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Most dogs love to ride in the car and can’t wait for the invitation to jump in and go anywhere.
I have recently had numerous clients having difficulty with their whining, vomiting, or dogs drooling in the car.
Because this has been coming up recently, I thought I would give some insight into why this happens and some tips as to how to help our buddies travel with us without the dreaded tummy trouble.
I am working with a dog, Bucky, who starts to drool when he even approaches a car and refuses to get in completely. This causes stress not only to him but to his owners who want to enjoy trips to the park.
What causes motion sickness?
To begin, we have to understand what causes motion sickness. A dog getting car sick in the car is very similar to humans.
Motion sickness is caused by stimulation of the ear’s vestibular system, which is how we maintain our balance and equilibrium. Once a dog has felt this terrible feeling, just entering a car can trigger a feeling of anxiety.
I am going to give some tips to help your dog cope with motion sickness and relieve some of the stress and anxiety that might arise after your dog has experienced feeling nauseous in the car.
Puppies seem to feel car sickness more often than adult dogs because their inner ear is not completely developed yet, but I have had adult dogs that get car sick as well and then do not want to enter a car at all.
Signs your dog is having motion sickness:
There are many ways your dog might express not feeling well, here are a few of the most common to look for:
- Hesitation when getting in the car
- Excessive drooling
- Not willing to lay down
- Not wanting to take food
All of the behaviors mentioned above are out of the dog’s control and completely involuntary.
What we need to get started:
When addressing something like car sickness, we need to keep in mind that the dog has no control over this and is not misbehaving in any way.
What we need to do is help them overcome the fear and stress related to what is happening to them.
We can work with the dog behaviorally and use some natural remedies that may help to relieve some of the physical symptoms.
Behavioral Modification Technique:
To begin, we can work with the dog to help them relearn their car experience.
I have clients whose dogs are afraid of the car and because there are times there is no choice but to put their dogs in the car, they resort to just picking them up and putting them in.
This takes away the dog’s feeling of control over the situation and reinforces their fear.
Tools and supplies you will need:
To work with our dogs, we will need training treats. Not all dogs will be comfortable enough to take a treat and some may like a favorite toy.
Some ideas would be small bits of cheese, chicken, or bacon.
QUICK TRAINER TIP: If you are looking for a good training treat I like Cloud Star Tricky Trainers Dog Treats.
These treats come in small bits and multiple flavors depending on what your dog likes.
I categorize treats based on their value. A high-value treat would be something special and particularly yummy. A low-value treat would be something more like plain chicken or a piece of kibble.
Here are more examples:
- Low Value – A piece of kibble.
- Medium Value – Cloud Star Tricky Trainers Dog Treats
- High Value – A piece of bacon or steak.
For working with this difficult task, I suggest using a high-value treat.
Reconditioning the car step-by-step:
We are going to take our time and recondition the car for our dog. To begin, we never force the dog into the car and are working to give them back control over the experience.
Step 1: Bring the dog to the car
Take the dog to the car and see if the dog will jump into the car on their own. We do this by using a leash and collar and leading the dog to the open door of the car.
QUICK TRAINER TIP: My friend Colby recommends the Multifunctional Service Dog Leash which he likes to use with his service dogs. I recommend a Martingale Training collar when doing any training with your dog.
If the dog will not get into the car on their own, sit in the car yourself and give treats to the dog on the outside of the car.
Do this repeatedly until the dog is comfortable putting their feet up on the seat and slowly work through this until the dog leans into the car and gets a treat from you.
Step 2: Teach your dog the “load up” command
When the dog puts their feet onto the seat and takes treats, call the dog while you are inside the car and give them a command to jump in. I like to use the command “load up”.
SERVICE DOG TIP: One of the service dog schools that Colby volunteers at uses the command “Car” to tell a dog to jump into the car. Here’s a list of other service dog commands Colby has learned over the years.
At this point, if the dog is not committing to jumping in all the way, it is helpful to walk the dog up to the car and get some momentum as you lead them to the door and tell them to “load up”
Step 3: Getting your dog to get in and out on their own
Once the dog will get into the car on their own it is important to let them jump in and out at their will so they feel like they have control over the experience and no one will “trap” them in the car or force them into the car.
