Woof! Why are so many dog people talking lately about difficulties with dogs riding in cars? I don’t have statistics, but I’d be curious if the ratio of dogs with car sickness is similar to that of humans. I do know that life is not fun with a dog who is unhappy riding in a car. Everyone wants to go places with their pups and take rode trips and have Mocha jump happily into the SUV!
Is motion sickness the problem? Is it anxiety? Maybe one or maybe both. It is often difficult to separate the two. If I were nauseous every time I went for a ride, it would make me anxious. If I wasn’t used to riding in the minivan, I might have an upset stomach.
So let’s try desensitization and counterconditioning first. Your dog doesn’t want to get in the car at all? Pick up your hungry little pooch and put him in the back seat and give a treat, then let him out. (Yes, the back seat is safer, just like with kids.) Leash up a large dog and encourage going in the back seat, perhaps throwing treats on the floor first. Name it: “up we go” or “in the car.” Lead out of the car: “OK! Yay, Luna! Good girl!” You should open the opposite car door, too, so Luna doesn’t think she’s jumping into a big black hole. Leave the doors wide open at the beginning. Three or four trials then break for the morning. Try again at dinner. Use amazing treats Luna doesn’t normally get, like hot dogs or turkey breast or cheddar. When Luna readily jumps in or little Maltese Scooby gets all excited to be lifted into the car, you’re ready to move on.
Using a tether or crate or booster seat in your car? You need to. Choose the most suitable, but your dog should not be a projectile. Dogs’ motion sickness isn’t helped by running around the seat. If your pup is super nervous about the car, you may need a human lap in the back seat AT FIRST, but you need to fade that as soon as possible. Of course we have to work at the puppy’s pace, so don’t rush the process, but perhaps Scooby is ready to be in his crate in the car while you sit in the driver’s seat without the engine on. Hang out but be sure to treat and quit before he gets anxious; always quit while you’re ahead. You want to give treats for calm not anxiety. Scooby might whine or bark or shake–too late. And there is also anxiety without symptoms, so you must work for only short periods of a few minutes.
Next: try the engine on. Turn it off again. Sit for a few minutes, scrolling your phone if you like. All still good? Turn on the engine again. Treat while it’s running. Engine off–you both get out. End of session. Later try going around the block. Then try to the nearest park: reward! “I got in the scary monster and got to go sniff!” If the only association your dog has with the car is the vet, you will have a problem. Build slowly–but you can do a few repetitions each day so progress can occur fairly quickly.
Is your pup vomiting in the car? No rides on a full belly, first of all. You might try giving her something with ginger about an hour before the car ride, too–there are dog biscuits with ginger, or she might do well even on a human gingersnap. Sometimes that is all a dog needs! Magic. Your vet can also recommend acid-reducing, over-the-counter human drugs to counteract the stomach acid. And if Mocha has a really upset stomach every time, you may need just a few rounds of a stronger medication so she loses the physical connection between cars and feeling so sick to her stomach.
If you have a new puppy who is hardly familiar with the car, start him off on the right paw. You can feed meals in the car, giving a bunch of kibble often so he is completely comfortable. What a nice association! “I’m in this cozy box with my favorite humans and I get takeout!” You probably need to try short rides first before taking that out-of-state road trip.
If you don’t rush your dog, if you sound fun and encouraging, if you don’t force him into anything he’s not ready for, you will soon be happily cruising down the road. With your dog’s head INSIDE the car. Crack the windows, but remember that dogs will JUMP out of a car and do, and vets have stories about dogs getting debris in their eyes while their head is out the window.
Good luck! Need help?