. Other non-pharmaceutical options include aids, such as the ThunderShirt, which can be used by itself or in conjunction with medications for more severe cases.

How would my dog show anxiety?

  • Barking or howling when you’re not home
  • Self-harm – excessive licking or chewing with no reason to be itchy, showing as bald spots or sore patches of skin (usually on the forelimbs but can be anywhere)
  • Being destructive – chewing furniture or household items, scratching doors or walls, digging holes in the backyard
  • Panting (without recent exercise or being too hot)
  • Shivering (when it’s not cold)
  • Pacing – a pathway worn into the lawn in the backyard is a tell-tale sign
  • Repeatedly escaping from your property
  • Hiding or running away
  • Fear of thunderstorms or loud noises

Other, more subtle, signs of anxiety to watch for when dogs are put in an uncomfortable situation may include yawning, lip licking, looking away or not making eye contact, holding ears back or showing the whites of their eyes.

A reduced appetite, urinating more frequently or unsettled behaviour are more generalised signs so a check-up by your vet is advised to rule out any medical problems first.

What things can I do at home to help my dog adjust to changes?

Start their new routine now. Keep their meal or play times at the same times as they would be if you were at work or school.

Gradually increase the amount of time that your dog is left alone rather than making sudden major changes. By starting with a very short period, say 1-2 minutes to walk to the letterbox, your dog has less time to become anxious, then reward them with a big hug and some fuss if they appear calm when you return. If your dog is coping, increase the length of time away until it matches your usual absent times, different individuals will respond at a different pace so taper changes to how your dog responds.

If your dog starts acting clingy or anxious as soon as you pick up your car keys or perform another ‘leaving trigger’ then show them you’re in control and looking after them. A simple but effective action is to command them to sit then reward or give a treat for being calm, this gives them a sense of security.

Offer positive distractions. Food puzzle toys are a great way to reward your dog for staying busy whilst you’re not present, a Kong ball with peanut butter or a handful of dry food inside is a great example. Try other enrichment toys or activities now so you know which ones your dog likes. Playing soft calming music now and whilst you’re away will help maintain consistency in their environment.

Ensure your dog is getting plenty of regular exercise. Depending on the individual, this may mean walking once or twice per day with a big run at the local dog park on weekends for an energetic dog or just a couple of quiet walks per week for an older dog. Keep this routine the same whether you’re at home or not.

Create a safe space for your dog, like a bed area or corner, that they can retreat to if they feel they need to. Encourage children to leave your dog alone when they are in their safe place.

Ensure your backyard is secure and your dog’s microchip details are up to date, just in case.

Some dogs may just cope better by having a dog sitter or doggy day care to keep them company and busy.


Overall, dogs love routine and respond very well to positive reinforcement and rewards, so focus on the positive, stick to a general routine and your dog will appreciate you taking charge of their pack.


Any further questions? Send us a message via our Facebook or Instagram pages or chat to your vet.

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