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Teaching The Puppy To Be A Good Traveller
By Dr I Elizabeth Borgmann . Dogs are wonderful friends to us but if you don’t train them well at the start they can make lousy travel companions.
This happens because young dogs are anxious in a moving vehicle and prone to motion sickness causing the owner to put car travel training on hold until it is too late. So let’s talk first about how to deal with the anxiety and the motion sickness. Then we’ll discuss what skills you need to teach your dog. And finish with what you need to do to travel safely with your pet.
Many young dogs will experience some travel anxiety and motion sickness until they are 12-18 months of age. This is normal but if it makes you anxious you will transfer these emotions to your puppy. Remember, the anxiety and motion sickness is not intentional and it will not help if you get angry or upset with your dog because it is vomiting in the car.
If your puppy vomits in the car there are some obvious precautions to take. Don’t feed them for 3 hours before a ride whenever possible. Make sure the car or carrier can be easily cleaned and have fresh supplies handy. Put your pet in a carrier or restraint system that is high enough that they can look out the window (preferably straight ahead). Ensure there is some air flow. This helps reduce anxiety and motion sickness just as well in dogs and it does in people.
To further help reduce pet travel anxiety and vomiting, practice your driving skills. Don’t accelerate or decelerate quickly. Brake lightly. Turn gently. Keep your trips short whenever possible.
Take your pet out in the car frequently and go to happy places – the dog park, the dyke for a walk, the grocery store (pick him up a special treat that he receives only from there), or pick up a small plain timbit at Tim Horton’s when you need a coffee break. The car needs to be associated with pleasant events.
The worst thing you can do for the motion sick dog is to not take them out for the ride or to get angry with them for vomiting or whining. Owner induced anxiety can prevent training success.
If the vomiting is really bad or you are taking a longer trip, check with your veterinarian about medications and dosages appropriate for your pet and its medical history. Gravol works for many dogs. Other medications, such as Cerenia, are great for longer trips.
Your dog needs to learn certain car manners to travel well. Make sure they are trained not to exit the car until you say it is ok. Teach them to exit and sit beside you and not to run off. Dogs should never leave your side unless you have given them a release command. If your dog has not yet learnt to do this, then make sure a leash is clipped on before you open the car door and they exit.
Teach them to void on command so that you can stop at the rest stops and they know why they are there. You can do this by creating an association between a word and the behaviour during potty training. For example, cheerfully tell your dog “Go pee, yes, good boy, good go pee, yes” while you jump happily up and down and your neighbours watch you from their kitchen window shaking their heads. Keep your car stocked with pooper scooper bags! Biodegradable bags are cheap and readily available at the local dollar store.
Whenever your dog is in the car, it should be secured. There are excellent seat belts available. You can even get booster seats for small dogs so they can sit higher and look out the window. You can secure carriers in the vehicle and in the back of the truck. Special hitching systems are available for dogs in the back of pick-up trucks. Your dog should never, ever, be left unsecured in a vehicle. They can distract the driver and cause an accident. They can become projectiles in the event of an accident. It is not uncommon for dogs to be thrown from or to jump from the back of a pick-up truck. Be smart. Be safe. Buckle up your dog.
Be aware of air flow and temperature in the car when driving and when parked.
Make sure your dog has identification. If they do bolt from the car you want them to find their way back to you. Collar ID with your cell phone number, a tattoo, and/or a microchip are all valuable investments for returning your dog to you. (I use all three!)
Investing time, patience and good training into the first 12-18 months of your puppy’s life can result in a pleasant happy traveling companion – for big and little trips.
Dr. Borgmann lives in Chilliwack and has been practicing in the Fraser Valley for over 13 years and can be reached at the Whatcom Road Veterinary Clinic