By Monica Weymouth
For some dogs, there’s no better treat than a road trip with their favorite humans. But for other puppies, even short car trips can be extremely stressful.
Does moaning, drooling, gasping, and even vomiting sound familiar? Your pup may experience travel anxiety. Although it is certainly not fun – for the dogs or their handlers! – there is a lot you can do to make cruising with your best friend more enjoyable and comfortable.
Before heading out on your next trip, consider these expert vet tips for tackling anxiety.
Talk to your veterinarian
First, if you suspect your dog is suffering from anxiety, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s symptoms, as well as treatment options. In some cases, they may prescribe medication to reduce nausea and stress.
“If needed, vets can recommend prescription anti-anxiety medications,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a Colorado-based veterinarian and counselor at Pet Life Today. “Discuss with your veterinarian whether this is an appropriate option for your dog, and if so, what the correct dose would be.”
go to the top speed
Allowing your dog to roam freely around the car is not only dangerous, it could actually increase anxiety. Before your trip, select an appropriately sized dog car harness or secure crate, advises Dr. Heather Venkatan Arizona-based veterinarian.
“The less movement the dog can make, the better it feels,” says Venkat. “Security can help reduce their anxiety and make them feel safer.”
take things slowly
If you know your dog is car-wary, plan a slow, steady warm-up before the big trip. Coates recommends the following three-step process to reduce fear:
Familiarize yourself with the car. Go back to basics and introduce your pup to the car in a neutral and calm manner. “Start by just getting them comfortable around a car,” says Coates. “Take them out on a leash, have them sit by the door, praise them, and give them treats when they’re calm.”
Get on board. After a few days of just sniffling, get your pup into the vehicle. “Then get them used to sitting in the car,” says Coates. “Put them in their crate or seatbelt, turn the engine on and off a few times, and again praise them and give them treats when they’re calm.”
To take a walk. Finally, it’s time to do some training rides, gradually increasing the distance each time. “Make stops at fun places like the dog park or a favorite trail,” says Coates. “Hand out treats and praise them at unexpected times when they’re calm.”
Break out the Zoomies
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and induce a rush of feel-good endorphins. Before you hit the road, make sure your dog has a chance to burn off any anxious energy.
“If you’re worried your dog may be too rambunctious to travel, tire them out first,” advises Dr. Rachel Barrack, owner of animal acupuncture At New York. “Get up early and take a long walk or run before hitting 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 to relax? Calming supplements can be a great natural way to reduce car-related anxiety. Consider the following options:
hemp oil: Full-spectrum organic hemp tinctures offer powerful anti-anxiety effects when administered before car trips.
Chewing candies: Need travel-friendly treats? Anti-anxiety chews are a great option. You’ll find offers with and without hemp oil, and most come in delicious flavors that dogs will love.
Supplement bars: For a convenient, individually wrapped on-the-go snack, soothing supplement bars can help. Look for formulations that reduce anxiety-related behaviors.
Before your trip, make sure you have the right calming products and the right dosages on hand. “Plan ahead knowing when you’ll give your dog soothing treats and get refills when needed,” says Venkat. “If you wait until the last minute, it might not be effective.”
Start 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 relieve you of any new scary sounds, smells or sights.
“With any trip, it’s important to talk to your pet throughout the journey,” says Dr. Joe Alcorn, a veterinarian at Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. “They will be comforted by hearing your voice, which they know well.”
For added comfort, Dr. Alcorn suggests giving your pup a house blanket, along with a few favorite toys.
Take a break
Everyone likes to have a good time. But on a road trip, resist the urge to drive for as long as possible. Anxious dogs who are thirsty or need to go to the bathroom will be particularly stressed.
To keep your pet comfortable, plan to stop every 2-3 hours to offer water and a chance to take care of your “business,” advises Alcorn. Feed meals at least 2 hours before departure to ensure your pup has time to eliminate.
“Traveling with dogs doesn’t have to be a stressful situation — for us or for them — as long as we plan ahead,” says Alcorn.
Between traffic, wrong turns and other drivers, commuting is also stressful for humans. But if you’re on the road with an anxious dog, it’s important to stay as calm and composed 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 dogs, so you want to avoid making an already stressful situation worse.
Road trips can be a great way to bond with your dog and have an adventure together. Luckily, with a little work and planning, even anxious puppies can make great travel companions. Have a good trip!