Author: Elsa Larsen, Dog Behaviorist & Trainer | Owner: My Wonderful Dog. Dogs that bark in the car. It seems that this is a common issue for many pet travelers. And while some of you might have a dog that is a dream to travel with, others may have a dog who is a whiny, barky, drooly mess each long, tedious mile of each day. Vocalizing - whining and barking often is an indicator that your dog is uncomfortable or anxious. Excessive panting, drooling and a dog that just can’t settle down are also signs of an animal who is distressed.
There are varying degrees of stress - not all stress is bad in fact. Low levels of stress can sharpen our brains and can motivate and focus us. This is why introducing dogs gradually to low levels of stress can often help them learn to cope with more stressful situations. The same principle applies to acclimating a dog to traveling in the car if you have the luxury of being able to spend some time preparing the animal for your departure day. Introducing your dog to short rides at first accompanied with lots of good things happening such as treats and peanut butter stuffed Kongs may help Fido to learn to tolerate and perhaps even love his travel time.
Why is it that some dogs like to travel and others do not? Travel disrupts routine and dogs, in general are creatures of habit. The continuous motion of the car may your dog feel uncomfortable - even nauseous. In this blog I will address some of the ways that you can help your dog to cope with the challenges of traveling long (or even short) distances.
1. Give Your Dog a Bone: Sometimes intervention may be as simple as giving your dog something really yummy to chew on to help to keep him occupied. A peanut butter stuffed Kong, marrow bone or even a safe chew toy can keep some dogs busy for hours. I keep a kit in the car with a spoon, a Kong, biscuits and peanut butter for my dog Lincoln. If she has to spend some time in the car, I stuff her a Kong to keep her busy.
2. Anti-Anxiety Products: For the really stressed out pup simply feeding the problem probably isn’t the answer. In fact, excessive stress tends to inhibit the dogs ability to take in food. They may actually refuse yummy treats and bones. For these overly stressed dogs more drastic measures might necessary to ensure his or her well being.
In my practice, I have had some great results with each of the following products for anxiety related behaviors. The results have varied with each product - so if one product isn’t working for you I would suggest you try one of the others or a combination. In addition, I recommend that you consult with a dog trainer and your veterinarian before trying any of these remedies.
- Rescue Remedy Pet: Humans have been using this product for years for anxiety and now your pet can too. Rescue Remedy Pet is a natural anti anxiety tincture made from the flowers of wild plants, trees and bushes. Each bottle comes with a dropper. Just add 4 drops of RESCUE Remedy Pet into your pet’s food, water bowl or on a treat before or during travel. The dosage is not dependent on the dogs size but rather the situational stressor. For more information about their product, visit the Rescue Remedy website.
- Comfort Zone with DAP (dog appeasing pheromones): A Phermone is defined as a chemical compound that is produced and secreted by an animal that influences the behavior and development of other members of the same species. Comfort Zone products mimic the "appeasing" pheromones secreted by nursing mother dogs, sending a signal of comfort and safety to her puppies. The pheromones in the product help the dog to feel more at ease and less anxious. Comfort Zone comes in two forms - a diffuser which plugs into a wall (like an air freshener) and a spray. Plug a diffuser into the wall socket of your hotel when you stop for the night and spray some Comfort Zone onto your pets blanket or on a stuffed toy for the car ride. To learn more, click here.
- Thundershirt: The Thundershirt is a wrap that applies gentle pressure and helps to soothe your dog when he is anxious. Pressure can have a calming effect on the nervous system - one of the reasons we wrap infants in swaddling clothes. If you choose to use a Thundershirt, take some time to acclimate your dog to the product. Put the shirt on and feed your dog some treats. Do this a few times a day. Gradually work your dog up to wearing his or her shirt for extended periods of time. Note: the makers of Thundershirt recommend that if you are going to have your dog wearing Thundershirt for long periods, take the shirt off every couple of hours to see if there is any chaffing or signs of irritation. To learn more about the Thundershirt, click here.
3. Address Car Sickness: For dogs who might be stressed due to the fact that they feel physically uncomfortable in the car - antihistamines can help with motion sickness and can have a slight sedative action that might help to calm the dog. There are also some over the counter medications that can reduce nausea and vomiting. Ginger can be a natural way of soothing an upset stomach in both humans and dogs. Ginger is available in pill form in health food stores or cookie form. Please check with your vet before administering any car sickness remedies for your dog. Click here to learn more about how to curb car sickness in dogs.
4. Use Your Crate: Sometimes crating a dog and covering the crate with a towel or a blanket can reduce the visual stimulation of traveling in a car and thus curb your animals’ anxiety. If you do choose to crate your dog, make sure that he or she has been thoroughly acclimated to the crate before your departure.
5. Frequent Pit Stops: Make sure that when you travel with your dog you make frequent stops to allow him to stretch his legs and eliminate. See if you can get him to play a bit - a game of tug or chase the squeaky toy. Even tossing treats back and forth in the grass - anything to alleviate the tedium and stress of spending a day in the car.
Finally, if none of these measures work, as a last resort, you can consult your vet and see if they can prescribe a sedative that will help your dog to relax for the duration of the trip. In my opinion, a groggy dog is better than an unhappy, overly anxious one. Happy trails.
About Elsa Larsen:
Elsa started her dog training career as a volunteer for an organization in Santa Rosa, California that trained dogs for people with disabilities. In June 2000, Elsa moved to the east coast and created My Wonderful Dog, a non profit that that engaged at risk youth in the care and training of service dogs. Sadly, the non profit had to close its doors in 2008 due to lack of funding, but under the original banner of My Wonderful Dog, Elsa continues to bring her expertise and knowledge to bear in her quest to create harmony between pet dogs and their owners in and around Portland, Maine and the greater Boston area. With over 15 years experience, Elsa has had the pleasure of working with hundreds of dogs on issues as diverse as dog aggression to puppy management and care.
To follow Elsa and My Wonderful Dog on Facebook, click here.