brown dog in car pooping

Why Does My Dog Poop in the Car?

Dogs sometimes come with behaviors that bemuse their owners. 

Maybe your dog is scratching at your bed sheets at night or pulling his bedding out of his crate when you’re working. If you’ve landed on this page, then your dog is pooping in the car. The life of a dog owner, so glamorous, so easy…

Most dogs love to travel in cars and it’s easy for owners to take that for granted. 

We certainly did.

Unlike cats who are notorious for being difficult to travel with, dogs will often jump at the chance to hit the road.

But what if your pet isn’t quite so keen to explore?

As dog owners, we’re all familiar with scooping up poop but that doesn’t mean we want to scrub it out of our car seats. If you’re asking ‘why does my dog poop in the car?’, then you’re probably pretty eager to find out what’s going on and how to stop it.

Why does my dog poop in the car?

There are several possible reasons why your dog is pooping in the car.

It could be due to anxiety.  Dogs that are nervous or frightened will often poop in response to a situation or environment they’re not happy with. We jump into cars all the time so it’s difficult to see it from a dog’s perspective: the loud noises, the strange smells, the unfamiliar sounds and uncomfortable textures.  Your dog may also be pooping in the car because of difficult memories or experiences associated with the vehicle.

For example, if you only travel with your pet to the vet, they’ve probably associated being in the car with something unpleasant happening to them.

Think about how humans react to fear when they’re faced with an unpleasant situation: sitting on the plane when you’re terrified of flying, waiting in the doctor’s office for a procedure or test results, sitting down to take an important exam.

For people with anxiety, even a trip to the grocery store or to collect children from school can be a terrifying experience.  Dogs and humans can have the same reaction to scenarios they don’t find pleasant: the dog gets scared and the brain reacts by activating the flight-or-fight response which can lead to an immediate bowel movement.

Scared shitless?  It happens to dogs and humans.

The problem with anxiety is that the dog will also come to associate the car with pooping and this can make it an even bigger problem.

Dogs that poop on the same spot will often still smell it and continue to poop there even if you’ve cleaned it up.  It’s important to address the anxiety or fear you should also make sure you’re cleaning the stained area efficiently enough that a dog can’t smell it any more.

How Can I Stop My Dog Pooping in the Car?

You could secure your dog in a crateCrates can help dogs feel safer and they’re also good for protecting your pet in the event of an accident.  Dogs can feel unstable in a moving vehicle if they’re not secured in or to something solid.  If they don’t feel safe, they’ll start feeling nervous.  You could also try a tether or a car seat to help them feel more grounded.

Motion sickness is more likely to occur in the backseats so if you’re able to, secure your dog in the front of the car.

You can train your dog to tolerate (if not enjoy) car rides by helping to take the fear out of the journey.

You should take your dog for a walk before getting them into the car.  A walk will relax them but it’s also a way of seeing if they’ll poop before they get inside. You could also try repeating this about 10 or 20 minutes into your journey, just so your dog has an opportunity to go again if it needs to.  This could save you finding a mess on your seat further down the road.

You can buy a dog calming spray which should help reduce anxiety.

You could try doggy diapers until you’re able to eliminate the behavior through training. 

Getting your dog used to the interior of the car will help.  You can do this without actually going anywhere.  Open the car door and let your dog get in and explore. Give them plenty of room to jump out if they need to.  Encourage them with treats and positive engagement.

This only has to happen for a few minutes initially; you basically want to override the dog’s current fear and bad memories.  When the dog is more comfortable you might start the engine to get it used to the noise and vibrations. Once this is fine, you could drive around the neighborhood slowly and build up the time that the dog is in the car for. 

You should also start taking your dog to fun places rather than just out to a veterinarian, the boarding kennels or groomer. You could take them to the dog park or to somewhere they can run and have lots of fun.

Clean any poop spots with an enzymic cleaner to make sure the smell and stain have gone completely.  You can pick these up in most good pet stores or online.

Understanding that your dog is frightened or anxious about car journeys is one step to not only helping them enjoy traveling by car but it should also keep your seats clean, too.

Related post: How long can a dog go without pooping?

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