Does your dog drool or vomit in the car? Or does he dread a drive so much that he refuses to get in? Fear not – you’re not alone. There are simple ways to teach your dog to enjoy trips in the car.
Dogs develop a fear of car travel for a number of reasons. The most common is negative associations, particularly when the dog was a puppy. His first experience was probably the traumatic journey from the breeders, pet shop or shelter where he was wrenched from everything familiar, to sit in a “room” that moves strangely, accelerates, stops without warning and throws him from side to side. Not surprisingly, he gets nauseous – and associates feeling sick with car rides. In addition, owners are often advised to keep puppies at home until fully-vaccinated and so may not introduce car rides until well past the crucial socialisation period - plus those that exercise their dogs close to home will probably only take their dogs in the car for “unpleasant” reasons, such as trips to the vet. Dogs can also develop a fear of the car following a road accident.
To help your puppy, it’s important to start socialising him to cars as early as possible. Even if you are not going anywhere, get your puppy used to sitting quietly in the car, first with the engine off, then with it on but stationary. You can feed him tasty treats and praise any calm, quiet behaviour but ignore any whining, crying, jumping around and other excitable behaviours. Most of all, DO NOT comfort and reassure any sign of fear or anxiety – dogs see reassurance as praise and this is guaranteed to create a fearful dog. When your puppy is happily getting into the car and sitting calmly, start going for short (5-10mins) rides down the street and back. Gradually increase the length of rides and include “fun” destinations, such as the local park, a favourite friend’s house or even puppy school, so that he looks forward to car trips.
For adult dogs with car-phobia, the steps are very similar. Even if they have been in cars before, go back to the beginning and start with positive experiences in a stationary car. Feeding their daily meals in the car for a week can do wonders. However, if you’re actually driving anywhere and you have a sensitive passenger, it is best to avoid feeding any food for a few hours before the journey. For dogs that are persistently sick (motion sickness rather than anxiety), consult your vet for medication.
If your fearful dog refuses to get in the car, try enticing him with a very tasty treat (yummy human food he hasn’t had before) or even a ball game. Playing with your dog’s toys in and around your car will help to build positive associations.
People who think that it’s “cool” to let their dogs hang out the window, bounce from seat to seat or even sit in their laps while driving (yes, this has been witnessed!) are simply irresponsible and putting themselves and their dogs in danger. Dogs don’t have to do these things to enjoy car rides and having your dog properly restrained can go a long way towards helping him feel comfortable and secure. This can be in the form of a crate for smaller dogs, a doggie seat-belt or a dog grill for larger dogs at the back. Crates are ideal as dogs love the den-like environment and will feel safer enclosed. If you have a particularly nervous passenger, having a covered crate can help him relax. However, if your dog is not used to crates (or seatbelts), make sure that you gradually acclimatise him to time spent with these devices, using treats to build positive experiences, before you strap him in for a long car ride – otherwise he will simply have a new negative experience in the car.
“Hsin-Yi is a freelance writer specialising in pet magazines; she has also had short stories and poetry published and is working on a novel – when she isn’t wiping up slobber from her Great Dane! She is currently living in Australia with her husband, their Great Dane, Honey and their rescue kitty, Muesli. You can follow Honey’s adventures on her blog at http://www.bighoneydog.com/, which features plus-sized doggie adventures, fun photos & videos, as well as dog training tips & information on dogfriendly places, products & services.”