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Even before the pandemic, travel by car with the family pet has been on the rise. With each passing year more people want all family members to join in on road trips. Now with increased pet adoption numbers combined with the increased need to safely get-away, pet travel by car has skyrocketed according to many surveys, including one by Kurgo.com. According to their survey 56 percent of dog parents have driven somewhere to get-away with a dog over the past year.
However, has anyone asked the dogs how they feel regarding these road trips?
Certainly, all dogs want to be with us. But they don’t all clearly love car rides. Some are anxious/fearful about being in the moving vehicle, others get car sick, and others are anxious – at least in part because they know they’re going to get sick.
For dogs who get car sick, don’t feed them before the ride. And ask your veterinarian about anti-nausea medication.
However, for all dogs who suffer from fear of car rides – no matter what the reason is, behavior medication can be hugely helpful. And remember the idea is to set up your dog up for success. Here’s a six-step protocol:
- Begin by talking with your veterinarian about minimizing anxiety – whether the solution is a pharmaceutical and/or nutraceutical and/or pheromones, depends on the dog and the level of anxiety. However, getting a product on board can be helpful to facilitate learning. Tomlyn’s Relax & Calm could be a great start (see inset).
- Take your dog to the car and simply toss a favorite toy or treats onto the back seat. Don’t think about starting the car, though you can get into the car as if you may start it. The idea is that the car becomes a playground. Also, periodically take the food dish to the car, and feed your dog from inside the car or offer special treats; when finished eating simply return to the house where the dog gets another special treat, as good things always happen following an experience in the car.
- When the dog is totally comfortable playing in the car, the next step is to simply start the car and drive down the driveway and no further. Give the pup something to distract, such as a treat stuffed well inside a Kong or another toy. We don’t want the dog eating much now because if car sickness is an issue, exasperating that problem is that last thing you want. However, just a few licks of low-fat/low salt peanut butter, for example, aren’t enough to cause car sickness but will be enough to distract the pup. Upon walking back into the house, the dog gets fed, which will be a constant theme – good things happen after the dog is in the car.
- After a few days of driveway driving, drive down the block and then around the block. Same as above, distract with a very, very special treat. If the dog is too anxious to pay attention to the treat, you sadly need to back it up to step number two. Remember, upon returning home, the dog gets fed.
- Drive to a nearby dog-friendly destination, a park, a dog park, a pet store, a friend’s house with a favorite dog buddy – whatever your dog will enjoy and repeat this several times. Same as above, distract with a special treat during the drive, and upon returning home, the dog gets a meal.
- Finally, drive to a more ambitious location, further away, maybe for a 40 minute to one-hour drive. As before, leave a toy or two for the dog to work at getting a treat from. And as always, when returning home, the dog receives a meal.
This six—step process doesn’t happen overnight and could take weeks to months – depending on the dog and how often you’re able to follow the protocol. However, the behavior modification, likely paired with a product or products to ease anxiety can make all the difference in the world – turning an anxious journey into a pleasurable trip.
Tomlyn’s Relax & Calm is an easy-to-give and delicious chicken flavored chew. Two active ingredients, L-tryptophan and chamomile help promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Our third active ingredient, ginger, helps settle uneasy stomachs that often accompany stress in our pets.
Tomlyn’s Relax & Calm should be given two to three hours prior to a stressful event. Owners should give small dogs and cats 1 chew per 10 lbs. of body weight.