Many dogs jump at the chance to take a car ride, looking in great anticipation toward the door every time you grab your keys, but there are some who have a genuine fear of the car. Some will even make themselves sick because of their anxiety over the experience. When you stop and think about the places you typically drive your dog, such as the veterinarian’s office, it makes sense that this can be scary. If yours is one of these, a pet friendly travel experience is going to start with getting your dog accustomed to riding in the car without anxiety.
The earlier in your dog’s life that you can get him used to riding in the car, the better your success will be. If you get a dog as a puppy, take him on frequent car rides to fun places like the park. This will eliminate the anxiety from the very beginning. If you get a dog as an adult that is already anxious in the car, you will need to take some time to teach them that the car is a fun place to be.
Desensitizing Your Dog to the Car
Before you try to condition your dog to ride in the car without anxiety, take him to the vet. You need to rule out a true motion sickness problem. If your dog is getting sick in the car because of the movement, you may need medication to help. If the sickness is an over-reaction to the anxiety he feels, then you can start taking steps to lessen this anxiety to make riding in the car more pleasant.
The first thing to do is to associate the car environment with happy times. If you can coax your dog into the car, offer her a treat and then spend a few minutes in the car having fun. Speak in a positive voice, pet your dog and simply hang out together. Make sure the car is off during these first few experiences. If your dog will eat, have her eat in the car. The place where a dog eats is almost always considered a happy place in her mind.
Once your dog will willingly enter the car without any signs of fear, it is time to take the next step, which is to start the car while she is inside. This may promote anxiety, so provide plenty of reassurance that all is well. Offer a treat when she gets in and then again when she gets out. Try to keep her in the car until her anxiety dissipates if you can.
Again, once she will enter and hang out in the car while it is running without anxiety, it is time to start moving the car. Take this slowly. If you have long enough of a driveway, simply back to the end of it, then pull ahead again to your garage. By this time, most dogs will no longer feel anxious, because they will link the car with treats and praise. If yours is still feeling anxious, continue the treats and praise until the anxiety is gone. Again, the goal is to make being in the car a positive experience.
The final step is to drive around the block. Once you can drive around the block without any signs of anxiety or car sickness, you will have mastered this problem. Now you can start shopping for places where pets can stay on your next vacation, because you should have no difficulty in taking your dog with you in the car.
Remember, this process takes a lot of time. Do not expect your dog to change overnight. If you are planning to travel with your pet sometime soon, start several weeks prior to the trip to work through this process. It took your dog a lifetime to develop and solidify this fear, so it is not going to go away overnight!