Dogs Fearing Car Rides

Dog Training Santa Cruz County

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What causes dogs to fear entering cars?

 An age-old question for sure. Many dog fears have unknown beginnings.  For these sometimes we speculate to have some understanding to deal with the problems. Although, for this particular problem we must first consider one specific possibility; Motion Sickness.  It’s not out of the question because physically dogs are land and water creatures.  Physiologically dogs get a natural high as they run, jump, and swim on their own.  This species was born to move by its own motion capabilities. It’s clear many dogs adapt to being moved by vehicles with no negative results. Some dogs love the wind flying into their faces while looking out the window. But physically and emotionally not all dogs are the same.

  Dogs that have bad past experiences always attempt to avoid those experiences from repeating. Sometimes at all costs. If your dog has a Medical Condition the situation is out of their control. They can’t help but feel sick at no fault of their own while moving in a car. There’s a chance this was only a puppy condition soon to pass as the dog got older. However, the damage to the dogs emotional state is already done. Just the perception of  feeling  sick in the car is enough to have a negative reaction.  Also it’s possible something simple as the sound of the engine could be scaring your dog.

  For dogs that do get motion sickness a trip to the vets. wouldn’t hurt. After the physical exam the suggestion for full blood work will probably be mentioned. Also get a thorough ear evaluation. It’s common for vets to recommend Dramamine for motion sickness due to the dizziness. For some dogs this is to mild a solution. In some cases prescription drugs might be mentioned to relax your dog during short car trips. Please always consult your vet before giving any medication.  Another mild solution is something called the Thunder Wrap that may prevent any bad reaction to stress related issues. In theory the Thunder Wrap provides soothing comfort from its constant pressure on the dog’s body. Many dog owners like the results from its use.

  Motion Sickness causes a dogs equilibrium to become imbalanced. Which causes the dizziness and stomach sickness. In this state of dizziness and sickness your dog will be in a High State of Stress. This high state of stress will cause signs of panic such as pacing, drooling, crying, barking, and eventually throwing up and involuntary emptying of the bowels in your car. Owners must remember dogs stress levels are already elevating before entering the car. Once in the car the stress level can go off the chart. Pettravel.com a Worldwide travel resource for pets reports 95% of dog car sickness is caused by Stress. So it’s important dogs are relaxed and in a calm emotional state before entering cars. The question is how to get dogs in that emotional state of mind!

  The following solution steps help if the owner and dog have a great and trusting relationship. A close bonding at this point can make a big difference. So please establish your relationship as quick as possible. This means a lot of fun time together and  close relaxing moments together. It also will help if the owner has given a lot of touching and holding with their dog. If your dog trusts you enough to jump in your lap as you sit on edge of car seat that’s going to be very helpful.

dog_in_Back_of_car

Solving Dogs Fear of Riding in Cars

  Keeping Dog Stress Levels low  are always important when working with Behavior Issues. The reasoning is dogs aren’t capable of giving positive responses to any type of training under heavy duress.   An example of this comes in the form of a story I often tell.

  One day near a swimming pool I heard a child screaming and crying at the top of his lungs. As I looked in the pool area I saw this little boy hanging on the edge at the deep end of the pool. He was holding on for dear life as his mother was coaching him to let go. She was promising nothing bad would happen if he let go. This boy was in a high level of fear and stress he was petrified. There were no promises big enough at that moment capable to let him release his hands from the ledge of the pool. He was frozen in that state of duress. I’m not sure how things turned out for that little boy with that episode. However, I do know what his mother had done to him. In dog training we call this Flooding.

  Flooding is overloading a dog with something stressful to quickly. They are incapable to emotionally and physically handle these situations. An owner can toss as much food on the car seat and their dog will never go for it. The reason being when dogs get highly stressed out their stomaches shut down.  The dog will eventually shut done completely or become reactive. It’s similar to an electrical power surge. In a power outage there’s nothing to hold back the front end of the electricity.  To much electricity at a fast speed shoots into your outlets. Hence, the flooding of the power surge which can damage electronics in the home. Flooding can also cause your dog to become mentally and emotionally inoperable.dog-in-car1

Solution For Your Dogs Fears

  Please work as a team if there’s two owners involved.

  Desensitizing your dog to the scary object. In this case it’s cars and what they mean to your dog. Never mention the word CAR to your dog during training. Erase every routine you’ve used to get your dog in the car. At this point you’re going to start off fresh for the most part.

  Try these steps alone or have a knowledgeable Professional Trainer show how to carry out this training. All trainers have different twists to this training. So don’t worry if it’s not exactly similar in all aspects. This procedure can take time. It can be weeks or months depending on the state of dog and the owners committment. However, if the procedure is successful 2-4 months is better than dealing with this issue 10 – 14 years.

  First of all distance is your friend when working with fearful objects. Choose a distance from the car where your dog looks comfortable and able to respond to your cues. It might be 20, 40, or 50 yards back. It all depends on how your dog appears. You will be using small meaty treats to make a positive association to the car. You can use cues such as Look it, Sit, Down, Stay, Heel, Calm, and Lets go if you need to turn around. These cues help to assess if your dog is relaxed enough to move forward. It helps if your dog knows some obedience. Also make sure to assess your dog’s body language.

