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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dogs & Cars - Get your dog used to car rides


Does your dog go into automatic panic when you put him in your car? Does he whine, cry, drool, vomit, or try to crawl underneath the seat? Do you need to use Acepromazine every time you even think about taking the dog to his annual veterinary appointment?
If so, you're not alone.
Many dogs are afraid of the car. There is something to be said for motion sickness. But it is more likely that their fear is based in negative association or the unknown. The car is scary because it is not a common every day occurrence. What makes the joyride even worse is that it can be associated with going to the groomer, kennel, or vet. In a dog's mind those may not happy places.

Starting early is best, but even an older dog can learn a new love of mobility. All you have to do is make the car a pleasant and routine thing in your dog's life.
To break your dog's habit of thinking every car ride ends in vaccines or baths is not hard and won't take more than a couple minutes a day. As often as you can, try to take the dog into the car. And start by not going anywhere.
Find a few moments here and there that you normally spend at your kitchen table or on the couch that you can just as easily spend in your car. The next time you have a shopping list to write or some calls to return on your cell phone, try sitting in the car to do it, and bring the dog with you. Writing out a few bills, balancing your check book, and reading a book or magazine are just a few examples of things you could do sitting in your car for just a couple minutes with the dog.


After a few weeks of daily little visits in the car, your dog might start to let go of his anxiety. Since dogs are creatures of habit, he might even start running for the car when he sees you pickup the newspaper, or the mail, or your check book. He might even start to look forward to the time you spend together there.
Once your dog is better about being in the car, the next step is to try to ease his fear of the car actually moving.

Take your dog on short trips, especially ones where you don't have to get out of the car. A quick drive to pick up your kids at school or scouts or anyplace you go where you utilize the drive-thru window like the bank, pharmacy, or fast food joint are all great for starters.
This idea is making sense now, isn't it. Slowly build an association for your dog with the car that is positive and simple. Once you can make it through Dunkin Donuts without your dog having any issues, you're ready to take him along on some short errands. I am stressing that these starters be short, like the dry cleaner, Blockbuster, or the post office. These should be trips where you aren't leaving him alone in the car, please ask a family member or friend to join you.

If you don't want to leave him alone in the car even for just a few minutes while you run into Pizza Hut for your to-go order, see if you can bring along someone to wait in the car with the dog. The exercise of the car being shut down and your leaving him briefly is a useful step in nurturing the Dog - Car Relationship.
Don't forget that positive reinforcement is always the best way to teach a dog. Lots of pats and praise for his good behavior will go a long way. A dog treat he can associate with having had some "good car time" might help if used correctly. Punishing his less than stellar behavior is only going to reinforce the anxiety.
It may take some months of newspaper reading in the driveway and errand running around town, but eventually you really will be able to see an improvement in your dog's fear of the car.


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