Q My 1-1/2-year-old miniature Australian shepherd gets car sick. I’ve tried Cerenia (a medication), holistic remedies, the Thundershirt, Dramamine and a pet-calming tablet. I’ve tried feeding the dog in the car and driving without feeding him. He gets anxious and starts to drool when he thinks we’re going for a ride. I’ve tried making a game of getting him into the van. No luck. We’ve tried to make all destinations a “happy place” and have even taken along another dog who doesn’t mind car rides. The thing is, despite his problem, we take our dog everywhere. Any advice?
– S.D., Cyberspace
A “You’ve certainly made a great effort,” says dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, host of “It’s Me or the Dog” on Animal Planet.
Cerenia is an excellent drug for motion sickness, and Dramamine also works. Consequently, the odds are this problem is not limited to the motion itself. Still, it’s not a bad idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure the following advice makes sense.
“First, let’s eliminate those pre-departure cues,” Stilwell says. Pretend you’re about to go for a car ride, but only go to the door. Repeat this move until your dog doesn’t seem to care anymore. Next, do the same, except this time, take your dog to the car and offer him a treat. Don’t open the car door to let your dog in. Again, repeat this maneuver until the pet isn’t bothered at all.
“We want to create a positive association with the car,” Stilwell says. “This may take a while because the dog is so upset about the car now. Once he’s happy to approach the car, open the door and toss special treats inside.”
At the same time, whenever your dog eats indoors, play a CD with music from Stilwell’s new Canine Noise Phobia Series (available at positively.com). Soon, he’ll associate the music with something very positive: dinner. Once he’s fine with jumping in the car and chewing on treats, play the same tune from the CD in the car, at first without turning on the engine.
The music is specifically designed to relax dogs and create a positive association between the music and dinner. You might also consider using a D.A.P. collar, which emits an analogue of a soothing pheromone.
Once your dog happily jumps in while you’re playing the calming CD, you can finally turn on the engine. However, go nowhere the first few times. Soon, you can drive someplace nearby that your dog enjoys, like a park. Or drive around the block and return home for dinner. Repeat this trip several times before you choose a different destination. “This is tedious because the fear is so deeply ingrained,” Stilwell says. “The more time you take, though, the more chances of success.”