If your dog is a less-than-perfect passenger, learning to live with the problem isn’t the answer — you need an action plan. Karen Bush advises.
Start enjoying your outings together instead of dreading them, by identifying the underlying causes and taking action to remedy them. And if your dog is already a happy and confident passenger, these tips can help you ensure he stays that way!
If your dog has any anxieties about travelling in the car, put an action plan in place:
A is for ACTION PLAN
Get a vet check
Health issues, which can range from inner ear infections to orthopaedic problems, can be at the root of travelling problems so the very first thing on your list should be to make an appointment with your vet for a head-to-toe health check.
Create positive associations
Bad associations — whether it was your dog’s first trip in a car when you collected him as a puppy, or a lot of car journeys where the destination has been the vet rather than the park — can lead to travelling problems. You’ll need to be observant, as well as consider your pet’s past history so you can begin creating more pleasant associations.
Set up training plans
Travel training can help restore confidence and allay anxieties if taken slowly and broken down into lots of easy stages, first while the car is stationary and gradually building up to it moving. Use whatever best motivates your dog, whether food, toys, or getting some fuss from you. Keep each session brief enough that it’s within the ability of your dog to cope — overexposure can result in escalation rather than reduction of anxiety levels.
Because containing your dog in the car is important for both his safety and that of other passengers, you may also need to set up training plans for the following:
● Seat belt training — even if your dog is happy about wearing a harness on walks, one designed to act as a seat belt in the car can be a different matter.
● Crate training — similarly, expecting your dog to go straight into a travelling crate and be happy about it with no preparation could be setting yourself up for more travel issues.
A head-to-toe health check from your vet is the first place to start when resolving travelling issues.
B is for BEFORE YOU SET OUT
● Don’t travel your dog on a full stomach; feed a light and easily digested meal around three to four hours before his journey. If he’s liable to vomiting, starving him may mean there’s less to throw up, but won’t stop the problem, and missing a meal can cause stress vomiting in some dogs.
● On longer journeys, research your route in advance so you can plan bathroom breaks in nice walking areas. Aim to stop every two hours (for your dog’s sake, even if you have a cast iron bladder yourself!). After sitting in one position for a long time, the chance to stretch your legs in the fresh air will physically and mentally benefit you as well as your dog.
● Make sure your dog has any anti-nausea medication in plenty of time before setting out or it may not work effectively — check the manufacturer’s instructions.
● Even if you are just going for a short drive, pack a travel bag containing fresh drinking water, a bowl, and just in case, a clean-up kit. Dog-friendly wipes can also come in handy should he find something smelly to roll in on a bathroom break — you don’t want to share the car with his noxious odours!
Take regular breaks so you can both stretch your legs, and offer drinking water at rest stops.
C is for car
Your car can be responsible for creating or aggravating travelling issues. Consider the following:
● Drive carefully. Remember your dog cannot anticipate turns, acceleration, and deceleration. Reading the road ahead and generally improving your driving skills can make all the difference to boosting or maintaining your dog’s comfort and confidence.
● Try a different place in the car; there may be spots where there’s more swing or the suspension is softer, aggravating motion sickness issues and affecting how well your dog travels.
● Be calm! If you want a calm canine passenger, you need to be a calm driver; try not to vent your feelings at other motorists acting inconsiderately by shouting at them — they won’t notice, but it can cause your dog to become stressed and anxious about going in the car.
● Sitting comfortably? Make sure your dog has enough space to stand up and turn around if he wants, and to lie down comfortably. Seats in some cars aren’t always wide enough for bigger dogs and seat belts may restrict movement.
● Ventilation is important, so roll windows down a few inches. Check that your dog isn’t going to be chilled by cold air blowing directly onto him however — and never allow him to stick his head out!
● Place shades on side windows to reduce glare and heat from the sun.
Motion sickness is one of the most common travelling issues, and often not taken seriously enough. If it’s a regular occurrence, as well as making your pet feel miserable, it can create lifelong negative associations with travelling.
Make sure your dog has enough space — rear seats are often not wide enough. Folding the back seat down or packing out the floor space can be a solution.
Some people swear by giving a ginger biscuit pre-journey, or using Rescue Remedy or a homeopathic remedy, such as petroleum; if you find these don’t help, visit your vet’s and ask them to prescribe an anti-nausea medication as a short-term solution on those occasions when you need to make longer journeys. A young
dog may grow out of it, but if he doesn’t, or if he is mature, do get that vet check as there may be a physical issue at the root of it. As well as experimenting with different positions in the car you may also find Tellington Touch helps; the groundwork used can be incredibly effective in improving balance and makes a huge difference as to how well your dog travels in the car.
Never leave your dog unattended in the car.
Every year sees another preventable tragedy: never leave your dog in the car, as even parked in the shade, with the windows cracked open, it can rapidly turn into an oven in summer. It also exposes your dog to the risk of theft or passers-by disturbing him by peering in or tapping on the windows, all of
which can contribute to him becoming a stressed passenger.
Letting your dog stick his head outside the car can lead to injury.
● Learn more about how to help your poor traveller at this online course: https://learn.ttouch.ca/product/interactive-online-solutions-for-dogs-with-travelling-issues-applied-ttouch-with-toni-shelbourne-uk-time-zone-2/
● Toni Shelbourne and Karen Bush are the authors of ‘HELP! My dog doesn’t travel well in the car’, available on Amazon.