  Your goal at this point is to have your dog see the vehicle but immediately give you eye contact. Each time your dog gives eye contact say ‘Good” and reinforce with the reward (treats). Knowing “Look Its” or “Watch Me” will help you in the beginning. It’s ok if your dog glances at the scary object as long as he immediately looks at you. You don’t want any fixation on a scary object. A main goal here is for dog to voluntarily give you eye contact without any cue. When this begins to happen you’ll know you’re on the right path.

 Another goal is to is to get your dog next to the car in a comfortable state of mind using this method.  Remember the  way to measure your dogs progress to move forward is with  its positive response to you. If at anytime your dog gets a little nervous or stressed don’t move forward.  Ask for a “Look It” and then move back while making a huge circle to alleviate any stress in your dog. Move back to troubled spot to see if your dog looks better. If so,  move slowly forward with the  Counter-Conditioning. Use this method in short training increments. There’s no need to rush the process. This process could take a couple of sessions to finally reach the car.

 When you finally make it next to the car it’s time to let your dog stay comfortably close to it. Let your dog sniff it, rub against it, pee on the tires, lay under for shade. As long as it stays rationale and comfortable. Remember to reinforce with rewards when your dog gives you a positive response to any cue. The amount of time near the car may be a couple of minutes or ten minutes. It depends how steady your dog appears. You may stay here for a couple of days with never opening the doors. All you’re looking for is Calmness with positive associations with the car.

  The time finally comes where you open the doors. Don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t even say anything to your dog about it. Be nonchalant. Maybe sit on the edge of the car seat as time goes on. While sitting on edge of car seat give a few cues, say “Good” for positive responses and call it a day.  Or you may want to repeat later in the day. This could go on for a couple or few days.

  The day finally comes for dog to enter the car with the owner sitting near its side.  Be sure the dog looks calm and relaxed and you’re making everything fun and exciting. Use High Level reinforcers like special toys, real meat, or cheese. With the car door open start throwing high level reinforcers around outside the car. Eventually with the dog in a high state of excitement you’re going to throw a reinforcer inside the car. Remember during this game you’re physically and verbally getting the dog charged up beforehand. When your dog jumps inside for the reinforcer (the Reward) immediately sit next to dog. Make it a fun time for a few seconds then jump out and thrown a reinforcer for your dog to chase out of the car. If everything went well wait a few minutes and attempt the procedure again. Although this time you’re going to say “Jump” or “Up” right before you toss in the reinforcer. If all goes well again end the fun and do it again later in day or the next day. Do this procedure for a few days.

  Once your dog starts knowing the game of jumping in and out of car take these steps.

  With dog and owner inside shut the doors. Make things  fun and comfortable for dog. Sweet talking and hugging is fine here. Each session inside extend the time spent with doors closed.

  Change the routine inside the car. Have dog stay in back and the owner sits in front. Then reverse the sequence – dog in front and owner in back. Try owner and dog both in front seats. Repeat this for a couple of days.

  Next it’s time to start the engine with dog in back and owner in front. Leave engine on for a few seconds to a minute. Once again make this time fun for the dog. Shut off engine and let dog out in a fun manner.  Repeat for a couple or few days. After second day have engine on with dog and owner in front seats. Observe dog closely to see if the engine noise causes fear in your dog. If so engine must be on a few seconds at a time until your dog starts accepting the noise.

  Repeat above procedure but this time owner will back car to street and immediately pull forward to original spot. Repeat for a couple of days with dog in front or back seat.

  Owner will now drive 50 yards and return home. Repeat a couple or few days with dog in front or back seat.

  At this point start extending  the distance and time out in car. For example maybe 200 – 300 yards for 3-5  minutes. Each day start extending the distance and time out.  Remember to keep it fun with lots of praise, hugs, and rewards.

  From here on it’s the owners discretion to what their dog is able to handle. It’s important for the owner(s) to observe and know when their dog is uncomfortable. If at anytime your dog shows stress signals stop the training. In the next training session repeat the earlier training procedure where your dog was comfortable.  Stay at that point until dog is ready to proceed with the next step where owner(s) noticed stress signals.  This is true with this entire training procedure.

  Whenever your dog shows uneasiness you’re proceeding to fast.  Slow the training down.

dog in car window

  Hopefully at this point your dog has shown many signs of improvement. Remember as mentioned earlier this can be time-consuming. Also don’t set any time frame for this procedure. Let the process develop naturally. In actuality only your dog knows how it feels. Lets help your dog at his pace and not force him to conform to your time tables.  Hopefully someday you’ll be cruising together with the wind in his face loving every minute. Happy Training.

  Giovannas Dog Training provides Private Dog Training, Group Dog Training, Private Puppy Training, and Group Puppy Training.

  We also provide service in Alameda County, Monterey County, San Francisco County, Santa Clara County, and Santa Cruz County.

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