Riding in a Car

From Jill Hamilton, (jillh@vnet.ibm.com)

You want the car to be a pleasant but not overly stimulating place. I lump poor car riders into 2 groups... those that are sick/afraid and those that are overly excited. I put sick and afraid together because they go hand in hand. A dog that physically gets sick learns to fear the car. Also dogs that are afraid of the car can make themselves ill just thinking about it. In the overexcited group I think there can also be a fear/aggression component...not so much of the car itself and motion but of the stuff they see approaching at dizzying speeds.

For either group I think basically the same approach can work, one based on acclimating the dog to riding in small, pleasant doses. Can your dog just sit in the car in the drive and be calm? If not, work on this a few nights. You might find just sitting with her and talking and petting is relaxing or you might need to treat for sitting in the car. When she can do this calmly, try starting the car and maintaining the same calmness. Proceed in small doses such as driving down the drive, around the block, for an ice cream cone etc. Keep it light and pleasant for the dog, apply treats and praise liberally. Praise the dog for being calm and avoid soothing or scolding for poor behavior.

If your dog is loose in the car, it may be quieter crated. Solid walled Varikennels probably best because they restrict the dogs vision. The one problem with a crate is it is harder to reward good behavior (i.e. treat) when the dog is crated and you are driving. The further up front a crate is in a car the smoother the ride is for the dog. Being far back in the car is harder for both the sea-sick ones and the ones that just get too revved up. Practicing in the dark may be helpful as it cuts down on the visual stimulation. For the sick ones, check out motion sickness drugs so you can break the sick/fear cycle. Both groups might benefit from some type of mild stress reducer like the herbal Rescue Remedy. If the dog has a dog buddy with whom she is calm (versus one she plays with nonstop) who is a good rider you might try taking them for rides together. Be sure most rides have pleasant destinations, i.e. not just to the vets.

None of these are magic bullets. My dog Eve is about 10 days short of her first birthday and is the most manic rider I have ever had. She loves riding but just finds it too exciting. We have done most of the above with variable success. Is she perfect -- no. But she no longer barks for 30 minutes at the start of every trip, plus starting up again at every stop sign. She does still chase cars from inside mine if she is not crated, but we are working on that. She finds riding unbelievable stimulating but she understands food rewards for quiet behavior very well. We used the same method for grinding nails.

More ideas for carsick dogs.


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