Behavioral problems

My Dog is Scared of Cars and Traffic

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 18, 2022
My Dog is Scared of Cars and Traffic

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Cars and vehicles are such a common part of our lives, we often forget we once had to learn how to cross a road. Road safety is important because our streets can be dangerous. When we look at these same streets form a dog's perspective, we might start to understand why they can be such intimidating spaces. Adding heavy traffic to the equation further heightens such fear. Not all dogs are afraid of cars and traffic, however. This is why AnimalWised investigates why my dog is scared of cars and traffic, as well as explain possible underlying reasons behind this fear. We also provide practical tips to help stop your dog being scared of cars.

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  1. Why is my dog scared of cars and traffic?
  2. How to stop a dog being scared of cars and traffic
  3. How to walk a dog when they are scared of cars
  4. My puppy is scared of cars

Why is my dog scared of cars and traffic?

When determining why a dog is scared of cars, we need to determine whether the dog is scared of vehicles in particular or they are generally fearful animals. For dogs which are scared of cars and traffic, but are otherwise calm animals, we can suggest the vehicles themselves are causing the fear. For dogs which are scared in general, we need to look at why the roads exacerbate this problem.

Below are the main reasons why a dog is scared of cars and traffic:

  • Sound and size of vehicles: dogs are animals with their own type of communication. Although wild dogs will prey on smaller (and sometimes larger) animals, they are not usually the top of the food pyramid. We often refer to big cars as ‘beasts’, so it should be no surprise some dogs are be scared of them. In particular, their loud engine can sound like a roar, so some dogs can be frightened by them, especially when they are moving fast.

  • Poor socialization: fear often comes from the unknown. We often think of socialization as integration with other living animals, especially people and other dogs. Socialization also means getting used to their environment. Many dogs may be scared of a car at first, but eventually come to tolerate them. If your dog was raised in the country and moved to a city, they may be scared of cars because they aren't familiar with them.

  • Trauma: if a dog has had a traumatic experience in the past with cars or traffic, they may be scared of them in the present. When we adopt a dog from a shelter, it is often difficult to know their history. They may have been lost and become scared of cars, or even be knocked down by one. Even traveling in cars can be traumatic if the journey was rough or they were taken somewhere they were to be abused.

  • Poor education: another reason our dog might be scared of cars can be related to our level of care. If we have not properly educated them, our dog might have more reason to fear cars. Even when we don't intend to, we often make mistakes when walking our dog which can lead to fears developing.

  • Generalized fear or anxiety: finally, if your dog is suddenly scared of everything or if they have always been that way, cars and traffic can exacerbate general fear. It is also possible the dog is shy or timid and doesn't usually show signs of fear. They may be perfectly comfortable in the home, but when they go outside, their phobias become evident. In these cases, cars and traffic are a trigger for their general fears.

We should also point out that a certain amount of fear of cars and traffic is healthy for your dog. We walk dogs on leashes both to keep them under control and to protect them. Many dogs each year run out into oncoming traffic because they do not realize the danger. Many of them die from their injuries. We should not only use a leash to prevent dogs running into traffic. Training and education are also important to maintain their safety near roads.

Some dogs are not scared of cars. In fact, some can seem to be antagonistic towards them, something which can cause its own set of problems. Take a look at our article on why dogs chase cars and other vehicles to learn more.

How to stop a dog being scared of cars and traffic

As we stated above, our dog needs to understand that cars and other vehicles pose a danger to them. However, being scared of cars and traffic is not the same. This can raise its own problems, especially if they are so scared they end up in an accident trying to run away from them.

To help a dog overcome this fear, we need to do our best to understand why they are scared in the first place. If the problem is because our dog finds vehicles scary, we need to help them to become more familiar with them. This is linked to the need for socialization. We also need to use positive reinforcement to do so. Since the dog is already scared, using punishment or negative reinforcement can only make them more fearful.

For dogs which have general anxiety leading them to become scared of cars, we need to try to work out thy this may be. The same applies for trauma, but this is not always possible. If you can work out why your dog is scared (e.g. another dog in the home is bullying them), we need to find a way to remove this element from their environment or to help them co-exist peacefully.

We can also help them to get used to cars by allowing the dog to be around vehicles when they are not being driven. Bring treats, maintain a calm demeanor and provide reassurance at all times. We can even take them for a drive more regularly to show there is nothing to fear. Make this process a gradual one for better results.

How to walk a dog when they are scared of cars

Although our dog might be scared of traffic, they still need exercise. Especially if we live in a built-up area, we need to find a way to walk our dog while reducing their fear. Since you are the reference for the dog, you will need to guide them confidently. It is essential you make them feel safe and ensure they have no reason to worry. This also requires consistency.

We should use a harness which attaches under their legs, not around their neck. If the dog becomes scared, they can choke themselves when they try to run away, worsening their fear and trauma in the process. If your dog is fine to travel in a car, you can first take them to a quieter area with little traffic. Once the walk begins, you can start to walk somewhere with more vehicles.

Stand resolute beside them and hold firm to their leash. If they become very scared, stop and make them sit. Provide them with a treat, pet them and give them encouraging words. Once they have calmed down, you can resume the walk. Repeat this process when necessary. Eventually, the dog will start to associate walking near traffic as a positive experience.

My Dog is Scared of Cars and Traffic - How to walk a dog when they are scared of cars

My puppy is scared of cars

For puppies, it is almost guaranteed they will have some fear of traffic at the beginning. Some will learn to tolerate them naturally as they develop, others may need a little help. For all puppies, the important thing is to ensure we meet all their care needs. One of the most important factors is to ensure a puppy is not removed too early from their mother and siblings. When this happens, they do not learn certain skills and boundaries which can cause problems when interacting with their environment.

Whether our dog is a puppy or an adult dog, we need to ensure they are educated properly. This means providing the right kind of socialization and ensuring they understand their environment without being scared of it. Basic obedience training is the starting point. Ensure they know commands and can stop when near traffic, especially if there is a chance they will run into it.

We also need to ensure all their other basic care needs are met and they have nothing to fear. If a dog is happy and healthy at home, they are more likely to be confident when around cars.

Below we share a video where we show you some common mistakes dog guardians make when walking a dog so you can avoid them with yours:

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog is Scared of Cars and Traffic, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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1 comment
Gracie is a 9month old border Collie.
She is terrified of traffic. We are taking her out on short but frequent walks but getting no where.
Contact a qualified behaviourist and get some help. It's okay reading things online but it's not as helpful as actually having someone come out on a walk with you, observe your dog and then help build a tailored plan for you and your dog and provide support while you work through it.
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My Dog is Scared of Cars and Traffic