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Headed somewhere? Well, if it’s in a car and your pup is joining you – it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s true, a lot of dogs will be completely fine traveling via car, but others may need some help feeling more comfortable hanging out in a big tin can with wheels.
If your dog is barking, whining, slobbering more than usual, or throwing up, that most likely means they’re suffering from car anxiety. Don’t fret, there are a bunch of ways that will help your dog overcome their anxiety during car rides and turn into the perfect co-pilot. Well, minus directions. You’ll have to take the reins on that one.
Help Your Dog Feel Comfortable in the Car
Whether your dog has had bad experiences with cars or is easily triggered by motion sickness, they may not be comfortable in the car. And for now, know that it’s completely fine to start somewhere, wherever that may be for you and your pup.
Making your dog comfortable riding in the car is all about providing reassurance and moving at the pace they choose. Through trial and error, some of these options may make them feel safer being in the car.
Desensitization & Counter-conditioning:
Desensitization is a process in which you start exposing your dog to the stimulus they are having a bad reaction to (very slow at first). Counter-conditioning is training them to have a different reaction than the one they’re having. For your dog to successfully change its behavior, desensitization and counter-conditioning have to go hand and hand.
Some ways to desensitize and counter-condition:
Every time they do something right, or even at any stage of desensitizing give them a treat, or something you give them when they’re being good. Dogs learn overtime that rewarding means they’ve done something good, so they’ll keep doing it, and before they even know it – they’re taking road trips with you all the time.
Being present and paying attention to the exact moment their calmness turns to panic could be a huge help. Maybe it’s the car engine turns on, or the car door slamming shut. Once you know the trigger, you can hone in on that precise moment to reduce the anxiety. The key here is starting slowly. If you turn the engine on and your dog starts to panic, turn it off and wait for them to calm down. Next time you turn on the engine, try giving them a treat or their favorite toy. If they enter the car and they start to show symptoms of anxiety, take them out, let them cool off, and try again.
Your main goal is to help them learn that being in the car = fun and safe.
Desensitization and counter-conditioning aren’t always easy. In fact, it’s going to test your patience at times when you just need to get in the car and go. However, it’s important to move at your pupper’s comfortable pace to successfully make progress. They’ll be co-pilot when they’re ready.
Help Your Dog to Enjoy Riding in the Car
There’s a big difference between your dog tolerating a car ride vs actually enjoying it. Once you get them over this hump, the world is your oyster.
If your doggo is at the point where they aren’t devastated to be in the car, but they aren’t afraid, it’s good to start making trips fun. That’s right, fun. Once your dog’s in the car, try going on short trips to places they enjoy – like the park, for instance. Your pup will not only be grateful for some fun doggy time, but they’ll eventually start thinking of the car as a vessel for fun as you increase the distance.
If you really want to teach your dog to enjoy the car, try bringing their bed and favorite toys with them. Having their scent and comfort items around will make the car feel more like a second home, rather than a foreign spaceship. Turn on some classical music and let them know with your words that they’re doing a great job – it goes a long way.
Help Your Dog Prevent Motion Sickness
Barking and whimpering aren’t the only signs your dog is having a bad time in the car. For some dogs, motion sickness comes in hot. To prevent this from happening, it may be good to crack the windows to keep fresh air in the car and to make sure your dog has exercised 10-30 minutes before your car trip.
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