Rescue Dog Nervous in Car

1. I have a 3.5 yr old rescue dog who is extremely nervous at the moment after a hard life. When I took her in car she messed on her blanket, shall I keep taking her or wait a while untill she is more settled? I don’t want to push her too quickly.

Many dogs become nervous when in the car or when put into new situations. Since your dog is a rescue, we don’t know what her previous life was like or how experiences have molded her reactions to new things.  However, dogs that have been with the same, loving, stable family since puppyhood can also have fears and anxieties about new things, like car rides.

Some tips that may make things better for her in the car:

  1. Start off slowly and make every car trip a good experience. Put her in the car and feed her meals in there with you sitting with her. If she finishes her food and seems anxious, let her out of the car and do it again the next meal. The idea is to associate the car with good things (ie. Food.)
  2. Nervous dogs often pee, poop or vomit in the car. As she gets used to being in the car, these episodes should decrease. Reduce the likelihood of a mess by not feeding her within a couple of hours of the car ride. Also place a large blanket down covering your upholstery and floorboard.
  3. If she is nervous and has motion sickness, it can help to position her facing the front of the car. If she can ride in the front passenger seat, that is best. Secure her to the seat using a “doggie seat belt” or harness restraint system.  This is not only for your and her safety, but it also can reduce her anxiety and feeling of nausea as the car moves.
  4. If you determine that she is ‘messing’ due to motion sickness, talk to your veterinarian about medications that can alleviate this. In the USA, there is a medication called Cerenia that is approved for treating motion sickness in dogs.
  5. Some dogs feel very safe and secure in their crate. If she is crate-trained and “bonded” to her crate, putting it in your car may make the car trip a lot easier. The crate can help calm dogs in the car and is also one of the safest places for them to be in the event of an accident.

Being able to ride in the car comfortably is a necessity for many pets. Taking car rides frequently will help to teach her that everything is okay. You can wait until she is more settled if you haven’t had her with you for very long (a few weeks) but if she has been in your home for several months and still isn’t settled or seems overly anxious, you should talk to her veterinarian about a behavioral consultation.

Even if you try earnestly to get her used to the car, some dogs never come around to it. In these cases it is best to avoid car rides unless they are totally necessary. Some dogs even require calming medication in order to ride in the car. Medication should not be your first go-to, give it some time and training first.