I am often asked for tips on relieving car sickness in dogs.
Car sickness is common in puppies and many will grow out of it as they mature, particularly if they don’t experience much car travel during their sensitive developmental phases. However, for others, a lasting association is formed to the car; car travel equals feeling ill, even if they don’t vomit. I have known many dogs to resist getting into the car and then start drooling as soon as they enter the car, before the ignition is even started. This association can stay with the dog for life, particularly if it commenced during the sensitive phase of development as a puppy.
You can have a look at my pdf titled, “Fear and Anxiety“, for some general advice on techniques and products that may assist in relieving fear/anxiety of car travel. For example, you could fit a Thunder Shirt before car travel; give some Rescue Remedy before car travel; travel the dog in a crate; etc. I also recommend securing the dog by lead on the floor of the car. Another tip is to solidify the contents of the dog’s stomach before car travel by use of gelatine or a portion of a “Junket” tablet (these are tablets that are dissolved in milk to make a flavoured dessert and can be purchased at supermarkets).
In many cases the unpleasant association to car travel can be eliminated with systematic desensitisation combined with counter-conditioning. This would involve taking tiny steps towards car travel i.e. you would start by having the dog simply in the presence of the car, without actually getting in it. Whilst in the presence of the car and before the dog has become extremely uncomfortable, you would deliver something your dog loves such as a food treat or game of retrieve and/or tug. Move away from the car – no more food/game. Move back towards the car and again deliver the food/game.
When the dog is no longer displaying any discomfit or stress when moving towards the car, you are ready to take the next step: open the car door but don’t get in! Deliver the treat/game. The next steps will need to be the smallest increments possible and each step repeated until there are no longer any signs of stress in the dog. Signs of stress include: yawning, licking the lips, darting eyes, attempting to move away and displacement behaviours.
Your dog’s individual progression may take just 20 steps or it may require 200 steps! Pushing the dog to the next step before it is ready will result in failure – instead of achieving desensitisation, you will further sensitise the dog. The process can take a long time, depending on the dogs’ extent and experience of the car. Also, if you are going to follow this process with any success, the dog cannot actually travel in the car until the process is complete, which could be several months.