Help! My dog hates the car!
Most dogs will have to travel in the car from time to time. If it’s a short trip to the beach, the vets or even a longer journey on holiday. Many dogs relish the opportunity to join their owners out and about but some poor pooches get very stressed and travel sick even on short journeys.
Luckily there are some things you can do to help your best friend with their anxiety, as Charter Vet Antonia Yelland BVetMed MRCVS explains below.
Start with acclimatisation.
Get your dog familiar with the car. The younger they are the better, but no matter how old they are, this can help. Start with a parked car, initially with doors/boot open. Get them to sit inside, have a treat, a toy or a meal and then get out. Do this is as often as you can, ideally every day. Gradually shut the doors, start the engine but don’t go anywhere. Remember every time your dog gets in the car give them a positive experience with lots of fuss and a treat or toy, whichever they prefer. How long each step takes will depend on them, it might be weeks. Start with short journeys and gradually build up the distance.
Travel sickness usually improves as they get older, but it can be a real problem for some dogs. If they are allowed to gradually become familiar with the car this often helps them to break the association between the car and the feeling of nausea. If possible avoid feeding them in the 3-4 hours before a journey. For pets that have to travel, especially long distances, your vet may be able to prescribe medication to help with the sickness.
Sometimes all this still isn’t enough, so here are some other techniques you can try. Dogs are individuals and will respond to different things, so keep trying until you see what helps your dog.
Conditions within the car.
Some dogs may like soothing music, the comfort of their favourite toy or the windows open a bit. Non-slip matting can make them feel more secure and try to drive smoothly.
These are odourless (to us!) chemical signals that are released by a mum in the days after her puppies are born, they make the puppies feel safe and secure. These pheromones have been copied, marketed as Adaptil and are available in a collar or spray form to give the same comforting feeling of security to adult dogs. They can either wear the collar all the time if they are generally anxious or the spray can be directly applied to the area they are going to travel in. Be sure to follow the instructions when using these products to get the maximum benefit.
Some dogs seem to feel safe and less anxious when they are wearing snug clothes, similar to swaddling a baby. Some owners find clothing can be very helpful to calm their pet.
Essences of plants and flowers are used to make homeopathic remedies. ‘Rescue remedy for pets’ is thought by some owners to be helpful. Remember to check with your vet before giving any remedies to you dog, they may not work and could be harmful.
It is essential for everyone’s safety that your dog is restrained while travelling in the car. It is also required by law and most insurance companies that pets are properly restrained. Not only could a loose dog in the car distract the driver, but could injure both themselves and passengers in the event of an accident. Make sure they can’t put their head out the window.
You have three options, either a secured carrier or crate, a harness with seat belt attachment or a guard that keeps your dog enclosed in the boot.
There are pros and cons of the various options and it comes down to how you and your dog prefer to travel. Many dogs like going in a crate, but they can be bulky and expensive. Harnesses that secure to the seatbelt are a safe way to travel, but some dogs may resent the restraint. A boot guard will keep you safe, but might not protect your dog as well. Very few products have been crash tested for pets but you will find some which have online at the Centre for Pet Safety.
We all know you should never leave your dog in the car on a warm day, but dogs can still get overheated while travelling on a hot day too. Remember they are wearing a full fur coat! Turn on the air conditioning and on long journeys take regular breaks so they can stretch their legs and offer water.