If you’re planning a long journey with your dog, perhaps to France or Spain, then help keep him relax with these tips from Jo Wriglesworth of pet behaviour and training company Pets in the City.
“Usually it isn’t the longer car journeys that cause problems, as motorways cause little movement in the car, it’s the shorter street journeys that are the problem and it’s usually an issue that starts in the first months of the puppy’s life.
The main reason that dogs get anxious in the car is that they didn’t learn to enjoy car rides as a puppy. Often a puppy’s first experiences of car travel are a long trip from the breeders and then trips to the vet where they might find the vaccination process rather stressful, so they don’t have good associations with the car.
Sometimes the puppy might feel travel sick, and sometimes it is just anxiety, or a combination of both. Although travelling in a metal crate is the safest way to transport your dog, in the back of the car the puppy might feel the movement more vigorously and so an anxious dog might feel better in a harness towards the front of the car.
You can prevent a puppy from becoming anxious about car travel by driving slowly around corners and taking the puppy out in the car for a few minutes each day on a journey that ends somewhere nice, such as a relative’s house where the puppy is played with when he arrives, or a nice place to walk if the puppy has had his vaccinations.
If you know that your dog is not good at travel and you have a road trip coming up you will need to start preparing at least a month in advance by gradually desensitising your dog to car travel. This means you will need to teach new and positive associations with getting into the car.
You could use food or play to teach your dog to relax in the car when the engine is not turned on, progressing to having the engine on while the car is stationary, to driving a few meters while somebody feeds or plays with the dog. This should take a few weeks, you can’t rush this training or you won’t be able to progress.
Spraying some dog appeasing pheromone (ADAPTIL) onto the dogs bedding before you put him in while you are training these good associations will help when you eventually take your longer journey. Also a study by Dr Deborah Wells of Queens University Belfast found that lavender had a positive effect on the behaviour of dogs during long car journeys. Dogs that were exposed to 16 ounces of lavender oil on a flannel cloth in the car they were traveling in barked less, moved around less and appeared to be more relaxed (Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association).”
About the author: Jo has a B.A in Psychology and an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University, and is a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.