By Dr. Parker T. Barker
I love my sister, Peanut, but sometimes she makes me crazy. Some dogs don’t like getting in the car. She gets in fine but she hates, absolutely hates, riding in the car on the highway. Regular city roads are just fine and she is an excellent navigator with two paws firmly on the center armrest and eyes going left and right to warn Mom of any problems that might come up. But if she sees a sign that says I-95, she panics. And I don’t think it is just a girl thing. Alonzo at the dog park doesn’t like cars or the highway either.
So, what can you do if you have a puppy that is afraid of getting in the car and going for rides?
You have to make going for rides fun, that’s what. And you have to make them not scary too.
Start small. Let your new puppy eat in the car for a couple of days with the engine running. This will get them acclimated to the noise of the car which is very different from what they are used to. Next, just take the newspaper or your book and sit in the back of the car reading with the doors open. Invite your pup to join you and just sit there together.
You can follow this up by putting their bed in the back so they don’t slide around on the upholstery. Upholstery is worse than wood floors – you just slide from side to side and that can be really unsettling to someone who isn’t used to it. Begin with a trip down the driveway and back. Then down to the end of the block and back. You get where this is going? Small steps. Or more accurately, small rides. If your pet is happy in their crate, you can try putting that in the back of your car and letting them stay in there. It is a place where they feel safe and that feeling should transfer from the house to the car. Some dogs just like to look out the windows and take in all the smells, but for me, I bark at all the other dogs I see for a while and then I go to sleep. Waiting for the fun to happen.
Now, if your pup gets so nervous, they get car sick, you should try ginger snaps. I hear they are really good at calming an upset tummy. Plus they are just really good period. Or your Vet might prescribe something stronger to take the edge off. Because not riding in the car is just so limiting for both you and your pet. There are so many fun places to go and you are going to need a car to get there.
If you are lucky enough to have adopted a dog, they may have “baggage” that comes with them which is making them anxious about the car. This is harder to fix as you really don’t know what you are dealing with. But the same basic principles apply. Make your car safe and secure, don’t drive fast, don’t hit the brakes hard (unless you have too) and try and make each trip end in a great place – like McDonalds.
No matter where you find yourself on the “I’m not lovin’ car rides” continuum, you should have a chat with your Vet about their suggestions. And if all car rides were to end up at McDonalds, they wouldn’t have to worry about re-creating their brand at all. This could save them millions, even billions. I think in my next life I’ll be a marketing guru. At McDonalds.
Dr. Parker T. Barker received his doctorate in Squirrel Chasing and Hoovering from the University of Hartford, CT Rescue Center. He lives on Lady’s Island with his sister, Peanut and their great Mom. Prof. Percy Pussycat is a trained animal behaviourist and received his degree from the Canine and Cat Institute in London. He lives in Shell Point with his brother, Harley and devoted human family.