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Dog Travel Anxiety: How To Avoid Stress on the Go

November 10, 2021

There are a handful of ways to manage stress while traveling with your dog. Whether it’s for a short road trip across town or a plane ride across the country, here are a few tips and tricks to keep your furry friend a happy camper, and the pet parent just as happy!

Always check in with your veterinarian before traveling with your pet and make sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations. Better yet, keep their medical record on hand in case of any emergencies. Make sure your travel buddy has a proper ID tag and your personal contact information is accessible in case of an accident. Having an emergency kit close by is a good idea as well.

Positive Reinforcement

Happy travels! Just like crate training, using positive reinforcement as a way to ease the anxiety of being in the car is key. Pay close attention to your energy when you’re in or around your vehicle.

Keep your tone of voice happy and lighthearted when entering a car with your travel buddy by your side. Use kibble or treats to persuade your dog that by entering the vehicle they are doing the right thing.

Desensitization and counterconditioning are two additional ways to teach your dog that the car is a great place to be! Desensitization is a step-by-step method of gradually introducing your dog to something (in this case, the vehicle). Counterconditioning changes your dog’s emotional response from negative to positive by having good things happen near or inside something that frightens them (again, in this case, the vehicle).

The key is to link your car with food and fun. You can even feed your dog their meal in or around the car to help lay their anxieties to rest. Let your dog take the reins on pace—no need to rush the process. It could take some time. You can practice this a handful of weeks prior to the real thing.

Invest in a Doggy Restraint

A doggy car seat or seat belt will ease the stresses of both pet owner and pet. Consider restraining your dog whether they are in the front seat or the back. Doggy seat belts are good for large dogs while doggy car seats are good for small or medium dogs.

The safest place for your dog is in the back seat of a vehicle, but of course, if there are human passengers in the back seat, that is not possible. Find a spot that makes the most sense while keeping safety your primary concern.

Keep in mind that restraints are not only there to protect your dog if you happen to be in an accident, but they will also prevent your dog from being out and about or climbing onto your lap while you’re in transit.

Bring Distractions

Ever look in the back seat and notice that your dog is chewing on their leash? Or better yet...on your beautiful leather seats? Us too. Always bring an abundance of toys for your pet for when they are tired of looking out the window and are ready to dig into playtime. Toys, especially interactive ones, can help alleviate anxiety and stimulate your pup’s brain.

Avoid bringing toys that are squeaky or make a lot of noise, as they will not only distract the driver but other passengers inside of the car. If the dog is below the seat of a plane, the squeakiness of their toy could become increasingly annoying to your flight neighbors. Be conscious of who’s around you before giving your dog a noisy toy.

Have Plenty of Food and Water

There is such thing as a hangry pup. A surplus of treats is important. And that doesn’t mean you need to stock up on fattening, low-quality bones, or unhealthy snacks for your pet. Carrots are a great (and healthy!) alternative. They’re sweet and crunchy, fun to chew on, and the toughness keeps them busy for a moment. Cut the carrots up into a size that makes sense for your furry friend.

If your travel time is going to extend more than a couple of hours, portion out some pet food and stick it in your backpack. All in all, make sure Fido doesn’t go hours and hours without eating. This goes without saying, but plenty of water is necessary as well. Pack a collapsible water bowl or two, so you can pop it open at any time.

Calming Treats and Scents

Using calming treats and familiar scents is a great way to give your dog a better sense of security. Not only can you use these while you’re traveling, but also on an ‘as needed’ basis, maybe before your dog is in a situation where they’re guaranteed to feel triggered (a thunderstorm is about to occur, fireworks, so on and so forth). Don’t forget to consult your vet before giving your dog a new brand of treat or a supplement of any kind.

Providing scents, just like the treats, is a wonderful way to make your dog feel less anxious. Studies have shown that an owner’s scent activates the parts of a dog‘s brain associated with pleasure. If you’re traveling, put a piece of your clothing in your dog’s crate. Your scent will ease stresses and anxieties, and will ultimately make your dog feel better.

Plan for Potty Breaks

If possible, plan out your bathroom breaks and incorporate them into your trip’s itinerary. If you’re getting on a plane and are not able to access the outdoors, bring pet pads along for the ride.

Of course, cozy your pet up to the idea of going on a pee pad prior to your trip. And as you know, this might take some practice. Work on it a few days prior, and be patient!

Make Your Pet Feel Comfortable

Make your pet feel at home. Bring their favorite blanket, or if it’s small enough, your pet’s bed. Not only will they feel more comfortable, but the aromas will help them adjust and adapt to unfamiliar surroundings. Who doesn’t love a warm, plush blanket?

In addition, some pets feel the most secure in a travel carrier like our Passenger Travel Carrier. Make sure they are supervised while they engage with it.

Keep your buddy comfortable by maintaining the temperature in the car, and here’s a reminder that no animal should ever be left in a parked vehicle alone. This could become a very dangerous, if not lethal, situation.

Avoid Motion Sickness

Avoiding motion sickness while in transit will be beneficial for both parties involved. No one wants a sickly dog or a wet mess in the back seat of a car. Puppies are more likely to get sick in a vehicle than adult dogs but usually grow out of it as they get older. There are a few things you can do to help Fido prevent nausea.

  • Temperature-control your vehicle
  • Crack the windows to allow for some fresh air (if you trust that your dog won’t jump out)
  • Stop feeding them one hour prior to travel
  • Avoid giving them water one hour prior to travel

These tips will hopefully help you avoid the mess, and in turn, avoid the stress.

Tire Them Out

Tire your dog out prior to your travels. This active session before your departure will exhaust them with the hopes that they’ll tucker out once you’re on your way. Some ideas on how to stimulate your pet before takeoff:

  • A 30-minute walk outdoors
  • A game of fetch in the backyard
  • Local park play with other dogs
  • A 30-minute training session
  • A run at the beach

Regardless of what you choose to do, your pup will be excited for the rest once you hit the road!

Summary

Traveling with a pet can be stressful, as there are a lot of moving parts. But with the right tools in your toolkit, it’s possible. By having chew toys and distractions handy, food and water accessible, and potty breaks planned accordingly, your pet will feel right at home.

A proper restraint, as well as calming treats and familiar scents (whether one of your sweaters or doggy pheromones), can also help with travel. Taking preventative action to help your dog from getting motion sick will also do the trick. It’s crucial that you supply your pet with a comfortable environment and ambiance, like a good quality crate, a pet pad, and a crate training aid to keep them busy.

Most importantly, your pet is likely very much in tune with your energy. If you’re calm and comfortable, your pet will be too.

Sources:

Dog Anxiety in Car Rides: How to Relieve Dog Stress | American Kennel Club

The Complete Guide to Travelling With Your Dog | American Kennel Club

Fruits and Vegetables Dogs Can or Can’t Eat | American Kennel Club

Travel safely with your pet by car, airplane, ship, or train | Humane Society

Dog Car Seats and Seat Belts: Can They Keep Your Pup Safe? | PetMD

The Diggs Team

Dog-Loving Pet Parents

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