His jaws are flapping in the wind. You have your sunglasses on, and you’re feeling wild and free. It’s quite nice to ride around with your dog by your side. After all, he really is your best friend. The two of you cruise around listening to the classics and taking in the fresh air. Cruising around with you has always been your dog’s favorite thing, but lately, there’s been a drastic change. When he discovers the two of you are heading toward the car, his whole demeanor changes. Now, you’re wondering — Why does my dog suddenly hate the car, and what can I do about it?

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Why does my dog suddenly hate the car?

You walk out the door with him by your side. Thank goodness, he didn’t notice that you had your keys in your hand. As you step off the porch, he is sportively thinking it’s time to play ball, but when you start toward the car, his head drops, and he lies down. He has no intention of getting into the car willingly. You don’t have a clue, but you realize you have to figure out why.

Negative association

A negative association for a dog is exactly what it sounds like. It is an instance in which a dog negatively associates an object or action with an unpleasant experience they have had in the past. The problem lies in the fact that the dog will avoid that thing at all costs.

Feeling abandoned

Hopefully, you’ve never left your dog in the car while you go inside stores, restaurants, hair salons, gyms, or your children’s schools, but if you have, you may have given your dog an abandonment complex. Another way he may have felt abandoned is if you boarded him to go on vacation or have the house remodeled.

Previous experiences

If you left him in the car, did you do it in the extreme heat or cold? Did you have a car full of people leaving him only the back floorboard to ride in? Either one of these things can cause him to be horribly uncomfortable.

Noises

What type of music do you listen to, and how loudly? Listening to grinding, loud music can hurt your dog’s ears and cause him angst.

Smell

Something as simple as a really bad smell could be the culprit. Were you stuck in traffic by a chemical plant or a trash dump? Did a skunk spray very nearby the last time you got out of the car?

Discomfort

Taking him on too long a trip may have been something else that left him very uncomfortable. Maybe you didn’t stop often enough and let him walk around. Maybe he simply got bored and anxious.

Could a simple change in his routine have caused this?

Dogs are creatures of routine. They function best if they have a set schedule they go by every day. They don’t like surprises. Did you get a new car? Did you put on new seat covers? Are you using a new deodorizer? Are you taking a different route to the park? Your dog may just be anxious and wondering why his routine has been interrupted.

Could a physical issue be causing his hesitation?

Pain

Your dog could be experiencing pain of numerous kinds. Maybe he hurt himself the last time he got into the car. Double whammy? Maybe it still hurts and he remembers last time. Maybe your dog is having his first flare-up of arthritis. Maybe there is an underlying physical issue like a urinary tract infection. Some cancers can cause pain, as well.

Does my dog need to be checked out by a vet?

If your dog suddenly doesn’t want to be touched, makes more noise than usual, or becomes aggressive, these are a few of the most telling signs that your dog is in pain. Take your dog to the vet. He is probably miserable.

Motion sickness

Has your dog been heaving or vomiting in the car? If it has happened more than once, he probably has motion sickness.

What are the symptoms of motion sickness?

Some other symptoms of a dog’s motion sickness are excessive drooling, lip-smacking, and whining.

Why is my dog suddenly afraid of the car?

Hating the car and being afraid of it can be two different things. Your dog can hate the car because he is afraid of it, but hating it cannot be the cause of him fearing it. Just like fear in humans, dogs can have two kinds of fear: apprehension of things they have never experienced and outright fear of things they have, which we have talked about. Remember negative association?!

Did something happen at the vet?

Your dog may have had a bad experience at the vet. Was he nipped by the hair clippers? Was one of his nails clipped too short? He may think you are taking him there.

Did that little fender-bender affect him worse than I thought?

Was he with you when a car hit you? It may have had more of an impact on him than you realized. The sudden jolt may have left him traumatized and afraid of it happening again.

Was it the ambulance siren?

Maybe he was scared by the sudden loud noise of the ambulance siren. Dogs are sensitive to loud noises. They make dogs anxious.

Is it because I didn’t put him in a crate or dog seat belt?

When your dog is just standing in the car, and you hit the brakes, he is liable to bounce all over. He could get sick, hurt, anxious, or just plain angry.

What are the outward signs of fear?

