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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Car rides and up~chucks, gotta love 'em!

Hurricane and Tuono
Picture it: The sound of cool tunes filtering through your ears, the warm 60 degree breeze streams through the open window as you travel through the back hills to no place in particular, which is followed by the smell of fresh cut lawns and newly sprung flowers waking up your nostrils after a long cold winter. Two more minutes and you’d be seeing yourself single in the fast and easy lane with no in laws! Then it all comes to a screeching halt as a sound from the back seat smacks you back into reality and you hear these words or similar from the person you forgot was with you!

What’s that sound?”

“What sound?”

“Honey, pull the car over!”

“What’s the matter?”

“Emma’s gonna be sick!”

Awwck, awwck, awwwwck! ~ thar she blows!

Grab the paper towels, the plastic bags, the hazmat gear and get ready for a parking lot full of people to be staring at you as the dog is pulled out of the car and your significant other walks into the convince store to buy a bottle of water and some Lysol to further wash the stench from the seat before that long journey home, which let’s face it, might only be 20 minutes, but still pure torture for the dog.

Ah, the dreaded car ride with a dog that constantly gets car sick. How much fun is that? Is there a way to prevent it? And why do humans open the car window to give the dog fresh air?  Have you ever smelled the air driving through Jersey?

Well actually, air quality has nothing to do with the dogs stomach upset but the balance of air pressure might, so if you open the window, open more than one to balance the air pressure inside the car.  Most people tend to open the window where the dog is sitting which can create more of an unbalance in pressure, so opening two windows just a couple of inches might help. 

Motion sickness happens mostly with pups because their ear structure for balance is not fully developed. When you plop a pup in a car and sickness occurs because of it, then that may be what your pup will associate each car ride with.

Do you remember how you threw up after that roller coaster ride? Did you ever want to get on another one after that? It’s pretty similar, bad memories stay with us for a while.

Also if the only time you take your dog for a car ride is for vet appointments then that can create an anxiety which he will associate with the car as well.

In most cases as the pup grows and the ears develop they stop being ill and all is well with the world. But, if illness is associated with the car and remembered by the pup, well let’s face it, he doesn’t know the inside of his ears are now fully formed, he just associates the car with puking and he may never grow out of that.  

Don’t dismay though, there may be a way to get Fido used to the car again.

What to do, what to do?

Option 1) You can strap Fido in the front seat with blinders on, and a puke bag around his neck. (That’s what mom and dad did to me, well minus the blinders, and the seat belt!) But of course then you run the risk of getting a ticket for allowing the dog to ride in the front seat. 

Option 2) You can take the time to train Fido to see that, car = ride = fun!
I once worked with a customer at her home and the dog riding in the car was a big problem, among other things!  I showed her what to do, but my last visit with her proved to me she was not practicing as the dog ran from the car when she opened the door.

Hey, I didn’t say training would be short and sweet! It can take weeks to get a dog used to riding in the car without being fearful or getting ill. These weeks of training are seen as precious time that some owners just don’t want to invest in, but they are the first to complain when they can’t get Fido into the car for a vet visit.

Once the dog has grown, it is not likely that the guardrail whizzing by the window is what makes the dog sick as it does a human with bad equilibrium. In most cases it is the nervousness the dog feels at being in an environment he is not used to, or remembers as being unpleasant.

The different sounds your tires make when they hit the road, the loud noise of traffic, the radio, the horn honking, and your spouse’s bad driving (ride the ass , step on  brake, ride the ass, step on  break. You know, we’ve all been there!) Any of this can make a dog nervous enough to make him sick.

People might offer up the advice to give the dog rescue remedy, and while it may work for some, I found it to be nothing more than crap in a bottle and an expensive one at that! But I can’t tell you to rule it out either, that’s just my own experience.

In a few cases it may be motion sickness and for those long drives you may want to talk to your vet about Dramamine.
Giving ginger may also help as it is good for stomach upset due to motion sickness. So keep a few ginger snap cookies in the car.

However your goal here is to make the car ride enjoyable for the dog, so for each successful step you want to praise and reward the dog. By success I mean that the dog is not showing fear, if you reward at a time he is acting scared then you are rewarding the scared behavior. Take your time and wait for him to be calm then reward him. Otherwise, ignore the scared behavior.  Sometimes changing the car can help as well because the dog may associate a negative with one car but not with another.

Change up the routine each time you are to train. Dogs learn our routines very well and you don’t want the dog acting scared before it even gets to the car. They know when we pack we are leaving, when we pick up our keys we are leaving, we put on a jacket and when we pile a load of crap in the car before a trip, etc.  Your dog is more keyed into your routine than you are! We should all be that observant!

Every training step you take will be done several times throughout the day and in short increments, gradually extending the time.

Step 1
Walk around the outside of the car, don’t open the door or go in. Then head out for a short pleasant walk and upon returning to the house walk around the car again and then go into the house. Gradually you will walk around the car longer, open and close the door but never go in the car. When you open and close the door you should be grabbing a treat so that the dog believes good things come from the car. You can wait a bit until through the corner of your eye you see the dog is calm and give it to him then, or you can kind of discreetly brush it out of the car and onto the ground as long as the dog sees it as coming from the car. He may not take it at first and that is fine.  The treat may sit on the ground a day or more before he’ll take it.
Step 2
Put the dog in the car, but don’t start it. Keep the sessions short and do them throughout the day.
Step 3
Put the dog in the car and start it, don’t go anywhere, just let it run.

Step 4
Start the car and turn the radio on low and eventually add the wipers and the blinker as they make sound as well.

Step 5
Start the car and go down the driveway and return, unless of course you live in the country and your driveway is a mile long, then you just want to back the car up a little bit and then pull forward.

Step 6
Start the car; go up the block and back.

Gradually you will go farther and farther. Keep in mind that the pavement of the road is sometimes different. On some roads there are noise making ridges off to the side that wake sleeping truckers up before they pound into the guardrail, and it is a good idea to hit one of them (a ridge, not the trucker) briefly with each trip so the dog gets used to it.

Try to find heavier traffic areas and make a quick entrance and exit off of them. A tractor trailer can make quite the noise as it passes and if you can stop on the side of the road where you would be at a slight distance from these trucks such as an off ramp or rest stop it may help the dog to adjust to the noise without that close up and personal, right on the side of you feel! 

Tunnels are a difficult place for your dog to handle as well because the sound echoes, so close the windows, turn the radio up just a bit so the sound of the cars and trucks don’t seem so loud.

In some cases dogs feel safer in a crate, which is also the safest way to have your pet travel, and covering some of the opening with a towel can also help.  Obviously you would not do this on a hot day when the sun is glaring through the window of the car, as you will want air flow to keep the dog from overheating. If the dog feels trapped and anxious in a crate then try a seatbelt for dogs.

Keep plastic over the seat for easy clean up, that’s a no brainer!
Always end up in a place where you plan to have fun with the dog immediately after you arrive during training. You want the dog to associate fun things happening at the end of the car journey.

Ginger dosing  
Dramamine: info and dosing .

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