I have helped train clients on interesting and memorable questions about dog car travel in the 20 years I have been training dogs and their staff. Some of the issues associated with the emerging travel dog car include:
*a long-haul truck driver whose Heeler was afraid to jump into or out of the truck's cab *a Lab-Boxer mixture that barked constantly every time the owner walked away from the car *an Irish terrier that has had severe reactions to motion sickness since she was a puppy. *a Standard Poodle that barked at anything that moved outside the car *a rescue herd breed of my own that developed enormous anxiety while travelling by car.
Each dog is an individual, and it is important to recognize it. That said, there are some general tips for dog car trips that we humans can try:
1. Never force a dog into a car if you don’t have to.
Of course, there are exceptions, such as finding an injured stray dog you need to go to the vet or shelter, or bringing your own dog to the vet in case of an emergency. In addition to real emergencies, consider your dog’s needs first and foremost. Forcing a dog to do something is not necessary. If you force a nervous dog into a car, you may have created a concern for your puppy for life! Slow and steady, and moving to the rhythm of the dog wins the day.
2. Let your dog travel by car and have fun from the first trip.
If you only put your dog in the car to take him to the vet – where they have to do things that can cause fear or pain, like vaccination – why would she like the car? Would you do that? When it comes to dog car trips, first trips are crucial to success. First make very short trips – perhaps just around your block. End the trip with something fabulous, such as a new treat (if the dog is ready to eat) or a new toy given in the car.
3. Dogs learn in part by combining events.
It is essential to associate a car ride with a good time from the dog’s point of view, especially at the beginning. For example, if a doorbell ringing in the background never means that someone is at the front door (it’s just a noise without anything happening after the bell), most dogs will learn to get used to and ignore the harmless noise of the doorbell. But dogs are smart and, in a very short time, they associate ding-dong sound with that of a new friend or a potentially scary stranger at the door.
4. Give your dog an outlet for his nervousness by exercising him before a car trip.
Dogs travel by the nose of the world first, so take your dog for a walk in your neighbourhood and make sure he has enough time to sniff. You can also play a “Find it” game where you hide toys or even hide in your house for a few minutes if your dog loves it.
I do not recommend giving a meal or lots of treats before a trip if you are worried that your dog will vomit in the car. However, if you are certain that this will not happen (from your past experience), it is useful to combine a car trip with some great new treats.
5. Additional help with medicines, natural remedies, etc.
If your dog shows physical signs of travel anxiety, he may very well benefit from additional help in the form of medication, natural remedies or solutions. Seek veterinary help if your dog shows signs such as rhythm, excessive panting, drooling, uncontrollable barking or vomiting. The sooner you get this extra help for your dog, the better.
I helped the Irish terrier, which was extremely sensitive to movement, by following the advice of its veterinarian and making sure that it had both anti-nausea medication (Cerenia) and anti-vertigo medication (Meclizine) well before a car trip, and we worked on its emotional discomfort by making very short trips and combining these trips with wonderful things.
I helped my Heeler deal with his sudden travel anxiety by buying him a Thundercap (which filters a dog’s vision to reduce visual over-stimulation) that helped block external movement when I realized that it was stressful.