To your pup, a car ride is the next best thing to seeing you hold up a tasty treat. But sometimes all that excitement makes him a bit too hyper. A little crate action, counter-conditioning or even a change in your demeanor will help him to simmer down.
Sometimes there's one thing that triggers your puppy into hyper mode. Maybe it's hitting the brake or stopping the car completely. Those things sound like illogical triggers, but your little guy might have learned that these things mean something great is about to happen. For instance, suppose you're taking him to the park. If you stop the car, get him all riled up and then reward him by taking him for a walk or heading into the dog park, he's going to think that a stopped car means fun is just around the corner.
Counter-conditioning is the solution to your problem. Let's use the stopped car example again. Instead of getting him excited and letting him out of the car the moment you get to the park, wait for him to calm down. As soon as he's calm and relaxed, he gets to enjoy a day at the park. Over time he'll learn that good things happen when he's on his best behavior rather than when he acts all crazy.
See Nothing, Hear Nothing
It's not always something specific that makes a dog turn into less of a canine and more of a toddler hyped up on sugar. The wind in your pup's face, the people outside and the noises he hears can prove to be too much excitement for him to handle. Try rolling the windows up and turning on the air if it's warm outside. If that doesn't calm him down, consider crating him inside the car and throwing a blanket or towel over the crate so he can't see anything. To avoid making him freak out even more inside the crate, start off very slowly. Toss a treat inside the crate, let him check it at his own pace and always praise him for getting inside. Once he's good to go, strap the crate in with a seat belt. Always use a vented crate.
Any time your pup starts acting insane in the car, your first response might involve talking to him, yelling at him or petting him in attempt to take his energy level down a notch. But the more you say and do, the more you're egging him on. Instead of trying to verbally and physically make him behave, do what canines hate most: ignore him. Hyper dogs love attention, even the kind that comes in the form of "Stop it!" When you act like your pup isn't along for the ride, he's more likely to plop his butt in the seat and settle down.
Anxiety vs. Overstimulation
Your pup's hyper behavior may stem from anxiety instead of overstimulation. Overstimulation occurs when he gets too excited about something, such as that dog walking outside your car window or the little kid pointing at him in the parking lot. In contrast, anxiety happens when your little guy becomes nervous, fearful and downright horrified of where the car ride is going to lead. Anxiety happens largely because he's only taken to what he thinks are the worst places that ever existed, such as a vet's office or groomer. An anxious canine might pace, pant excessively, appear restless, whine and act similarly to an overstimulated dog. A lot of times, he'll act normal on the ride back home. Taking him for rides to places he enjoys can stop him from thinking he's always going somewhere horrible, and taking social trips to the vet or groomer helps him realize he has nothing to fear when he goes in for a checkup or haircut.
By Chris Miksen
About the Author
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.