Not the Car?

Living with a dog who will not travel in the car can make life exceedingly difficult.

Long before Covid hit us, people who have a car-phobic dog knew all about missing out on social activities.

This issue can hinder holiday plans, and make vet and grooming visits a nightmare, not to mention trips to the beach or a playdate a fantasy.

Some dogs do unfortunately suffer from true motion sickness. Have a chat with your Vet regarding medications for these poor pups.

Other dogs are so traumatised by the idea of getting into the car that they literally become ill. Many people report that their dog pants, whines, shakes, drools and vomits in the car. Some poor travellers will be so traumatised that they will even be eliminated in the car.

Then what do we humans do? We shout we move around rapidly cleaning up the mess, we are generally stressed. This only adds to the terror that the dog is already experiencing.

So why does this happen?

The first car trip many puppies take is the one that also takes them away from their Mother and litter mates. Being removed from everything they have ever known is traumatic enough, but then imagine being thrust into the arms of complete strangers and thrown into a thing that moves that you have never seen before. Pretty scary stuff!!!

Maybe the dog associates the car with trips to the Vet which is an extremely uncomfortable environment for a lot of pooches.

Now that we know why, how can we help our furry friends?

We need to show them that the car is not such a horrible place. In other words, we need to desensitise the dog to the car. How we go about this will depend on how stressed the dog is.

Most dogs with this issue will refuse to get into the car. DO NOT FORCE THEM INTO THE CAR. A dog will learn more quickly and recover more rapidly if we allow them choices. If we think about how many choices our dogs get to make it is really not many. We decide where they live, what they eat, where they eat and sleep, who they live with, and who they socialise with to name a few.

Making good choices and being rewarded for them go a long way to improving a dog’s self-confidence. A more confident dog does not fear as much as a less confident dog.

You are probably asking ‘Surely given the choice to get into the car or not they would always choose not’ You would be right! However, we are not going to ask them to get straight into the car. Set up the situation so the dog feels less stressed. Perhaps have the car in a fenced area, preferably not where you would usually try and load the dog in. Open all the car doors, so it does not look so claustrophobic, make sure the temperature is comfortable for you and your dog. Have your dog off leash if possible,(if this is not possible, put your dog in a harness and attach a very long line) take his favourite food or toy or person and just sit at a distance from the car that your dog is comfortable. For the first few days, this is all you do.

When you notice that your dog is more relaxed in this environment you can move just a little closer to the car. Continue to move closer to the car over time, and ensure that your dog is happy and relaxed. This could take many days, weeks or months.

Eventually, your dog will feel comfortable being around the car. Now how do we convince him to get in? Again, it’s his choice. Put his favourite toy or person in the car, do not entice the dog in, just allow the dog to decide himself. If he does not venture in, it is down to a couple of things. First, your enticement may not be enticing enough, secondly, it could be that you moved too quickly to this stage.

Take note of where you are asking the dog to be in the car. Put him in a position where he can not slip and slide around. Securing with a harness and seat belt attachment may be perfect. Perhaps your dog would rather be in a crate while travelling.

When your dog finally does get into the car, do not be tempted to go anywhere, don’t even turn on the engine. Just sit and enjoy the moment. After you notice that your dog willingly gets in the car a few times you can try just turning the engine on and do not go anywhere. Eventually, it built up to a truly short trip in the car. Your first real trip should be to somewhere you know your dog will really enjoy. It’s all about making positive associations surrounding the car.

If you do not have the time or patience for this training, you have 2 choices.

1. Get used to leaving your dog at home.

2. Engage the services of a dog behaviour coach. We can do a lot of this without you being present.

Good luck and happy travels!

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