Happy Driving with your Dog!

This entry is article 4 of 5 in the July 2014 issue

Riding in the car is a very common dog phobia. Fortunately, most dog owners can help their pet overcome this fear by introducing him or her to the car in a step-by-step approach that involves using lots of positive reinforcement. The ultimate objective is to develop a pleasant association with car travel.

Causes

Car phobias can develop for a number of reasons:

  • car sickness
  • lack of experience (particularly as a puppy)
  • fear of the unfamiliar
  • past association with negative experiences (like going to the vet and getting injections)

- Overcoming Fear:

Dog owners are often told not to socialize their puppies until they are fully vaccinated, which makes a new experience with the car that much more traumatic for them. To help your puppy, it’s important to start socializing him to cars as early as possible. For adult dogs with a car-phobia, the steps are very similar.

 - Getting your dog in the car

  • Begin by enticing your dog to the car rather than forcing him to approach it. Consider playing with your dog’s toys in and around the car to build positive associations.
  • Use positive reinforcement to get him inside. Start by opening up all the doors so your dog won’t feel like he’ll be trapped once he gets inside. Use treats and praise to encourage your dog to go inside the car. It’s important that you not reward crying, whining or other rambunctious behaviors.
  • Take the time to bond with your dog inside the car. Leave the doors open, and spend some time coddling your dog in the car. You may need to take a number of attempts over a period of days just sitting in the stationary car. Slowly work your way up to sitting in the car with your dog with the doors closed.

– Start your engine. Once you think your dog is comfortable being in the car, you can start the engine. As soon as you turn the engine on, it’s helpful to give your dog some treats, talking to him in a friendly tone and then turn off the engine. Repeat this several times until your dog is completely comfortable sitting in the car with the engine running.

– Start by taking short rides down the street or in your neighborhood.

– Graduate to longer rides and include fun destinations, (e.g., the park, a friend’s house or some other familiar and not scary place). Your dog’s first longer car ride should not be to the veterinarian. Instead take your dog someplace fun like the park, a friend’s house or some other familiar place.

For each of these steps, it’s very important to make sure your dog is completely comfortable with what you’ve accomplished before moving forward to the next step. And, providing your dog his/her favorite treats is key to the positive reinforcement necessary to be successful.

Dealing with Nausea/Vomiting and Anxiety

Vomiting can be attributed to motion sickness or anxiety associated with a negative experience riding in a car. A frightened dog may pant, drool and vomit even without feeling carsick. To treat this, follow the advice to decrease his anxiety. If your dog is motion sick or becomes anxious because he experiences motion sickness, this physical problem must be addressed before he can learn to appreciate car rides. You must avoid letting him feel sick when attempting to desensitize him to car rides. To do this, you should avoid feeding for a few hours prior to the car trip. Also, prescription medications are available from your dog’s veterinarian for preventing carsickness. Over the counter medications may help to ease your dog dog’s motion sickness. Always consult your dog’s veterinarian before administering any “human” over the counter medications.

Rest assured that most dogs can be conditioned to riding in the car and with persistence to the training process, you too can be successful. Happy Driving!

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