DEAR DIDI: My standard poodle is six months old. We think he is almost perfect in every way but one. We own our own company and we want to be able to take him to work with us. We would love for him to participate in several fun dog sports. He loves people, enjoys toys, and is an all-around fun loving dog. However, there is one huge obstacle to all of the above. He gets carsick! He wants to get in the car and he is happy once we get somewhere but the getting there is so miserable we dread taking him. -Stockton Dog Mom
DEAR DOG MOM: I feel your pain! There is nothing worse than the smell in a sealed car, damage to the carpets and seats, and trying to figure out how to clean up while on the road. Then we also wrestle with the emotions of being angry and frustrated with dog while also feeling very sorry for him. Your veterinarian can, of course, recommend anti-nausea and motion sickness prescriptions if you must go on a necessary extended trip soon. No one wants to medicate their dog every day for basic car rides to work and running errands. So the reality is that the dog ends up being left at home.
Your boy is only six months old so there is a chance he will grow out of the issue but we don’t want to wait for that just in case. Take a look at mitigating factors that might have an effect on tummy queasiness. Does he do it in all cars or is there a particular vehicle in the family that gives him more of an issue? Does he eat before going in a car or does he have an empty tummy so stomach acids get the best of him? Does he do better riding in a crate to limit all the objects “whizzing by”? How long has it taken him from the start of a ride to get sick? Is it about the speed you travel or corners you turn? Some dogs do better riding in the passenger seat for a while. I recommend anchoring him with a seat belt or leash so he can’t jump in your lap suddenly if he is riding in the front seat. Does he need air blowing so he doesn’t feel the car is stuffy? If you have leather seats try covering them with a rubber back bathroom rug so he doesn’t feel he is sliding around on turns. After you have addressed some of the above factors we begin a systematic desensitization program.
Desensitizing stimuli is the slowest form of training I can think of. It is super effective as long as the human doesn’t push ANY of the steps too fast. Patience is the absolute key here. Put the poodle in your car and start the engine. Use happy words and tones of voice always. You can even choose an extra special treat that he will only get while doing this homework so that he looks forward to it. The treat should be high value and something he can chew and swallow quickly. Not milk bones. If he shows any signs of stress or anxiety when the engine starts, such as, hunkering down in the seat, yawning, shivering, turn the engine off. Praise him thoroughly and give him a treat. Unload out of the car and happily go in the house. “Ride is over!” If he doesn’t show any stress and is looking out the car window happily, then put your car in reverse. Slowly back down the driveway and then go back up the driveway and park. Stop here. Do this every day but don’t push the limits. A week later maybe try driving three to four houses down the street and then go home. Slowly increase your distance and amount of time in the car based on his physical cues. Never push this to the point of exhibiting signs of stress. Always make it exciting and fun! Good luck. Email me if you need more detail.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.