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Enjoying the Ride?

By Cynthia Edgerly, BS, CDBC

otter in crate

Not all dogs love an ear flappin’, nose-to-the-wind car ride.
In fact, some dogs get just plain sick over the whole idea. But even if car rides cause your dog to drool, shake, pace, whine or vomit, take heart. There’s nearly always a way to overcome the problem, and it is well worth the time and effort required, as dogs can make wonderful travel companions!

Step 1:  Set the scene
Decide what equipment you will use to keep your furry friend from stumbling around like a drunken sailor as you drive.  You can put your dog’s bed in the car, or use a harness, doggie seat or seat belt combination.  You can also provide stability by allowing your dog to lie in someone’s lap as you drive, or put your dog in a crate.  In fact, many people have found that putting their dog in a covered crate so they can’t see out the window prevents car sickness altogether.

Step 2: Get comfortable
Nearly all carsickness in dogs is due to anxiety rather than motion sickness, so take the time required to create positive associations with the car.  This is done over several weeks and involves you, your dog, your car, some wonderful treats and lots of praise and attention. 

Do each of the following steps three times a day for three days:

Get your dog used to the car environment. Get in the car together and provide a few wonderful treats. Talk in a soft voice and slowly stroke your dog's chest or ears until completely relaxed.  Do not start the car.

Get your dog used to being restrained in the car.  Repeat step one, but put your dog in the seat, harness, crate or bed to be used during travel.

Get your dog used to a running car. Repeat steps one and two and start the car without going anywhere.

Once your dog will accept the car running without any fearful reaction, back the car to the end of the driveway, then forward again to the garage. Never mind what the neighbors will be thinking! Offer a treat and praise, then do it again. Repetition is the key. The more you do this, the more confident your dog becomes that cars are no problem. In fact, it has become a great place for attention, praise and treats.

Now it is time to take a short trip around the block.  Provide treats and praise before and after the ride, and keep up calm, reassuring talk throughout the ride. Gradually increase the distance traveled until your dog is calm no matter how long the car ride.

Step 3: Provide fresh air
Keep air circulating throughout the car by opening a window or turning the car fan on. If you don’t see any progress after a few weeks working with your dog, you might want to consult with your vet to see if medication will help. 

I hope to see you on the road --- going some place fun --- with a smiling dog in your car!

Cynthia Edgerly is the owner and operator of Bingo! Dog Training in Watsonville, CA.  She holds a certificate in Canine Behavior Counseling from the San Francisco SPCA's Academy for Dog Trainers, directed by renowned author and dog expert, Jean Donaldson (The Culture Clash and Dogs Are From Neptune). She teaches the use of gentle training techniques that work on all breeds and all types of dogs, primarily because they are well grounded in the science of how animals learn. Cynthia can be reached at (831) 768-9308  or visit www.bingodogtraining.com.


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