Reluctant traveller? I once had a Labrador who was positively obsessed about getting in the car.  If any of the car doors were open, even just a crack, she would bulldoze her way in and sit bolt upright, tongue lolling as if to say, “right, where we going?!”.

But, there are many dogs who absolutely hate car journeys and this can pose a number of problems for owners and their pets particularly when they need to travel to veterinary or grooming appointments.  It can be disappointing and frustrating for an owner of a dog that runs and hides every time there is a need for an outing and limits the places that they can get out and about to with their four legged friend.

This Holidays 4 Dogs article will look at a few hints and tips that will help minimise anxieties that some dogs have about travelling in the car.

When you get a new puppy, it’s always a good idea to familiarise them with your vehicle from the offset.  Try and take your puppy on lots of short car journeys to new and different places.  If you only ever take the puppy in the car to the vet, it is quite possible that he will then associate the car journey with the dreaded vet visit and this is how some anxiety about car journeys can develop.

Dogs have concerns about car travel for many reasons – it could be they are afraid of the smell and noise of the car; they may associate the car with a bad experience such as being hurt inside the car due to not being restrained properly, they may associate the car with trips to the vet or the groomers, or they may feel physically sick and the association between this unpleasant feeling and the car can become ingrained even after the pup has grown out of the physical feeling of motion sickness.

Most young dogs do indeed grow out of motion sickness, but if your dog is constantly being sick during car rides, it might be an idea to speak to your vet about the possibility of medication to alleviate this.

There are also herbal remedies which may help with motion sickness – peppermint, ginger, fennel and dill are all reputed to help with motion sickness and can be given individually or in combination.

If you think your dog is fearful of the car, but is not suffering motion sickness there are few natural remedies for stress which you could also try.  Valerian is said to calm the anxious dog, as well as calming the stomach.  Skullcap and Passionflower remedies are also thought to act as a mild sedative.  All these natural remedies can be bought on-line via specialist canine natural health stores.

The nervous dog will generally pant, shake and drool – or all of these things.  A dog who gets into this state will need to be desensitized – subjecting your dog to long rides in the hope he will get over it, will probably only have the opposite effect.

A good tip is to feed some of your dog’s meals in the car while the car is stationary and to generally get used to being around the car when it is not moving – have your pup accompany you while you clean the car for instance – dropping treats now and then around the outside and inside of the car so he can investigate in his own time.  Make a little fuss of the dog, sprinkle some tasty treats for the dog to eat and gently close the door for a few seconds.  Then let the pup out of the car.  Do this for a few sessions and then next time start the car and leave it running while you feed the dog in the same way.  This is a useful desensitizing exercise for dogs that are already shy about being in the car.  If your dog shows any fear of the car – ignore it and only praise for calm behaviour.

You may need to be a bit of a detective and try and establish why your dog is fearful of the car – even down to checking any air fresheners you may have in the vehicle – lots of dogs are sensitive to such strong smells and this could well be a contributing factor to the dog’s anxiety.

It also makes a big difference if the dog feels physically stable in the car.  A dog that is in a position of being thrown around the car is both dangerous to the dog and very dangerous to you too.  A dog that is anxious or excitable in the car will have the opportunity to wind itself up further by bouncing or pacing from one part of the car to another.

Ideally, put the dog in a crate in the boot of the car.  Fill the crate with soft bedding and cover it with a blanket so that the dog can’t see out.  Alternatively, if you don’t have an estate car you can buy soft crates specifically for use on the back seat which can be secured by loops to the under part of the seat, or the seatbelt  – ideal for smaller breeds of dog.  Another idea is to use a harness which again, is specifically used for car travel and attaches to the seat belt.  This prevents too much movement from the dog and using lots of positive reinforcement it is relatively easy to get young dogs to accept this travel arrangement.

Teaching young puppies to be accepting of car travel – if done carefully – is usually successful, but for older dogs who already have a fear of cars and travelling in them, you will need to begin as you would with a pup – feeding the dog in the car and gradually progressing to the car running, then moving and by using positive reinforcement techniques.  Once you are able to, take short journeys and ensure that you provide lots of fun once you get there!  This way the dog will begin to associate the car with the prospect of something nice.

As with any training don’t expect your dog to get used to the car over night as it may well take several days or weeks to achieve your goal.  With patience however you will begin to see improvement and your dog should begin to relax more.  It is so much more pleasurable for you and your dog to be able to travel to different and interesting places where you have more opportunity to socialise you pet, especially important with puppies.

Many of our Holidays 4 Dogs carers enjoy taking their guest dogs out and about giving them a really special canine holiday experience – subject to owner authorisation. If your dog has any specific issues or fears about car travel, please let your Holidays 4 Dogs carer know, even if your carer does not take your dog out, he or she will need to know how your dog will react in case of a vet visit.

Andrea Gordon