Canine Car Sickness – A Common Problem
I saw clients this week who thanked me for helping them with their dog Simon who when young suffered from car sickness. Sadly Simon recently passed away from old age. I had seen him when he was a young dog (about 1 years old) and the owners could not take him anywhere in a car. The poor dog would arrive to my dog class looking rather ill and he certainly didn’t want to take any treats or do any training. When the owners put Simon in the back of the car, he would start pacing back and forth and then start whining. Many times he would start drooling which was usually followed by vomiting. They had tried holding him, giving him Rescue Remedy and even putting him in a crate with a blanket over it for darkness but nothing seemed to work. I explained to the owners that there was still hope. In my experience, many times a good dose of counter conditioning can do the trick.
I instructed the owners to go to the pet store and get a really tasty bone, pig’s ear or bully stick. The treat needs to be consumed in about 5-10 minutes (this is why pigs ears seem to work great). The next morning take Simon down to the car and put him in the back. Give him the pig’s ear and then go and sit in the driver’s seat. Don’t start the car engine. Stay there, listen to the radio, read the newspaper and have your morning coffee. After about 10 minutes, take Simon out of the car and bring him back inside the house. Repeat this for the next 5 mornings. On the 6th morning bring Simon into the back of the car, however this time start the car engine. Don’t drive anywhere—just relax and enjoy your morning coffee for those 10 minutes. Repeat this for another 5 days, taking him back to the house each time. At no time should Simon look ill or start to pace and whine. Simon should get excited when he knows he is going to the car. After these 5 days, it is time to take Simon for a quick drive. Again, put him in the back of the car, give him his treat and then start the car. Now drive no more then 1 minute to your destination. This place must be fun for Simon. Take him to the dog park, the beach, his favorite pet store or even get him out of the car for a walk. The trick is for Simon to begin to realize that the car is access to his most fun things.
Shortly thereafter Simon loved going with his owners on car rides and he was able to travel long distances happily. I have used this technique for years and it usually seems to work remarkably well.
I have even used it to help one client’s dog get over helicopter sickness. He hated to go anywhere in the owner’s helicopter!