Some common symptoms of a dog’s angst or fear are yawning, excessive panting, excessive drooling, restlessness, whining, shaking, trembling, or trying to get close to you or into your lap.

Why does my dog freak out when I park the car?

Generally, your dog would only freak out upon you parking the car if he expected something bad or at least, undesired to happen upon the parking of it. He either thinks something is going to happen inside the car after you park, or he thinks parking the car leads to some other terrible consequence.

Did he experience something scary in the car?

If you left him in the car alone, a stranger may have come up and scared him or taunted him. People are unpredictable!

Does he think he is going to the vet or back to the shelter? 

Is he used to traveling in the car to the vet? Most dogs hate the vet like toddlers hate vaccinations. Is he a shelter dog? Dogs remember a lot of things, and if he remembers having to go to a shelter, he may equate parking the car with going into the shelter.

Is it simply because he knows the trek is over?

Dogs usually enjoy their outings with you. It is an exciting adventure in their otherwise eventless day. Maybe they simply do not want to go home.

Why is my dog suddenly refusing to get in the car?

Your dog could have several reasons for not wanting to get into the car, and really, it all depends upon where you are when he refuses to get in. This will be the biggest clue to the psychology of why he has angst about getting in. Dogs are like us, and they do not want to do anything that causes them grief.

Maybe he doesn’t want to leave home.

He may not want to get into the car and leave home due to one of the following reasons.

It could just be fear.

We have discussed some reasons your dog’s fear may keep him from wanting to get into the car, but it is not a comprehensive list. The possible reasons are endless.

It could be some type of negative association.

It’s the same with negative associations, even more so. Unless you can read your dog’s mind, figuring out the problem is a tall order.

It could be a physical issue.

Any number of physical problems could be causing your dog not to feel like getting into your car. He may be experiencing pain or nausea.

Maybe he doesn’t want to go home.

Your dog probably doesn’t have many thrills going on in his life, so a trip to the park or to your best friend’s house where he can play with her dog, makes his day. Giving all this up just to go home and do the same old thing doesn’t make him feel like it will be a very rewarding experience.

Maybe he just doesn’t want to get into the car at all.

The trip could simply be unpleasant. Are your trips long with no breaks for exercise? Do you not bring toys? Is he loose and bouncing all over the car when you travel?

What can you do if your dog hates the car?

You can know you are going to bring toys and that the crate will help keep him from bouncing all over the place, but he won’t know that, so you are still going to have the problem of getting him into the car, and you don’t want to force him, or it will make matters even worse. Here are some ways to go about getting your dog back to being your travel buddy.

Is it bad to leave my dog in the car?

You should never, ever leave your dog in the car under any circumstances and go in anywhere. If you care about your dog, you just won’t do it. Bad things can happen to traumatize, physically harm, or even kill your dog.

Does habituation work?

One thing you can try under some circumstances is habituation. The way habituation works is that over time you help your dog’s phobia shrink smaller and smaller until it is trivial. It is the equivalent of living by an Air Force Base. When you first move there, the sound of the planes flying overhead drives you crazy, but over time, you get used to it a little at a time until you hardly notice it. That is how you introduce the car to your dog in habituation — very gradually.

Can I use counter-conditioning?

With counter-conditioning, you use desensitization to condition your dog to change his behavior. You do this by rewarding good behaviors and introducing the stimulus gradually. You can read more about counter-conditioning and desensitization on the AKC website.

Could restoring his old routine help?

If you have disturbed his routine, try restoring his old routine if you can. Do it temporarily. You can, then, try introducing the new route while giving treats along the way, possibly while stopping here and there and letting him acclimate to the new route.

What can I do if my dog has motion sickness?

If you are battling motion sickness in your dog, you can try not feeding him yet when you are planning to travel. An empty stomach is better for motion sickness. Next, you can try giving him ginger treats. Another thing you could try is buying him a ThunderShirt to calm his anxiety. If you are letting your dog ride loose in the car, many times, crating your dog will help, as well.

What about if he is in pain?

Depending on why your dog is in pain, you yourself may or may not be able to help him. When it comes to pain, your best bet is to consult your vet to get his advice. They make pain relievers for dogs. As in humans, they won’t “kill” the pain, but they will make it more bearable in cases like arthritis.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.