Be sure to give them a lot of treats and praise as they jump into the car on their own.
In this stage, it is also important to slowly move the door closed and then open it again so the dog gets used to the routine of jumping into the car and the door closing.
Step 4: Starting and moving the car
Now that the dog is comfortable jumping in and out of the car on their own and having the door closed, it is time to turn the car on and move the car slowly.
At this point we want the dog to get comfortable with the movement of the car without feeling stress or anxiety.
We do this by moving the car forward and back slowly and in short intervals.
The dog should be given a lot of praise, treats, or toys while the car is in motion and then allowed to exit the car when it stops.
Continue this series of behaviors until the dog seems comfortable enough to take a little longer of a drive.
PRO TRAINER TIP: I have found in my reconditioning of the car training, it is sometimes helpful to have another dog in the car that enjoys rides. This sets an example for your dog and can also give them comfort.
- Your dog might pant, drool, and refuse to even go near the car. If your dog is feeling queasy just getting near the car, this might be a good place to use a special toy your dog enjoys instead of treats. Bucky, who I mentioned above, ultimately jumped into the car to fetch his toy. Later in his training, he was able to take treats when his tummy was no longer bothering him.
- Another issue that might arise is your dog not wanting to enter the door that you have chosen. It is important to offer other ways to enter the vehicle because your dog might be more comfortable getting in a larger or different door that they have used before.
QUICK RECOMMENDATION: Speaking of “special toys”, one that Colby recommends for dogs with anxiety is the Calmeroos Puppy Heartbeat Toy with Heatpacks.
Natural remedies that might also help with car sickness:
There are a few other options to help your dog deal with motion sickness. It is always best to check with your vet before giving your dog anything they have not had before.
I also make sure that there is a comfortable and secure place for your dog to ride in the car and it helps to have a window slightly open.
I have clients who use The American Kennel Club’s pet booster seat. This seems to help some dogs feel stable in the car and keeps them from sliding around.
Some dogs benefit from calming herbs like ginger before they take a car ride. I have also used Rescue Remedy Drops and Sprays that help some dogs feel calmer while in the car.
There are many different types of natural remedies that can be used and you might need to experiment with your dog.
I recommend using them alone at first and then trying them in combination and see if there is something that works specifically for your dog.
Supplies We Recommended:
I am giving you a quick reference to the supplies we recommend when you start to train this behavior:
- Cloud Star Tricky Trainers Dog Treats
- Multifunctional Service Dog Leash
- Dog Bed
- Martingale Training Collar
- Rescue Remedy Drops and Sprays
- The American Kennel Club’s pet booster seat
Rapid Fire Questions:
Does it matter if I feed my dog before I take them in the car?
I recommend not feeding your dog an hour or two before you take them in the car. If they have an empty stomach, it might help keep their tummy from getting nauseated and they might be more enticed by their yummy treats. It will also be less of a mess if they do vomit.
What over-the-counter medications can I give my dog for motion sickness?
I always tell my clients to check with their vet before giving any over-the-counter medications to their dogs. Your vet might also have something they could suggest you use instead.
The most commonly recommended over-the-counter medications are anti-vomiting medications such as Maropitant citrate, which is safe for puppies over 8 weeks old, says Dr. Natalie Marks, a veterinarian at VCA Blum Animal Hospital.
Antihistamine medications such as Benadryl, Dramamine, or Meclizine can also be used to help with car sickness.
These medications sometimes cause the dog to be a little drowsy.
Motion sickness in dogs can be both emotional and physical.
It is important to address the dog as a whole and learn how we can help them regain control over their situation and their experience.
A lot of this comes from the trust they have in us to help them get comfortable in the car.
My client Bucky only jumped into the car once he trusted us and believed we would not grab him and shut him in against his will.
If the dog’s reaction is purely physical, many will outgrow their motion sickness.
It’s when the physical feelings then have an emotional impact that it becomes more complicated and we have to work harder to find a solution that works for that individual dog.
Are your dogs drooling in the car?
If so, what do you do to try and stop the drooling?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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