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Problems with driving, motion sickness or fear of driving?

Driving a car is something that some dogs have no problems with, while others experience great discomfort, stress or nausea. If you have a dog that panted, whined, became stressed, vomited or got diarrhoea when driving, keep reading! There are two main reasons why dogs experience discomfort or nausea when driving: 1. Motion sickness The dog gets motion sickness from driving because of movements that affect the sense of balance. This is most common in puppies/young dogs where the balance organ is not fully developed and can often diminish with age. Like humans, carsick dogs are most affected when it is bumpy/swollen and may become agitated, drool and vomit. 2. Fear of driving By far the most common cause of discomfort when driving, fear is unfortunately often mistaken for motion sickness. These dogs can also become nauseous, drool and vomit and are often anxious and panting for most of the journey. In severe cases, they may even urinate and defecate during the drive. This fear does not grow away on its own and requires regular training. A car-shy dog may often shy away from getting into the car, may sit and shiver and be reluctant to accept treats. Often motion sickness and car fear are not completely separate and one can lead to the other. For example, a puppy who has been repeatedly carsick may have a lingering fear of driving even if the nausea has subsided. What can you do to make your dog feel better in the car? It is very common for pet owners to turn to vets for anti-nausea medication or sedatives to help their dogs cope with driving. It is not necessarily wrong to use medicines (especially in cases where there is a risk ofbut for a car-anxious dog, training is necessary for long-term improvement. How you can train away car fear! The brain is at its most adaptable at a young age so don't forget car training when training your puppy. The following method applies to both puppies and adult dogs who experience discomfort when driving. Remember to progress slowly and not move on to the next step until the dog has mastered the previous one, this can take weeks to months. 1. Start by getting the dog used to being around the car: ask the dog to sit next to the car in different places and reward with praise and treats when it sits. Repeat this until the dog is completely relaxed and happy when around the car. 2. Have the car turned off and ask the dog to get into the car. Reward both when the dog jumps in and when it lies relaxed in the car. You can also sit together in the car and "just be", rewarding when the dog is calm. Increase the dog's time in the car by a few minutes at a time. Repeat this many times until the dog is relaxed about lying/sitting quietly in the car. 3. Start the engine without driving anywhere. Repeat the above exercise with the engine running. Reward when the dog stays calm even when the engine is started. 4. Drive a few metres and reward if the dog remains calm. If the dog becomes stressed as soon as the car is moving, go back to the previous points. Gradually increase the length of the run by a few metres to a few minutes at a time. You should avoid driving with the dog during the training period as unpleasant experiences of driving will cause the dog to back off in training and the confidence that the dog has started to build up may be eroded. It is important that the dog associates driving with fun activities, under point 4 should you should therefore drive short distances and reward the dog by letting it go out and play (tug-of-war, frisbee, ball, etc.). Drive a bit further and repeat. Once the dog is used to longer distances, you can go to dog rest areas where the dog is allowed to play or other goals that are perceived as positive. When the dog is in the beginning stages of riding in the car, try to make sure that the majority of car rides are to a fun place!
Other measures that can reduce nausea/discomfort:
  • Avoid feeding the dog in the last 3-4 hours before the car journey, as recent eating increases the risk of nausea.
  • Keep a cool temperature in the car, heat and stagnant air increase the risk of nausea.
  • To be able to see the surroundings or not: what works best varies between individuals. If the dog seems calmer/less nauseous if allowed to see out, consider a car seat harness instead of a cage in the trunk.
  • Some dogs react to flickering light that can occur when the sun shines through trees on the side of the road. In this case, it may help to put up shade screens on the car window or try to delay the car journey until dusk.
  • Make route choices based on the dog: try to observe and get to know your dog's weaknesses. Depending on whether it is winding roads or high speed that stresses the dog, you can make route choices based on this. Drive as smoothly as you can.

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